Bent Guitars

…better known as “bogenguitarres” – the original German term for the precursor of our beloved harp guitar with the hollow arm.   “Bogen” seems to have multiple translations: “arc,” “arch” and “bow” are the most common today though I’ve also seen “elbow” and “bent.”  Ergo, my pet anglicized name for my subject title.  Basically, the name was meant to identify a new guitar design by Friedrich Schenk of Vienna – a harp guitar with a hollow arm; “bogen” refers to this curved arm extension.  It apparently has nothing to do with it being a harp guitar (remember that having extra bass strings was then so common that it was almost irrelevant).  Nevertheless, had Knutsen and Dyer (and all the rest in America) not come up with “harp guitar” for “our” instrument, we might very well be attending the “Bent Guitar Festival” once a year…

Actually, I still don’t quite understand the reference, as Schenk’s arm is not really a curve – it instead ascends straight up out of the wappen (shield-shaped) body.  Perhaps how it curves around and becomes the headstock is the inspiration?

Regardless, it is this headstock that separates the men harp guitars from the boys.  It’s a bold and wonderful design that adds even more real estate to the soundbox by turning the entire tuning machine mounting area of the headstock into another resonant cavity, complete with its own soundhole.

As everyone must surely know by now, I absolutely love the nomenclature, terminology and organological puzzles of odd and forgotten musical instruments, and none has been more challenging than the harp guitar.  Trying to reconcile the “bogenguitarre” has been one such exercise.  But that’s not what this blog is about (you can catch up on my thesis here).  P.S.: (for any scholarly geeks noticing, ignore my random inclusion or omission of “u” in gitarre/guitarre – blame those crazy Germans for changing it…)

Actually, I started tonight’s blog just to show a terrific new bogengitarre specimen (at left), the images of which Benoit just forwarded.  The instrument got me thinking of a similarly unexplored region of the harp guitar world – what I’ll call the Second Coming of the Bogengitarre.  As cool and unusual as the guitar novice finds our American Dyers and such, bogengitarres were even cooler and more unusual – and must surely have been especially so in their day!  If Knutsen and Dyer are our American hollow-arm harp guitar founders, and Mozzani, Candi, Gazzo and endless followers the well-known Italian faction, then surely Schenk is the Grand Poobah of the modern harp guitar forefathers.  He apparently dreamt up his single and double arm harp guitars out of the blue by 1840, while working in Vienna, as a student of J. Staufer.  Someday, I hope we can pay him proper tribute.  It will mean a lot more international help, including collecting information on specimens, trying to date them, and concurrently piecing together the life and career of the unsung Schenk.

But the most amazing thing about his strange harp guitars was that, while they were never very common and clearly didn’t “catch on,” they nevertheless did not quite die out or become historically ridiculed as “oddities.”  Instead, they seem to have inspired their own sub-culture and comeback – somewhat similar to today’s harp guitar “comeback.”

So what is the “Second Coming” I announce above?  Not America – I’m talking about a direct line from Schenk.  Not even Mozzani, who famously copied the Schenk instruments that he saw in Vienna.

No, Mozzani adapted Schenk’s designs to incorporate and contain his own novel floating-neck design.  I’m talking about the contingent of prominent luthiers in the Austro-German region that more faithfully copied their countryman’s single arm bogenguitarre.  My guess is that if we could find enough specimens and history, we’d see a more constant flow from Schenk to his followers: i.e.: Lagler (left) built a copy in 1852, and Lemböck (below) another copy during his career, which followed Schenk’s – but before the “second coming” hit.

These copies and variants appeared about 1900 and continued until perhaps 1930.  The common element was that, unlike Mozzani, they all retained the remarkable and distinctive hollow headstock area.

You can find these fascinating Schenk-style harp guitars in the Form 3a Gallery.  I think I’ve got all up that I know of: besides the above, copies or variants by Raab, Müller and Seboldt (another builder I have no info on).  All such copies have the hollow headstock option, which Mozzani and fellow Italians would do away with.

Here’s the new specimen that Benoit just discovered, sold awhile back:

This one is made by Karl Müller, who Ben describes as “one of the best 1900’s luthiers.”  Note the six sub-basses, more than was usual for Schenk, himself.  In this case, Müller’s goal appears to be a true Schenk copy.  In fact, added a second label in the upper soundhole that reads “Copiert nach einen allen original von Frdr. Schenk, Wien.” (“Copied after an all-original of Friedrich Schenk, Vienna.”). Clearly, he wanted it to be known that he was attempting a faithful, respectful copy.

Müller shows up in Der Gitarrenfreund from 1904 to 1917, with harp guitars (bassguitarren, but no Schenk-styles) advertised for the entire duration.

I’ve been meaning to point out this great resource for some time now – something I’ve not yet begun to disseminate it on the site.  It’s a large run of the important guitar magazine Der Gitarrenfreund, which was published every other month from 1900 to 1933.  It’s been available on the web now for a couple of years, from the Boije Collection (this is the same wonderful resource that contains much music for early 8-, 9- and 10-string harp guitars, that we discussed during Brian Torosian’s segment at HGG8).  The link is here, but be prepared for a long download, as there are 717 pages.  These issues run from September, 1900 to March/April, 1917.  Much like the Cadenza & Crescendo magazines in America, with their Dyer and other harp guitar ads, these magazines featured monthly ads by some (but far from all) of the region’s guitar builders.  And as HG fans know, back then, if you built guitars, you almost certainly built harp guitars as well!

So here we can find clues to the addresses and dates of many of the German, Bavarian and Viennese builders at the turn of the last century.  Here is a link to a detailed spreadsheet I started on the ads (and some articles) listing each builder or firm, date/issue, and whether a harp guitar appears in the ad via image and/or text.  Lots to collate and archive here for the site, and I’ll need surely help translating and condensing it all.

For now, for my original subject, I’ll just point out the additional appearances I found for bogengitarres within these pages.  Note that the industry is now calling all harp guitars bassguitarren.  Again, you know that I use their “bass-guitar” term only in this historical sense; I abhor it as a modern term, even for these same instruments.  Times have changed.  Oddly, kontragitarre (“contra-guitar” – another technically incorrect musical term) is not in evidence in Der Gitarrenfreund (though I saw one use of “kontra-bassguitarren”).  I have yet to discover when this similarly confusing and aggravating name came into popular use.

Be that as it may, I don’t yet see evidence that the Schenk bogengitarre copies were lumped in with all the assorted bassgitarren.  The only one shown – a 1913 Munich instrument with a “swollen” headstock (perhaps to accommodate the length of a full 7 subs) offered by Hans Raab – is not specifically identified.

And another is not pictured – Herrnsdorf offering in 1901 of a “Guitarren mit 4 Basssaiten” (guitar with 4 bass strings) “nach altem Schenk’schen Wiener Modell” (after the old Schenk Viennese model).  That could have been a double-arm lyra, or bogen version – and either way, note how the maker is not committing to any terminology, instead reverting back to a simple count of strings.

OK, enough history lesson for today, and enough geeking out on these cool guitars.

It’s time to go out and find one for me!

  1. Carter Lancaster Says:

    Absolutely facsinating Gregg! I realize that there are soooo many factors involved in determining their worth but do you have a window (best/worse scenario) of what some of these can be purchased for?

  2. Benoit Says:

    About the name: It just mean there is an arch/bridge between the body and the head…
    Cheers
    Ben

  3. Gregg Says:

    Interesting, Ben…I’ll have to think about that one.
    Carter – no idea, I’ve never seen one for sale. Someday…!

  4. Pialat Bernard, South France Says:

    Hi
    I have a harp guitar (Hans Raab – 1911 is my guess)
    I love to play it
    Sunny music and love from south France

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