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Harp Ukuleles

What On Earth Were They Thinking?  

by Gregg Miner

First web publication: August, 2005
Updated October 2021

This is an updated and continually expanding version of my article that appeared in the 2003 second (and last) issue of the Ukulele Occasional.

Update August, 2013: It's been ten years since this article appeared in the Ukulele Occasional, and a year later on this site.  The article featured the only two historical builders of harp-ukes (Knutsen and Altpeter, still the only known examples), and three modern makers' new harp-ukulele designs.  My original sub-title "What on Earth Were They Thinking?" seems quaint today, as the "aberration" has since gone completely mainstream...mass production runs even!  Constantly adding new instruments to this page, my latest 2021 update now includes an incredible (and likely incomplete) total of thirty contemporary luthiers or instrument companies that have made or are making harp-ukuleles!
October, 2021: Another 15 new builder's designs added!

Harp Ukulele - the name alone seems a contradiction in terms. Yet once upon a time in America, this unlikely hybrid (or perhaps “variation” is a better word) was dreamt up and produced by not one, but two, unique individuals – separately and in completely different forms.  But what’s truly astonishing is that these unusual early 20th Century concepts are being revisited today by modern luthiers.  In this feature, we’ll take a look at the historical examples, and then visit the talented individuals who’ve more recently put their own creative twists on the oft-neglected harp-uke. NOTE 1

The first and best-known harp ukulele was created by transplanted Norwegian Chris Knutsen, the pioneering inventor of the “One Armed Guitar." NOTE 2 Patented in Port Townsend, Oregon in 1896, this latter instrument featured a hollow arm extending out of the upper bass bout of a conventional flattop guitar – presumably to act as an additional resonating chamber. Within a year or so, Knutsen added extra bass “harp” strings to the arm.  Knutsen’s career is still poorly understood, but it is generally assumed that he was, for the most part, a one-man operation, using sometimes questionable lutherie practices, who managed to support himself and his family through building increasingly outlandish instruments up until his death in 1930. NOTE 2b

Knutsen’s 1896 and 1898 “One Armed Guitars”

Residing in Seattle by 1906, Knutsen was in the right place at the right time to get into the ukulele business. The Pacific Northwest first got a glimpse of the “jumping flea” in 1905, as Hawaiian musicians played the Lewis & Clark Expo in Portland, Oregon and toured the area.  It’s likely that Knutsen saw some of these performances and certain that he attended Seattle’s Alaska-Yukon Pacific Expo in 1909.  We now believe that Knutsen began building his famous Hawaiian guitars at this time – in all probability copying a particular Hawaiian form he saw during this period. NOTE 3   It’s obvious that he also saw, heard and examined the many ukuleles present at these events, and in fact, the whole burgeoning Hawaiian music craze inspired him to create a whole line of “New Hawaiian Family” instruments.  These may have been created specifically for an even bigger event, the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.  Besides his new Hawaiian guitars (in both six-string and “harp” configurations), this “family” consisted of new harp guitar models, along with mandolins and ukuleles which incorporated the same hollow “harp” arm extension (mandolins with and without bass strings, ukes all without).  I suspect that Knutsen intended them specifically for Hawaiian musicians, to offer something different and unique, in keeping with his harp guitars (which had kept him in business since 1895).  Surviving photographs hint at his success - rhythm players are often seen with Knutsen harp guitars and harp mandolins, and slide players pose with his “Weissenborn-shaped” Hawaiians. NOTE 4

We don’t yet know when Knutsen built his first harp uke - the earliest confirmed date is 1913-1914, based on an instrument containing a “Harp Guitar Factory” label with his known address at this time.  We’re also pretty sure that he was prevented from creating his harp mandolins and harp ukes until December 1910 by an existing mandolin patent similar in design. NOTE 5   Besides the label previously mentioned, three other examples are known – unfortunately not precisely datable.

“Patent Applied For, C. Knutsen” – which may have been intended to cover the body design of his hollow-armed uke (but which was apparently never granted). I date these labels as somewhere between 1909 and 1914.

Update: Knutsen used "Patent Applied For" on different printed labels throughout his long years, along with many with "Patent aplod" handwritten on other labels. I'm now fairly positive that these were all in reference to a patent he filed - but that was never granted - meant to cover the various means he used to adjust the neck action of all of his instruments. See: Patent Applied For: Knutsen’s Adjustable Neck

"New Hawaiian Family" – discussed above (these labels picture two or four instruments, including the harp uke, and state “Knutsen’s Patents” – a bluff?).  For the ukes, Knutsen simply cut off half of the “NHF” label.  In my opinion, the New Hawaiian Family series began about 1914 and lasted through the 'teens.

And the very interesting “ERNEST KAAI DEALER, UKULELE, HONOLULU , HAWAII ” - Kaai’s standard label placed in a Knutsen instrument – for distribution in Hawaii?  Knutsen must have met the uke virtuoso Kaai in 1909, when the latter was engaged to coordinate the Hawaiian music at the AYP Expo.

Could Kaai have been the instigator of Knutsen’s foray into the ukulele market?  There is simply no way to know, nor if the instrument containing this label was thus one of the first built, or part of a later business arrangement.  Regardless of the exact dates of the labels, it seems Knutsen offered his harp ukuleles all the way to the very end of his life and career, as one is pictured on his final McDuff St. label (his residence from 1927 to 1930).

Nearly all of Knutsen’s ukes have the same general scale length of 13-5/8” to 13-7/8” and the same general shape of the body and arm (except for the larger taropatches).   But it appears that Knutsen never used forms or a basic template, as every single example known has a slightly to significantly different headstock and arm tip configuration.

A sampling of Knutsen harp uke headstock shapes

And just how many examples are there, anyway?  We have no idea how many ukuleles, let alone instruments, Chris Knutsen made during his long career. NOTE 7   The Knutsen Archives (created and maintained by myself), the online site that collects data on all known Knutsen instruments, existing or historical, lists a total to date of just thirty-four harp ukuleles made, of which only twenty-eight survive!  Undoubtedly, there are others, both those hidden in private hands and those lost or destroyed, but I highly doubt we’ll ever document a hundred in our lifetimes. NOTE 8 

UPDATE: As of 2021, I have inventoried at least 49 harp ukuleles.

Three of those that are presumed lost to time are those of Knutsen’s own family members. The wonderful picture below was discovered in a niece’s family photo album, and shows three girls holding a standard-size harp uke, a slightly larger size harp uke, and a roughly tenor-sized harp taropatch.

The girl in the center is Margaret Cammon, whose granddaughter Linda Cameron discovered the photograph.  Margaret’s father Frank was Chris’ younger brother. At left is Chris Knutsen’s third daughter, Myrtle (b.1906), and at right his granddaughter Lacretia (b.1907 to Evalda, Chris' middle daughter).

One of the rarest and most unique of Knutsen's instrument designs is his harp taropatch (a taropatch is a double-strung ukulele of somewhat larger size).  Four surviving specimens are now known; two with a 16-1/2" scale length and 3-ply blonde-red-blonde binding, and two with a 14-3/8" scale length and rope binding.

Update, August 2013: Here's my own Knutsen taropatch: specimen HT5, which I purchased in March, 2012:


It is the smaller version with a body size about halfway between a concert uke and a tenor uke.

It underwent significant re-refinishing to get back to semi-original shape. It appears to be made of red gum (Knutsen's infamous "fake-koa").  Though Knutsen's harp-ukes are nothing special, tonewise, this harp-taropatch sounds better than my Martin taropatch.

I also obtained another (since sold) for a total inventory of five known Knutsen harp-taropatches in two different sizes. See: Knutsen Double Vision

Quality and appointments of the Knutsen ukes range from very simple and plain to koa fully bound with rope.  Knutsen never used any model or style numbers, but the current specimens fall into these nine basic styles (NOTE: quantities are incomplete as I have at least another half dozen specimens to add to the Knutsen Archives):

  • Black-painted birch, no binding (1)

  • Mahogany, with

    • no binding (3)

    • 3-ply wood binding on top (blonde-green-blonde)(1)

  • Koa (available to Knutsen by 1909), with:

    •   no binding (6)

    • 3-ply wood binding on top (blonde-red-blonde)(2)

    •  rope binding on top (8)

    • rope-bound top and fingerboard (1)

    • rope-bound top, fb, and headstock (4)

    • rope-bound top, fb, hs, and back (1)

UPDATE: Again, the count above is out-of-date. In addition, an even fancier version was discovered in 2019. See: HU45 – the Fancier Fanciest Known Knutsen Harp Ukulele

Of interest are the three or four different sizes of the rope pattern (and occasionally color) that Knutsen used on the different ukes.

Another unique feature of these harp ukuleles was the way Knutsen took advantage of the sturdy, protruding harp arm to help set and locate the neck to adjust the action.  Like many of his harp guitars, (and true “convertible” harp-Hawaiian guitars), the harp ukes have an L-bracket in place of a neck heel, with a second L-bracket connecting the neck to the harp arm.  This bracket is slotted, with a screw to tighten into proper final position.  As stated above, the Knutsens were “harp ukes” in name and appearance only – they had no extra strings.  Or did they?  One intriguing specimen, unfortunately heavily-restored, actually has one extra bass string, attached at the end of the arm.  It looks reasonable and authentic, except that the way it’s attached to the bridge admittedly looks like an afterthought (or add-on).

Note the single bass string. Any experiment by Knutsen, or someone else? Either way, it works!

Ultimately, the Knutsen “one arm” harp ukuleles can be played just like any other standard four-string uke.  Though the arm probably adds nothing to the sound (or ease of playing), it certainly looks cool.  To me, there is something that just looks “right” about a Knutsen harp uke – it doesn’t appear odd in the least.  The same cannot be said for our second type of harp ukulele …

Altpeter’s “Double Bass Uke.” This is a strange one.  A true harp-uke, this goofy thing has extra strings on both sides of the neck.  We can more accurately call this then a double harp ukulele, as the German Altpeter was clearly following the 19th century European custom of referring to harp guitars as “bass guitars.”

But where did this instrument come from?  And who is Altpeter?  Unfortunately, I’ve yet to discover anyone who has ever heard of Franz Walter Altpeter, nor have I found any biographical information on him. NOTE 9   Though he apparently built similarly bizarre guitars, none have ever been found – and this single ukulele, formerly in Chuck Fayne’s collection, seems to be the only instrument known by this maker!  Luckily, there is a label in the instrument, which reads:

F.W. ALTPETER, maker
2405 So. Ogden Ave.
PAT'D, 2-22-27

So now we know whom, where and when. But why?

The patent, which shows a somewhat different, albeit equally strange instrument, helps tell the story.  Filed on November 10, 1923 and granted on February 22, 1927, patent # 1,618,626 is simply titled “Fretted Musical Instrument.”  With this design patent, Altpeter seems to be trying to invent, not only a new instrument (see illustration), but a new way of playing!  Altpeter talks about this invention for two-plus pages, but what it boils down to is a harp guitar-like concept to be applied to any type of fretted instrument (presumably including ukulele).  The first section of the patent is to cover a "new method" of playing, wherein one is to swap the three high strings with the three low, in order to strum the three high accompaniment strings with the thumb (preferably with a metal thumbpick to "add materially to the loudness"), while plucking the lower strings with the fingers! NOTE 10  Altpeter then continues on about the volume problem of guitars and similar instruments, suggesting the addition of open bass strings ("four are usually sufficient for most players").  He ignores the fact that many makers had created versions of harp guitars for the same reason prior to this (in fact, Altpeter's were probably the very last to be introduced).  However, unlike typical harp guitars, his bass strings are on the opposite side of the neck, to be played with the fingers, because of the backward tuning!  He does allow the option for "normal" playing (in fact, the drawing shows the guitar's main strings in normal tuning) – but in this configuration the location of the extra bass strings makes absolutely no sense!

But Altpeter is far from finished.  Because "it is sometimes desirable that the auxiliary neck extend from the body in a direction opposite from the main neck,” he proposes a removable neck that can be easily slot-fitted to either end of the body!  For those of us who have difficulty looking over the bulky arm of our Dyer and Knutsen harp guitars, this actually sounds like a great idea.  Who knows what they would have sounded like however, not to mention the bizarre appearance!  I suspect that few (if any) of these option-filled instruments were made or sold – both because of the questionable construction requirements and the new playing method demands on the performer.

Which brings us to the one existing instrument: the Double Bass Uke.  The neck of this soprano-sized, dark-stained mahogany instrument contains the standard four ukulele strings (we can only guess if they were to be tuned backwards!). What I call the "yoke" has nails to loop one end of the auxiliary strings around and slotted screws to act as nuts/guides.  Reflecting his patent’s recommended neck placement, the geared tuners for these strings are not at the top where they'd normally be, but protruding from the other end!  Details become more curious when we begin counting the appendages: four auxiliary tuners; two auxiliary bridges flanking the normal bridge - each with three slots; and finally, two nails/nuts on the left side of the yoke and three on the other.  Additionally, the yoke is asymmetrical with a support on the left side only.  All of this appears original.  My belief is that the overly creative Altpeter is again giving us options: a maximum of four auxiliary strings, with the option of either two on each side, one on the left - three on the right, or perhaps only one side to be used by the performer.  To explore the latter theory further, perhaps his patent idea gave rise to the “double bass” concept.  That is, auxiliary strings on both sides of the standard neck, so that the player could use (and string and tune) whichever side best suited their playing style (or to tackle Altpeter’s eccentric “new method” of playing).  I can imagine him having difficulty with the issue of the bass neck placement on the patent instrument, and modifying it into a "left-or-right,” or double, harp guitar. The label implies that he built some of these "Double Bass Guitars" also.

Therefore, I would imagine that this singular ukulele was also tuned with the extra strings as lower “bass” notes - but what an idea!  They definitely get in the way of strumming, but it’s clear that Altpeter intended for the strings to be played finger style.  Indeed, in his own words, they are “adapted to be played open and hence add materially to the volume of sound” and “carrying property of the tone.” Well, duh!

UPDTE August, 2008:  See exclusive photos and information from Altpeter's descendants here.

OK, so now you know that a "Harp Ukulele" can be either a psuedo-harp-uke with only a hollow arm, or a true harp-uke with floating strings.

But neither concept was revisited until decades later. It would begin with hollow-arm instruments, as luthiers were only familiar with Knutsen's hollow-arm, but it would eventually morph predominately into true harp ukuleles with floating (bass) strings, inspired by vintage and modern harp guitars.

Following is a general timeline of these modern instruments, and is by no means no longer a complete list of the many luthiers to experiment with the idea.

Contemporary Harp Ukes  

Knutsen harp ukes, while known to most collectors since at least 1988 (when Robert Hartman included them in the second edition of his Larson Brothers’ book NOTE 11, are nonetheless exceptionally rare - and now quite pricey, making them doubly difficult to acquire.  But if you’ve got to have one (and why wouldn’t you?!), you’ll be glad to know they’re once again available.  And, no – not some cheesy knockoffs made overseas, but by some of the best luthiers out there.

In 1993, New Yorker Harry Eibert amused the guitar world by building, not a historical re-creation, but a completely new harp uke!  Inspired by the numerous Larson Brothers harp guitars that he’d restored over the years, Harry decided to build a ukulele version of the famous Dyer Symphony Harp Guitar – complete with extra strings!  Just as the Dyer guitar has six standard stings and six bass strings, so Eibert’s harp uke has four standard strings and four open strings.  At the time of it’s creation, none of us knew that Knutsen (or anyone else) had ever built the smaller “harp” instruments with extra strings, so this was an original and very novel idea at the time (heck, it still is!). NOTE 12   It’s a gorgeous and very classy concert-size instrument, with curly koa back and sides and a Swedish cedar top, all bound in 5-ply black & white ivoroid.  The neck is Spanish cedar, with an ebony fingerboard containing pearl bird fret markers – all topped off with a stunning burl yellow birch veneer on both headstocks.  Of course, the most distinctive features are the dolphin-shaped bridge and arm soundhole.  For the extra strings, Harry says he “encourages people to experiment with different tunings to see what happens.  For instance, after the dolphin uke was done, a friend who is a classical guitarist/teacher played some early Bach on it using the sympathetic strings chromatically.  It was great!”  Harry has built one other harp uke (with a bird replacing the dolphin), a harp mandolin (also with extra strings), and a striking variation on the Dyer harp guitar.  As for all the different, creative designs, Harry says “it was all for creative fun - after 29 years of restoration, you really need some other direction at times!” – and adds he’s always ready for the next challenging commission.

eibert_tenoruke-eibert.jpg (81153 bytes)

In January, 2011, Harry completed this outrageous tenor harp uke for Dick Dillof with 6 strings (4 course) on the neck and 6 subs!

See my Blog "Tenor, Dick and Harry"

While the harp guitar is enjoying a true resurgence these days, I’m not exactly sure how the harp ukulele revival is progressing.  But whatever the case, if a true fad should arise, then Canadian luthier Michael Dunn is prepared to meet it!  Michael, who is well known for his unique Maccaferri/Selmer-style guitars (among other instruments), has been something of a Knutsen aficionado since he worked on a Knutsen harp guitar in 1970.  Thirty years later, he examined a friend’s Knutsen harp uke, and since it needed work anyway, he took the back off, enabling him to make complete measurements – from which he built his own version. NOTE 13   He’s since built over a dozen of them (and counting).  But while he uses the same form for each one, the similarities end there.  Like Knutsen’s own instruments, no two of Michael’s are ever alike.  A partial list of the woods he has used includes spruce and koa for the tops, with back and sides of Mediterranean cypress, birdseye maple, mahogany, koa and a special blackwood instrument for his wife.  That one featured rope binding of ebony and bone – for the others he uses a wide variety of woods (all individually hand-cut and fitted) including ebony, purpleheart, padauk, holly, boxwood, pernambuco and sapele in various contrasting configurations.  My personal favorites of the Dunn harp ukes are those of birdseye maple (like the one pictured) – a version Knutsen should have made!  He’s also built two all-koa concert-size instruments (with a 15” scale length instead of the usual 13-3/8”), and most recently a tenor harp uke!

Perhaps the best part is that his harp ukes are not only wonderful, but also very affordable (from what I’ve seen listed on Elderly Instruments, Gruhn Guitars and Mandolin Brothers sites).  When asked in early 2004 (for this article's publication) if any other harp uke variations were in his future plans, the ever prolific and creative Michael replied, “I think sometime I would like to do a tenor and use three extra strings or so.....however, that would be way down the line.  What I would really like to build is the Maccaferri harp guitar...but that will have to come after the Charlie Christian guitar...and on and on...”

Since that 2004 quote, Michael was inspired enough to create two new instruments - the tenor uke (with no extra strings) and a harp tenor guitar - with extra bass strings! 

Michael Dunn's own "New Hawaiian Family"
(l-r) Harp Tenor Guitar, Harp Tenor Ukulele, Harp Ukulele

In January, 2011, Michael created this amazing "What if Maccaferri had built a Harp-Uke" for me, at my not-too-difficult prodding:

See my Blog "Dunn is Done!"

And in August, 2013, another new one from Michael, an all-koa baritone harp-uke with four subs!

The Crane Harp Ukulele

Lest you think the harp ukulele phenomenon could only occur in America, our next harp ukulele variation hails from Japan.  This creation was built by the enterprising Makoto Tsuruta, under his “Crane” brand name.  His specialty is building 16th -19th century guitar reproductions, and in fact, one such early “doppleguitarre” by Voboam in 1690 was his inspiration for this unusual instrument.  Having the appearance of a teeny uke nestled within the body of a soprano uke, it also reminds me of that strange American harp guitar by Maurer (Makoto was not aware of this one, which is actually the reverse - a standard guitar jammed into a larger harp guitar).

1690 Voboam

1912 Maurer
harp guitar

Full construction details and photos of this unique work in progress are revealed on the Crane web site.  Made from the finest Hawaiian quilted koa, the uke features a standard 320mm neck and a secondary 190mm neck with two “resonant” strings.  Currently, Makoto uses classical guitar strings, and tunes the main neck gc’e’a’ (the g an octave lower than typical), with the secondary strings at A and d.  Thus, left to right, the six strings sound as a guitar capoed at the fifth fret.  He plays it finger style, allowing the extra two strings to add resonance.  Makoto says he enjoys making instruments like this one for himself, where he can experiment freely – hinting that he might be unhappy under the constraints of a customer’s expectations. That’s a shame, for another creative luthier like Makoto Tsuruta is always welcome!

Soon after my original article was published in the Ukulele Occasional, more unique harp ukuleles were discovered on the Internet.  None is more unique than this 10-course harp uke with sub-basses and super-trebles!

It was built by Koji Sugiura in 2003, who says that he "made this uke in tribute to Michael Hedges & Morihiko Yasuda."

It features top, neck, back and sides of Honduras Mahogany, body binding of Curly Maple, herringbone soudhole inlay, Madagascar Rosewood bridge and headstock veneer.
 Note the biased scale length and F-style mandolin-type headstock design. 

Mr. Sugiura has a complete "making of" photo essay on his web site (see Sources below).

Soon after, Geoff Davis, who runs Hoosier Maid Ukulele Works in Noblesville, Indiana, made this Knutsen-like (no extra strings) harp uke.  It features Brazilian Cherry back and sides, Honduras Mahogany neck, Sitka Spruce top and red, green and white binding.

And now it's July 2006. Another fine ukulele builder, Duane Heilman, enters the harp-uke world with his killer koa hollow-arm soprano size variation.

Duane said,

"I have always wanted to make a harp uke in the tradition of Knutsen but didn't want to do a copy.  I decided that I didn't want the neck to attach to the body the same way Knutsen harp ukes do, with a metal bracket.  A traditional tapered dove-tail joint was used instead.  The upper portion of the arm or sound chamber also does not attach to the head of the neck as the Knutsen did. The neck is independent of the arm.  This is one of the most labor intensive ukes I have built.  I hope to repeat this design with other sizes in the future.
The body, neck, fingerboard, bridge and headplate are all made of highly flamed solid Koa wood.  The neck also has a graphite truss rod for stability. All the binding is in the traditional small rope style and is a combination of white bass wood and walnut. T he fretboard inlays are small curved MOP diamonds.
The Black Bear logo is MOP inlaid into ebony with a white ring.  Standard size uke frets are used, 12 to the body, 16 total. The tuners are gold-plated Grover 4W friction type with handmade solid bronze knobs.  The body dimensions are: length is 10", width is 5 1/8" upper, 6 3/4" lower, depth is 2" to 2 5/8".  Overall length is 21 1/2".  The back is slightly arched in both directions.  The playing scale is 13 5/8".

Duane has built many gorgeous hollow-arm harp ukes since that first, but none more stunning that his first true harp ukulele with 2 subs!

I sold this (January, 2011) through Harp Guitar Music, and did not want to let it go!

December, 2006: And the sub-basses keep on comin'!  This Wailua harp uke by Thomas Emmett Owen of Hawaii has a short arm with two extra strings.  The tenor-scale instrument has a cedar top and quilted maple back and sides.

March, 2009: Great Britain's David White enters the fray (inspired by this very article) with his insane multi-scale harp-taropatch!

January, 2010: Ken Miller of Tallahassee, Florida (also inspired by this site) designed and built this lovely koa soprano-size harp uke with 3 subs. He's built a couple more since.

And then...

Production Harp Ukuleles

Wow, has it really come to that?!

Yes!  It started with:

March, 2010: Pete Howlett, occasional harp guitar builder from Wales, built this tenor prototype - again, we are now seriously getting into sub-basses!

Howlett next designed a Dyer-shaped tenor harp ukulele and negotiated to have aNueNue build a batch in Asia.

The run of 80-some sold out so quickly that they were talked into doing a second run...which soon sold out. I'm surprised they didn't keep it going.

Next, around 2013, Jay Buckey added harp-ukes to his Ukraine-built harp guitar line. He seems to have been influenced by the aNueNue, or perhaps just his Dyer "copy" harp guitars.  In any event, he chose to include six sub-bass strings - a new harp-ukulele record. Alas, Jay proved to be a controversial and inconsistent part of the harp guitar community and seems to have disappeared.

In August, 2013, a very popular builder of high end harp guitars, Duane Noble, designed his own 4+4 harp-uke, patterned very closely after his famous harp guitars, with a small run in the works.

I sold this one immediately on Harp Guitar Music, while Duane began a series with different woods and trims:

Brazilian rosewood back and sides!

What will undoubtedly be a gorgeous rope-bound koa harp uke...

...and an elaborate custom instrument with cedar top and Madagascar rosewood back and sides for a special customer...

Yes, yours truly. Madagascar Rosewood with cedar top (after trying all of his, I determined that this had the best tone. I had him include a Dyer Style 8 harp guitar inlay on the fretboard. And of course, full bling!

By April 2015, the first electrics had started to appear...

Experimental electric steel-string harp uke by Daniel Hulbert of Utah

But perhaps the biggest news of 2015 was that Alistair Hay of Emerald carbon fiber Synergy harp guitar fame got into the act! Much like the original harp guitar, he was asked to try one (a commission? a dare?), and secretly went off and did so! Here’s his first one:

He's since added them to his extensive line and sold them in every possible color.

And now, I find myself at the end of 2021, realizing I've discovered another half several new harp ukulele designers. In fact, I Googled to catch up and found more! Here then, are some (I suspect not all) of the latest harp-uke builders! In rough order of my discoveries....

Craft Musica of Japan has somewhat productionized output on their Knutesque designs.

By Dennis Kincheloe of Missouri

Self-proclaimed amateur luthier Kathy Matsuhita finished a very lovely instrument in 2012.

A nice Dyer harp guitar-inspired 4-bass by Harvest Moon.

Another Dyer-inspired, but with a full six subs, by Berkshire Guitars.

An original 4-bass design with headstock bling (both!) reminiscent of the Dyer Style 8, by Martin Delabano.

At the French Harp Guitar Festival that I attended, my friend Sean Wooley showed a whole bunch of new harp guitar designs, including his first uke.

I love this one! Designed and built by Gregor Nowak at Grenosi.com in Vienna, it is uke version of the classic Viennese kontragitarre!

schreiner-uke.jpg (495492 bytes)

And another favorite appeared when my friend, "amateur" luthier Michael Schreiner (a pro, in truth) was inspired by the Harmony harp guitar to create a uke version!

By Alan Miller in the U.K.

Vietnam's Bruce Wei is creating intricately inlaid harp-ukes - tenors and baris - selling them through Etsy.

A wild harp-uke with 6 subs and 4 supers (!) built by amateur Stephan Fortier for his friend and mine, Claude Laflamme, a professional harp guitarist in Quebec.

At the same time, our friends the Powell brothers introduced their own harp-uke. They'll customize each one for you.

More recently, I stumbled on a new modern 6-bass by Flyde Guitars


At a glance, these recent designs from Ukulemon in China look stunning.


I had seen the lovely German instrument above by Tom Ziegenspeck a few years ago, but just now found his new solidbody electric!

OK, how cool is that?!

Clearly, harp ukuleles are here to stay...

What's next, luthiers? 



Note 1. To hyphenate, or not to hyphenate – that is the question. The answer is that none of these hybrid instruments have ever been standardized in the dictionary, and the inventors and manufacturers of these instruments themselves used both spellings (for instance, the Gibson Co. used “Harp-guitar” while Dyer used “Harp Guitar”). Most contemporary American writers tend to drop the hyphen, and I have reluctantly followed suit.

Note 2. There is no evidence of what Knutsen (the “k” is pronounced) himself called his ukuleles. He used only the term “Guitar” for his first patent – an instrument with a hollow arm extension but no extra strings (the same form his harp uke would take). His second patent, with bass strings added to the arm, he refers to as a “Harp-Guitar” – and in ads he refers to both versions as the “One-Arm Guitar” or the “One-Arm Harp Guitar. He then changed it to “Symphony Harp Guitar” for his next design. We assume then, that when he added similar mandolins (with or without bass strings) and ukuleles (no bass strings), he similarly used the “harp” prefix – though, for all we know, he may just as well have reverted back and called it the “One-Arm Ukulele.”

Note 2b. The one known case where Knutsen did not operate independently is during his initial years when he received help from one Otto Anderson.

Note 3. This now-infamous form was subsequently copied in Los Angeles by Herman Weissenborn, among others.

Note 4. Ironically, no photos of Hawaiian players with Knutsen harp ukes have been seen.

Note 5. The suspiciously coincidental patent of a “Knutsenesque” “harp mandolin”-like instrument was filed in 1896, immediately after Knutsen’s first patent – by one Ernest Livermore, who was one of Knutsen’s witnesses!  In July, 2005, a new Knutsen design of harp mandolin was discovered with almost certainly a pre-1910 label, so the theory that Knutsen only built harp mandolins and harp ukes after 1910 may not be strictly true.

Note 7. The estimated number of total instruments produced by Knutsen varies from a low of 300 to over 2000, depending on whom you talk to. The truth is, we simply don’t know, and the answer can lie anywhere in-between, or perhaps even higher than 2000.

Note 8. I usually know of one or two un-archived harp ukes that the owners simply can't get around to sharing with us.  This goes for Knutsen harp guitars, steels and mandolins as well.  There are always around a dozen "pending" instruments waiting for Inventory (and you owners know who you are!). And these are only the ones I hear about - a small percentage of those still hidden. Unfortunately, many will simply never be documented.

Note 9. I was unable to find Altpeter in the incomplete Chicago city directories. Michael Simmons managed to convince his friends to drive by Altpeter’s Ogden Avenue address (on old Route 66), but all they found was the usual parking lot.

Note 10. Frankly, I doubt that Altpeter was even a musician. At first he seems to imply that the six standard guitar strings are to be strung backwards (thus a typical player would have to form chords as if playing a left-handed guitar). But later he specifically states that the D string is adjacent to the accompaniment strings – which would result in a tuning of gbe’Ead (now just try to imagine figuring out your chords!)!

Note 11. The Larson Brothers (Carl & August) were renowned builders of some of the finest flat-top guitars and mandolins ever made from ca.1895-1940. One of their best-known creations was a harp guitar built for W.J. Dyer & Bros. (now commonly called “Dyer harp guitars”). This instrument was directly evolved from Knutsen’s harp guitars, previously discussed. Their story and works are presented in books by Robert C. Hartman, the grandson of Carl Larson (see Sources).

Note 12. Dan Most discovered the first Knutsen harp mandolin with extra strings hanging in Guitar Maniacs Tacoma store about 1996 (I finally talked them out of it a year later). There are now five known, plus the one suspect harp uke.

Note 13. The Knutsen harp ukulele Michael Dunn copied belongs to Colin McCubbin, and is Inventory # HU10 in the Knutsen Archives. Luckily, this specimen had one of the more attractive arm and headstock shapes!

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