When my friend and fellow collector John Vonk called in the spring of 2018 to say he had just seen the fanciest Knutsen harp ukulele ever, I didn’t believe him. I owned the Knutsen with the fanciest trim known, the sole surviving example. What he was describing didn’t exist…did it?
Fortuitously, it was just down the road at California Vintage Guitar, and I went down the first Saturday I could find them open, meeting new owner Dave Swartz. John was right, and I’m incredibly grateful to him for the alert. It was part of a large private local collection Dave had just acquired, comprised mostly of lesser pieces like endless anonymous bowlback mandolins and the like.
I took a few photos for the Knutsen Archives, then went home perched precariously on the horns of a dilemma…
I’ve been spoiled these last 17 years after upgrading my original Knutsen harp-ukulele (Archive Inventory #HU1, bought for $35 and repaired for $100) with #HU16 (shown at right), the first found with full rope binding, including the back. It was the sole example of Knutsen’s fanciest trim level of the harp-ukes, and for once it wasn’t in Japan or at my friend Andy Roth’s but in the Miner Museum where it belonged!
And now here was an even fancier model. So – do I retain my standing in the infinitesimally small niche market of Knutsen harp ukulele owners? How could I not? Still – this one was in much worse condition and not cheap, so it took me some weeks to make a decision while gathering funds. Ultimately, I decided the repair outcome was worth the risk, as long as I could potentially break even after selling HU16.
As luck would have it, I finally sold that the very same week the new one came back from its restoration by Bill Fiorella. Sandor Nagyszalanczy (pictured), who has a huge ukulele collection in central California, will give HU16 a great home. He was just down to photograph a few of my instruments for a future project.
So what did I get for all my blood, sweat and tears? I didn’t quite break even but close enough. And the final condition of HU45? Well, the many repaired cracks take their toll visually, there’s no denying it. All in all, the choice was somewhat of a coin toss, the upshot being: I remain the curator of the fanciest Knutsen harp ukulele known.
Here are #HU16 and #HU45, the two fanciest Knutsen harp-ukes on the planet:
#HU45 is indeed a prize. (Yes, I’m way behind on my Archives updates; there are now 46 cataloged harp ukuleles in my files – 16 more to add to the site).
The rope purfling is tri-colored, a much rarer Knutsen variant (#HU22 also has it). It binds the entire top, back and headstock like HU16 but gets extra mileage by going around the entire tip of the arm (which, for some reason, no others do).
While every other Knutsen uke has just the two dot fret markers, Knutsen dressed this up with four markers, throwing in some diamonds.
The bridge is a delightful carved miniature “batwing” bridge, like those on many of his steel guitars. He used this style on the larger harp-taropatches, but it was never seen on a uke until this one.
The koa is random as in most of Knutsen’s output. Frugal to a fault, he undoubtedly used scraps from his larger steels and harp-convertibles for his tiny harp ukuleles. Pegs are non-original, as is typical for these finds, and someone added strap buttons (possibly even Knutsen).
Why, it even has its original Knutsen-built case, the first I’ve seen for a uke…pretty stinkin’ cute.
Now…please don’t let there be a fancier one out there!