Catalog Appearances


Instructional Material

Music History Patent



by Gregg Miner
With Special Thanks to these individuals

For the very latest Gibson discoveries, visit the Gibson Category of Gregg's Blogg:

Catalog Appearances

February, 1903

Gibson's debut catalog

Above is Gibson's first ad in The Cadenza, January, 1903, which announces the first catalog that will be available "about the first of February."

Four 1903 models are discussed, but only two are shown: R (orange top, ivoroid binding), R-1 (pictured; black top, rope binding), U (pictured; black top, rope binding), and the incredible U-1 (full extravagant ornamentation).
The R was originally 17-” wide, with a 25-½" scale and a large soundhole.
The U was 21" wide with a 27-¼" scale and large soundhole.

The "Mystery Years"

Catalog "B"?
January, 1904?

Under Cadenza's "Trade News" in both the January and February, 1904 issues, they imply that there is a new Gibson catalog.

Jan: "Their new and complete catalogue is illustrated with fine art half-tones..."

Feb: "...their new a work of art and well worth possessing."

Presumably, this was intended to be ready for Gibson's participation in the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair (April 30 - December 1).

Unless the "Red Brochure" (next) is really "catalog B," this would be a key Holy Grail missing link document!

The Red Brochure

This could be one of the missing "B, C or D" catalogs (which I believe), or a stand-alone brochure.

According to my records (possibly now-outdated), Dan Beimborn of the Mandolin Archives originally dated this c.1904-05, Paul Fox originally dated it c.1905-06, Rod McDonald now dates it c.1905.  As stated at left, I'm open to the possibility that this could be the second, 1904 "catalog."

It lists the 12-bass U and the 6-bass R-1 (the latter with no image or specs).  The U is the same size and long scale as in 1903.  While it shows only plain (ivoroid) binding, it describes ivoroid in combination with something that sounds like rope.

Harp-Guitar Brochure
( Members Only - password required)

This ultra-rare document (which may have also been part of a full missing catalog), discovered in 2006, explains even more about the transitional instrument, with stringing options and made-to-order instruments with 7 or 11 sub-basses and Walter Boehm's newly suggested tunings (for 6, 7, 10 or 11 strings, the 12-bass tuning having been abandoned).

It provides no specs (scale length would be helpful).  Thus, I don't think it's a portion from a missinig catalog. It could be the "harp guitar treatise" mentioned in Catalog E (and thus a c,1907 document).  Or it could even be a c.1905 document.  (For that matter, catalog "E" at right might also be c.1906, though admittedly would create quite a gap before "F" appeared)

Catalog E

"E" lists only the 10-bass U and the 6-bass R-1 (again, without image or specs).
The pictured Style U looks identical to that in the brochure at left, and now has a 25-¾" scale.

Let's re-cap the four currently known scroll-bridge Style U's as shown and described in the catalogs:

Note the original huge, wide soundhole, which was reduced during the 1904-1905 period.  The second "Red Brochure" image shows this also and still has the long (27-¼") scale, but now with geared tuners and plain binding.  We have seen (and will show) 12-bass specimens with the long scale with both large and small soundholes (and later small soundhole R's and U's with rope!).

The third "Harp Guitar Brochure" image shows the change to the small soundhole and also to 10 subs (11 being the other option, 12 specifically abandoned).  The scale is not given

The fourth "catalog E" image seems identical to the former, with the new scale given (25-¾"), 

Strangely, I cannot seem to detect the scale length change (from 27-¼" to 25-¾") in the above line-up.

The sloped connection of the back/side (originally carved from a single block) to the neck of the last three specimens would seem to be a fantasy of the engraver's (were they starting with the previous year's image and only altering certain features?) no actual specimens have been seen (though, maddeningly, an R with a small soundhole and this back/side/neck configuration has).

Similarly, as far as I know, no specimens with the fancy fingerboard curlicue extension have ever been seen

George Gruhn pointed out long ago how the catalogs always stated "maple back and sides," yet none were apparently ever built.  Instead, the early models were typically walnut (occasionally mahogany) and the later ones birch.  

There are numerous other catalog discrepancies, and scores of actual known instruments with additional combinations of features, many mixed and matched from early and later catalog specs  Eventually, we will be creating next a full archive of these many typical variants and custom configurations.

Catalog F
late 1908/early 1909

The new style U (already announced in Cadenza, July, 1908 [see Ads]) makes its catalog debut (plus see Patent below).  My dating above comes from Cadenza and Crescendo magazines; both announced receiving this catalog in their January, 1909 issues.  Note "Patent Applied For" at top of page, which also confirms the period (patent filed Nov 9, 1908).

The soundboard of these earliest floating bridge U's was "ebonized unless otherwise ordered" (and indeed, nearly all from the first few years are blacktops).

Note also that there is again a separate "harp guitar treatise" offered (same as c.1906 or ?).

Catalog G
c. October, 1910

The new patent notice appears on the top of the page (the patent having been granted in July).

Catalog H
c. 1912

Slightly different graphics, otherwise identical to G

Catalog I
c. 1914-1915

Catalog I now switches to red sunburst as standard (ebonized or golden orange finish by special order).

J (1917)

These 4 catalogs show the same U engraving as Catalog I, with nearly identical text (they drop the soundboard finish options).

They continue (for awhile) to offer the free harp guitar treatise, and amazingly, even up to c.1921 include "Always state whether gut or wire strings are wanted" (see the Soundboard article below).

This partial PDF of J includes several intriguing pages on harp guitar details, including spare parts, string options and the hilarious 2-page article "A Little Harp Guitar Talk".

Catalog N
c. 1923
Catalog O
c. 1924-1925
Catalog P
(c. 1926)

Duplicate of Catalog O

Catalog Q
c. 1928
Catalog R
c. 1929

Duplicate of Catalog Q

Catalog "Blue Cover"
c. 1930-1931
Catalog U
c. 1932
Catalog W
c. 1934
Catalog X
c. 1936
Catalog Y
c. 1937

Duplicate of Catalog X

This was the harp guitar's last appearance.


January, 1903, The Cadenza
Gibson's first ad, which announces the first catalog that will be available "about the first of February."
July, 1908, 
The Cadenza
The new floating-bridge Style U is first seen
1911, source unknown 1913, Cosmopolitan 1917, Popular Mechanics 1920s, Popular Mechanics Unknown

Instructional Material

The "Gibson" New Model Harp-Guitar

This fascinating article is from The Sounding Board - Gibson's own publication distributed to its sales force as a marketing aid.  These were published throughout the 1910s and into the 1920s. This particular issue is Vol. 3  # 3, from 1914. That means the article is referring to the floating tailpiece "jazz" bridge Style U.  It offers the best glimpse into Gibson's intentions for their harp guitar. Note the mention that the tops (even though arched and quite thick) were specifically built for gut strings, not steel. Not only that, but they recommended moving all strings over by a string (use a B for the E, etc.!) - in other words, increasing the standard gut tension considerably. Of course, the advantage of the sub-basses is the main focus of the article, and it includes specific examples of chord structure possible on the Gibson harp guitar.

Article collected by John Stropes, Xerox shared by Frank Doucette.

The Modern Harp-Guitar: Tuning the Sub-Basses
by Walter Boehm

This article is from The Cadenza, August, 1910. In it, Walter Boehm discusses the reasoning behind the tuning for Gibson's 10-sub-bass harp guitar. It is believed that Boehm proposed this tuning to Gibson, which they adopted by about 1906.

Note: This is a single-issue Cadenza article only. The caption at the end of the article ("To be continued in the September issue") is a typo!

Cadenza copy provided by Tom Noe.




Book of Solos for the Harp Guitar
1918 music folio by J. A. Witter
( Members Only - password required)

Likely the only historical publication of its time.
12 arrangements for the Gibson harp guitar that provide an example of the repertoire of one of the few dedicated harp guitar soloists.

Harp Guitar Arrangements by Walter Boehm
from The Cadenza

The Gibson Story
by Julius Bellson
( Members Only - password required)

A portion of the groundbreaking 1973 booklet by 
the late Gibson historian.

Gibson's Harp Guitar Patent
Filed Nov 9, 1908
Granted July 19th, 1910

The classic Style U, designed by Gibson engineer George D. Laurian.

Perhaps the foremost Gibson harp guitar soloist was Walter Boehm, who helped Gibson create their eventual tuning system.  The first piece is his composition for mandolin and harp guitar from April, 1907, the second, an arrangement from August, 1907


By late 1908 (catalog "F") the new 10-string tuning was already referred to as the ""universal or Standard System."  They credit Boehm, always including a comment like "Many of the above suggestions in tuning we owe to Walter Boehm, one of the most competent authorities (or respected Harp-guitarists) of America."

Catalogs F through M include "Always state whether gut or wire strings are wanted."  However, they go further in the back of the catalogs, (the following example from 1917's J) offering six options of strings for the neck strings (however, note that gut was intended, per the Sounding Board article above). The sub-bass "Contra-bass strings" were available (always) only in silver (presumably silver-plated copper) or copper, wound on silk over a wire core.  The two different colored metals for the wrap were not chosen for tonal differences, but to "color-code" the strings for a visual guide, just as in a harp (using copper for every third string clever!).

6-string neck
Option 1 silvered wire (E,B,G), with option of silver spun on silver (B,G) The descriptions at left are directly from the 1917 Gibson catalog J. Unfortunately, the grammar and verbiage is pretty arbitrary and we are not always sure exactly what components make up each type of string.  For example, this one...option of "silver spun on silver" - a skinny silver-wound silver B and G string?
Option 2 silvered compound, spun on silk & silvered wire (E,B,G)  What is the "compound"? Does Gibson mean a compound alloy of silver and another metal as the outer wrap - wound over silk with a silver wire core? Or does "silvered compound" refer to the fact that the string is a "compound string" of silver and silk? In what order? Can a high E string be wound in three or even two layers?
Option 3 copper (E,B), with option of copper spun on copper (B) Like Option 1, a wound B string all in copper?
Option 4 silk (E), gut (B) Is the "silk" E silk spun on silk? 
Option 5 silvered spun silk (E,B,G) No idea what this refers to!
Option 6 compound strings (copper spun on silk with wire center) This one actually sounds normal.
Sub-bass ("Contra-bass strings")
G# silver wound  Though "silver" or "copper" wrap is stated, this presumably means "silver-plated copper" as is standard today.  

The two different wraps are wound on "silk with wire center" (silk and steel).

G silver wound
F# copper wound
F silver wound
D# silver wound
D copper wound
C# silver wound
C silver wound
B copper wound
A# silver wound
Additional two strings for 12-sub-bass model.
A silver wound
G# copper wound
Note that for the "old 12-bass model" the original tuning of Eb chromatically down to E (an octave below the neck's E string) as given in the 1903 catalog is no longer specified. Instead, they simply use the same tuning as the standard 10-bass model for the first ten strings (still no E), adding a low A and G#. It may be that this tuning and stringing is intended for later standard-scale scroll-bridge instruments that were modified for 12 basses instead of the now-standard 10 - as opposed to the 1903 long-scale original 12-bass instruments.

The tuning for the 6 sub-bass version (from the 1903 catalog) is given as "usually D descending to F. Some players vary this tuning for flat keys."  Therefore, the nominal tuning would be (low-to-high): F (an octave below the 1st fret on the E string), G, A, B, C, D.  No options are listed for the original transitional 9-bass version.

A full chart of all Gibson harp guitar tunings is included in the Tunings page.


The Gibson harp guitars seem to have been the most photographed version of all time.
There are hundreds of images out there, of which we've just touched the surface. Please send yours in!

< Back to Gibson Table of Contents

Gibson section by Benoît Meulle-Stef with the help of:

  • Gregg Miner for editing, photos, formatting, additional research and information, appendix
  • George Gruhn for original catalog material and help
  • Dan Beimborn for catalog material and consultation
  • Frank Nordberg for catalog materials
  • Rod McDonald and Paul Fox for catalog material and consultation
  • Many other owners and sellers of Gibson harp guitars (credited in captions)

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