Apologies to Knutsen-lovers everywhere, but it seems I haven’t done a Knutsen Archives update for 15 years now. I have been doing a ton of blog articles on a bunch of cool stuff, so really the main thing missing is an accurate count of the known Knutsen specimens (I’m about a hundred behind in assigning Inventory numbers and adding pics to appropriate sections).
So, today I thought I’d at least add a couple of the rarest instrument finds not yet added, along with some recent historical photograph discoveries that include instruments built by Chris Knutsen (still my favorite luthier!).
I see that the last “extreme” Knutsen I blogged was this deadly-looking harp guitar back in 2012:
That one might still take the cake, but these new rarities all deserve a special mention:
This is the latest and just about the coolest thing I’ve seen in ages. It’s a 4-string c.1920s Knutsen ukulele built to match his elaborate “puzzle-piece-top” Weissenborn-shaped steel guitars! Nothing like it has ever been seen until this year. Ben Elder just missed it on Reverb.com, where the seller offered it as a “rare Weissenborn ukulele.” Rare, alright. Even more so, being a Knutsen. If the buyer ever stumbles on this post and thinks they were cheated, hey, I’ll take it! Alas, its dimensions and scale remain unknown.
Another “only-one-in-existence” is this one. Really poor shape, and we’ve seen this harp mandolin with sub-basses before, haven’t we? No! This is the first harp-mandola with sub-bass strings. Found by Paul Roe and shared on FB, it has a 17.5″ scale, and is now undergoing restoration.
This one, on the other hand, is a standard (if still rare) Knutsen harp mandolin with subs (#8 in that count, I believe). It’s unusual in the color of its top stain (“brown” is actually a super rare Knutsen Kolor) and its inlaid pickguard – a strange choice of a straight piece of non-matching wood. Possibly due to a repair? No, it’s original.
Here’s an eBay find I had to let go (to my Tonedevil Guitars pals, who have here restored it): A Knutsen 6-string “harp guitar” built by Otto Anderson (identified by the neck heel, straight clean headstock slots and fancy carved bridge).
Some years ago, Tony Ku passed away and his extensive collection was liquidated, including sixteen Knutsens! These made the rounds of dealers, most eventually winding up at Carter Vintage Guitars in Nashville. I just missed snagging this one, the only other non-harp Knutsen uke known – this one his “pineapple shape.”
The other Ku Knutsen rarity (besides the several fancy harp steels and taropatch) was this one:
It’s a jumbo convertible Spanish guitar, shown here with its latest owner, my friend John Bushouse! Another Knutsen one-off that doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of marketing or design sense. He (or perhaps a musician who commisioned it) was perhaps just going for even more resonance and bass response, which John says this one has. Meant to play either fretted or slide (it has a wingnut-toggle heel), the fretboard clearance from neck to body is just 8-5/8″. But that body! While tapering from just 3″ to 3.5″ deep, its bouts are 12″ and 16.5″ wide, with a body fully 24-3/4″ long! As you can see, the scale is standard length (24.75″). And he got it for a song (John lucked out, as I’m out of room here!).
Again, there are many more instruments to add to the Knutsen Archives, each of which are uniquely identifiable, but adhere to the designs we’ve already seen by this point. (Knutsen owners, keep sending in those photos and specs for my files – they will be added to the Inventory someday.)
Not let’s look at the latest historical photograph finds…how can there continue be so many?!
Watermarked by an eBay seller (I had to pass on this one), this is a nice cabinet card of what are surely brothers, one with an 1898 Patent style harp guitar.
This beautiful image is from a postcard that sold on eBay two years ago for a very impressive $228.49. The gentleman remains anonymous. Once again, I am indebted to the seller for earlier sharing a scan with me (for, sadly, I virtually never hear from the winners of these auctioned images after the fact). Her name is Beth Mower, and she (a postcard expert) dated it to 1904-1918. I told her that “the harp guitar is one of Chris Knutsen’s ‘1898 Patent-Style’ models built c.1897. It was later significantly modified. The mandolin is a W. J. Dyer & Bro. Symphony Harp Mandolin, of the style built from 1908 into the ‘teens. The mandolin-banjo could be by any of dozens of the more obscure makers.”
The Knutsen is the exact same model as the previous one (which has an extra 1st fret star inlay), but has had the bridge replaced, supported by an added tailpiece. Note that the restorer chose not to double up the lower bridge pin holes as was typical. The tuners are all in their original crazy spots, but the weak, non-sensical bass nut has been replaced with a wide support bar, pretty much exactly like Drew Baldwin’s instrument was! (below)
Here’s a fun one!
From a 2020 eBay auction, we have what appears to be a serious Hawaiian music sextet (dig the matching stands). The guitarist uses a Knutsen Symphony model from around 1900. But who built that intriguing mandocello? It looks familiar, but I’m lost here. Anyone know?
A trio (Salvation Army?) with violin, bowlback mandolin and an early 1900s Knutsen “evolving Symphony” model with solid headstock and slanted frets.
As wonderfully obscure as it gets. A blind harp guitarist with his late 1890s transitional “elephant trunk sub-bass head” Knutsen harp guitar! The 2019 eBay listing (yet another I couldn’t win) said “a circa 1910 cabinet photo depicting what appears to be a blind man posing with his Harp Guitar at a photographer’s studio (Gust Landin) in Duluth, Minnesota.”
Do you have a rare Knutsen instrument or image you haven’t seen on my blog or Archives? Please share!