(The “K” just a little gag to remind you to pronounce it in both words…)
As Chris K. has long been my favorite harp guitar maker, it always tickles me when I see some of his design elements incorporated into new harp guitar designs. Of course, this happened in the very beginning of the “Modern Harp Guitar” era, when John Doan and friends adapted Knutsen’s curious treble string bank into a musically viable melodic scale of open strings. There is also the flared “lower bass point” body style of Knutsen’s that we have seen crop up in many different new instruments. But I’m alluding especially to the various sub-bass headstock shapes that Knutsen developed. Remember from HGG2 my presentation of the strikingly “Darwinian (Knutsenian) linear evolution of these?
A fascinating, logical and artistic progression, don’t you think?
And let’s face it, how many times can harp guitar builders re-invent the wheel? (a lot, judging by the proliferation in the Galleries, though not always equaling even Knutsen’s sometimes questionable aesthetics)
Anyway, it’s always interesting when I see some new Knutsen-ish instrument created. Alas, it happens all too rarely in our “Dyer paradigm.” However, a small run of Knutsen-inspired instruments – including some outright copies, in fact – has been occurring recently. Is it the Year of the Knutsen Copy?
With apologies if I’m omitting any from other recent years, I’ll start this report with 2011 – January, to be precise – when the Powell brothers (Dave and Tone) ran in, huffing and puffing, to the Holloway booth at NAMM, to hand over a just-finished prototype of a Knutsen Symphony (at left) to Scott Burwell to advertise his plans for his future San Clemente factory “American-built” line. I think the finish was still wet. It was intriguing, to say the least – especially as all dimensions were copied from my own very special Knutsen Symph (Scott’s favorite harp guitar on the planet, and which he borrowed for an aborted recording). So I’m hoping this project develops, so I can watch my royalties roll in…(he says it is still planned as a signature model in his 2012 line).
After the Powells left Holloway (by mutual agreement), they set up a new shop in Idaho and just last month came out with their own new Knutsen-style model. It is an interesting hybrid: a basic early Symphony body but with a bass headstock patterned after the Seattle-era Knutsen bass extensions. The latter is not too surprising, as they have been emulating that Knutsen headstock vibe from the beginning on most of their early experimental, and later, “Tonedevil” instruments. They now promise several improved features and are anxious to show it at the Gathering.
Another builder, Todd Johnston of Oracle Guitars in Lancaster, PA, obviously got the Knutsen bug – he seems to have borrowed one of Knutsen’s later, more unusual, bass headstock shapes (type 3a, similar to Hedges’ “Darth”). He also incorporated a Knutsen “lower bass point” on the body, but also widened it dramatically. Whatever the intention was, he said he had to string it with nylon subs after trying steel which sounded “too boomy”. He plans more, with 6 sub-basses, different woods and steel strings.
Finally, Harpguitars.net member Sean Woolley of France shared on the Forum his latest accomplishment: a Knutsen Symphony reproduction (though to me it looks like a Dyer Type 1, with its slotted headstock and arm shape that allows a more centered neck). Not yet a “professional” builder, Sean earlier made a Dyer copy. This “Knutsen copy” has a Western red cedar top and Sapele back and sides, and is finished with Livos Oil; he strung it in nylon for his son, and says it has “lots of rich overtones compared to a classical guitar.” He next plans a lower bass point style and perhaps a harp mandolin. I wonder if and when he will decide to offer these to interested shoppers?
Pretty exciting times. I say Keep the Knutsen Kopies Koming!