Here’s a rare photograph taken in Lakemont Park, Pennsylvania in September 1914.
It was brought to my attention by Les Cook (whose name has cropped up multiple times in my blog), who ran across it on the Blair County, PA GenWeb Archive site. It took some time, but after writing them, and them forwarding my note to the photo owner, Gene Warner, he kindly dug it out and provided this scan to share with us.
My obvious interest was what Les spotted – a Knutsen harp guitar, and certainly a new specimen. In fact, it seems to be a new custom bass head – the 5 subs are going downhill!
No, I don’t think it’s a repair or modification. For one thing, this black-top Seattle Knutsen probably wasn’t built until 1912 or after, so was pretty spankin’ new in 1914. Additionally, you’ll see that the arm-to-head inlaid binding transition line is also going downhill. Knutsen absolutely never did this. Even on his reverse-strung 3-bass “Short Arm” late Seattle harp guitars, the line is straight.
I have never properly addressed these strange Short-arm Seattle instruments in the Knutsen Archives, but now that we have several examples of them (10th row in the Seattle section), we can see that Knutsen was surprisingly consistent; he was giving players an option of just 3 basses, seemingly tuned in reverse. In every one, geared tuners are on the left side, and the screw post “nuts” which the strings wind around are always in reverse order. The logistics of the arm tip/tuner set-up apparently caused him to create a severe angle on the threading of the first bass (the 7th string of the instrument), so that it would be the longest (even with, or a bit longer, than the neck’s low E string). The 8th and 9th then each become shorter still. The arm is deliberately short as well, while the neck scale length remains normal at 24-1/2” to 25”. The whole package seems to imply an intent to create a completely different sounding and playing instrument.
In light of the short-arm Knutsens, my guess is that this new discovery was a variation on that theme – the customer wanted 5 bass strings, but shorter and “backward.” Were they higher pitched? – or pitched in reverse? The first sub certainly looks heavy! (as does the fourth…?) Hey, he wouldn’t be the first to play backward subs!
Don’t know if Les has dug up any recordings of the group, but let’s hope!