Like many of you, I’m a huge fan of early Gibson aesthetics, the more scrolls and points the better!
Evidently, so was young Boise, Idaho vaudevillian Joseph E. Campton, who perhaps couldn’t afford a Gibson, so built his own arch-top harp guitar from scratch.
I imagine him ogling one of the Gibson catalogs of c.1920 and being entranced by both their Style U harp guitar and the “Florentine” Style O guitar, just as I have always been.
For he seems to have combined the two of them into his own version of some sort of what-if fantasy Gibson harp guitar.
Above is 22-year old Joe in 1923 with his homemade instrument and his new bride Zella Connick. Below is another photo of them with Zella’s sister (?) Elsie. I don’t know if the two or three of them ever performed publicly as an act, but Joe at least managed some solo shows. More interesting is the question of frets: is his 6-sub-bass harp guitar fretless and is he posing with a steel guitar slide?!
His grandson Don supplied these wonderful images (Ancestry.com states that they were taken in Winfield, Kansas) and writes:
“According to my Dad, my grandfather Joseph Campton hand-made the harp guitar shown. He was 22 years old in the attached photo. He grew up on a sheep ranch in southern Idaho, and we believe he made the guitar with ‘native woods’ found in the area. I have some newspaper clippings from the Boise Statesman in 1922 advertising his performances playing this guitar in vaudeville shows in Boise theaters in 1922.
“Nobody in my family knows what happened to it. My hope is that the guitar found a good home sometime in the past and has been well cared for. For family history reasons, I would like to locate this guitar if it still exists.”
Don, I think we would all love for your family to be able to locate this unique instrument as well!