What does one do with a now-useless Gibson harp guitar missing its entire bass section? Turn it into a 6-string? Hang it in the repair shop until further notice?
For the creative Soren Venema (NOTE: friend Soren sadly passed on March 1st, 2021), the answer was to turn it into a completely different kind of harp guitar – in effect, a new “fantasy Gibson harp guitar.” He calls it a “Garp.”
Repairs and modifications were done by his luthier Thomas Grabinger. The pair took the bass tuner scroll section from a defunct Ukrainian bandura and attached it where the subs would otherwise go to create a new bank of 12 harp strings. Neither subs nor supers, because of their length, Soren ended up stringing and tuning them chromatically descending (from D#) from the neck’s high E!
But wait, there’s more! Using custom mini-rollers at the bridge, they managed to create two banks of harp strings in one! With the help of little bone micro-tuners (a bit like the “buzz-adjusters” on a sitar), the lower section comes out a perfect octave above the main bank. Not only that, but the section below the neck string bridge works out to a perfect one octave and a fifth above the neck strings. In essence, there are three different banks of playable harp strings – 30 total – from this clever layout!
Soren says: “When I thought of this arrangement, I thought that this (scale/bridge layout) was no coincidence – Orville Gibson was working along the golden rule, I believe.” He explains the mechanics: “The strings run over small rollers on the bridges – these are made from string balls that have been threaded through a thin metal rod.”
The final result? Soren says: “It sounds great…not a lot of volume, but rich and harp-like.”
I say he should go into production!
For those who may have forgotten, Soren runs Palm Guitars in Amerstam, owns many harp guitars, and is the guy who played actual harp guitar for the new soundtrack of the restored Valentino silent film that famously featured the dark top Dyer harp guitar.
A long-time friend and supporter of Harpguitars.net, Soren also just found another cool film with a harp guitar…this one on the British Pathe web site.
Benoit (Meulle-Stef) and I think the HG was most likely made in southern Italy (pickguard, bridge, fb extension and other design elements), which might explain the curious Italian-Argentinian name of the group (playing Russian gypsy music)! The film’s title card reads “Pathetone now has pleasure in presenting the haunting music of ‘Two Guitars’ interpreted by the popular masters of melody Fiorenti’s Gauchos from the Cossack ‘Blue Room’. London.”
The site also has a page with hundreds of stills from the film, but Ben and I usually find it easier to study the instrument while it is in motion. Note the little “fingerboard” extension for the six subs – we assume it has a fret or two to attach a sub-bass capo. Ben sees a set of 6-in-line tuners for the basses, I can’t seem to resolve anything there. Regardless, check out the film clip!
Thanks for the updates, Soren!