I honestly didn’t hold out hope that I might ever see a carbon fiber harp guitar in my lifetime, but here it is!
It is the just-completed prototype instrument by Alistair Hay of Emerald Guitars in Ireland.
The story began in January, 2011 at NAMM in Anaheim, California, when I found myself at dinner with Dave and Tony Powell (then working at the Holloway booth), Teddy Randazzo (Dazzo pickups) and Alistair.
We brainstormed about the fantasy and practicalities of an all-carbon bullet-proof harp guitar for travel, and apparently really got Alistair thinking about it. For those new to this world (as I still am), check out some of Alistair’s accomplishments and successes on his site.
Alas, even though Alistair would continue to discuss it separately with the Powells, Scott Holloway, myself and perhaps others, it seemed to be a very costly, pie-in-the-sky proposition.
But then along came a mysterious stranger (well, not entirely).
As Alistair recently told me:
“Yes, we are finally joining this exclusive club. Since having dinner with you, Tony and Dave almost by accident at NAMM a couple of years ago, the harp guitar has been on my mind. There has just been too much on my plate to get to it, but then along came Michael. His enthusiasm got me moving and as I started to design the guitar for him it seemed clear that I should just go ahead and build production tooling for it. What you are looking at in the pictures (the bizarre “white chocolate” HG – GM) is the prototype form that I created that we are now using to cast the composite tooling that the guitar will eventually be built from. The work has started on the tooling and will take about 4 weeks and then we can move towards the final product. The design is based on one of our smaller-bodied guitars so it’s a very compact and comfortable design, and with the durability of carbon fiber it will be the ultimate road-worthy Harp Guitar. The great thing about working with composites is that once the tooling is made, that’s the hard part done and then we can cost-effectively build a very high-quality instrument with great consistency.”
Needless to say, I was beside myself. And now the prototype is complete! There is a full gallery of photos on Alistair’s Facebook page.
And the mysterious stranger? Well, the “Michael” Alistair mentions above is our own Michael Belotto, who has been to two Harp Guitar Gatherings now (even though sans harp guitar). That’s him with his Yamaha “silent travel guitar” at HGG9 at left. In a very interesting twist, Michael had absolutely no idea that Alistair had been thinking of a harp guitar project, but turned out to be the guy that instigated what may now turn out to be a permanent fixture in our community! In fact, we may owe some of the specifications specifically to Michael (so we can then thank or curse him as appropriate…)! Michael caught me up a couple months back:
“I actually started this journey at the Gathering in Connecticut. Remember when I was talking to you and Benoit about adding a harp arm to that Yamaha travel guitar? I finally asked a friend to do it. Like a lot of luthiers, he’s running behind schedule. So that’s still in the works too, going on for about 2 years now!
“I actually contacted Lucas (Brunner) back then, but he’s been out of action for about 2 years. So it just didn’t seem like a harp guitar was in the cards for me. So I just waited patiently and kept looking around.
“Then I started reading about the carbon fiber guitars. After playing an Emerald, I reached out to Alistair. From what I was reading about the guy, he was a genius. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he had always wanted to build a harp guitar. He is super talented, willing to try anything, and just a really great guy. I was able to give Alistair all of my specifications – I told him exactly what I wanted and he made the mold. I have some shoulder problems which is why I have gone to the smaller body guitars.”
Michael will soon receive the second (or first “production”) Synergy model harp guitar. Congratulations!
Meanwhile, what of the original Brunner option? As it happens, Lukas has recently started on the production of his own new design, which again Michael seems to have helped instigate (the guy seems intent on single-handedly boosting the international harp guitar economy!). Alas, Michael tells me he may have to pass on it, due to his special size requirements. That would be a shame, as I really like this one. Luke’s travel harp guitar with removable neck is now available in a sleek, new modern design with just one neck connection incorporating a single “double-theorbo”-style neck. In “plain” or “super-treble” flavors!
I can hardly keep up…what “impossible” futuristic harp guitar will we see next?!