The Incredible Harp-Violins of Arthur Ferris

Lynn Wheelwright (electric guitar historian and collector, and recently embroiled in the Smithsonian film imbroglio...) sent me this wonderful article from Popular Science magazine, June, 1938, which details the many inventions of self-taught builder Arthur K. Ferris, of Flanders, NJ.

You owe it to yourself to read the whole article; this guy is insane! (and I mean that in a good way)

Of his many described inventions, at least 4 (which are among those pictured) are combinations of harp and violin – though either component might be of any size, from relatively normal to truly ginormous.

Two of these would fall under the broad category of “sympathetic string” instruments, though, interestingly, they are polar opposites.  Each contains both harp- and violin-style strings, but in the first – his wife’s “whispering harp” – one plays the harp strings while giant violin strings sympathetically resonate on the cello-like body.

Conversely, in the “violinette,” the violinists play as normal, while short gut strings attached to a miniature harp frame are meant to resonate.

The incredible Paul Bunyan harp that a pair of players would have to tackle while perched on scaffolding appears to be essentially “just” a harp, albeit of impossible size, with a “super-cello” body in place of a standard harp soundbox.  Apparently there is also an extra set of sympathetic harp strings alongside the plucked bank.  But talk about your string gauges!  The lowest steel string on this baby is over 8 feet long!  What would he have made it from? – and can you even imagine the calluses?

I would love to see some couple making (literally) beautiful music together on the “bridal lap harp.”  I imagine it could be quite romantic, doubling up on this single hybrid instrument, with the girl playing the harp strings while the man plays the bowed cello section – provided they aren’t elbowing each other in the face.

This final harp and violin combo is the only one of Ferris’ creations that we could legitimately stick in the “Related Instruments in Harp Guitar Form” gallery.  Technically, it’s a bowed equivalent of our harp guitar; i.e.: plucked harp strings are played along with the cello portion.  But here is an interesting new organological conundrum: if the “bridal lap harp” can only be played by two people, does it “count” as a true “harp-cello”?  Aren’t all of our harp guitar and related instruments intended – by design (if not by definition) – for a single performer…?  Old man Ferris is making my head spin!

Needless to say, I am already envisioning some seriously creative and outlandish new Alan Carruth experiment.

  1. Benoit Says:

    Now I NEED to find one of those!

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