I just received photos of a hilarious (but ingenious) experimental instrument created by new Harpguitars.net member Tony Barnard (Australian guitarist now living in the U.K.). Though he considers it more of a joke than anything else, I saw it as a perfect, literal demonstration of the ironic fact that all harp guitars (well, 99.99%) are technically “zither guitars.”
I know – I’ m my own worst enemy sometimes…but despite my painstaking “harp guitar” organology, the truth remains that the term stems predominately from an amalgam of inventor’s nomenclature and public vernacular (see my Member’s Only PDF article “Harp Guitar”: What’s In a Name?”), while “zither guitar” – structurally and organologically more accurate – was almost never used historically.
I’ve alluded to this oxymoron in the past (most recently in my “What a Harp Guitar Isn’t” blog). Be that as it may, it’s sometimes interesting to observe just how much of a “zither-guitar” a true harp guitar can be.
But what to make of Tony’s?!
At first glance, it reminded me of an elaborate cigar box guitar. He created it from a vintage German fretless zither (of the common chord group and melody type) by removing the strings and pins in the middle so he could insert a guitar neck and bridge. He left only 12 of the zither’s original melody strings on it – I’d love to see and hear this with the rest of the strings back on!
Ostensibly, if he fully strung it, he could play it pretty much like John Doan’s Sullivan-Elliott harp guitar, with super trebles on the right and basses (even better, bass and chords) on the left! I think he’s on to something! (It’s interesting and important to note that Doan’s super trebles are akin to – and sound like – fretless zither melody strings, rather than wire-strung harp strings.)
Is this a harp guitar? I suppose there’s not enough “guitar” there…so even though it could provide the same results, I suppose it’s more of a hybrid (a true chimera in this case!).
Here are some of the more “zither-y” harp guitars, some of which may border on being hybrids of guitar and zither:
Orville Gibson’s first harp guitar’s sub-basses seem inspired by his zither
Some of Mickey Fischer’s many original creations are clearly combinations of guitar and zither.
This unique one-off instrument seems to be more zither than guitar. It is known only from a single appearance in a 1976 issue of Frets magazine (I’d sure love to find out who owns it).
Tom Shinness (who I just blogged about a week ago) showed up to the third Harp Guitar Gathering with his own small fretless zither bolted on to a double-neck electric guitar to create a new harp guitar variant.
And my personal favorite: the infamous unknown “curmudgeonly couple” (courtesy of collector Jeff Carr long ago) play homemade Knutsen & Gibson-inspired harp guitars. The gentleman’s clearly has fretless zither-style chord group stringing in lieu of standard sub-basses. Think of the beautiful music the lovebirds might have made!