Knutsen Self-Modified Harp Hawaiian Guitar   
Left-handed to Right-handed to 6-string!

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(images copyright Gregg Miner)

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There inevitably must come a time with Knutsen instruments when “fancy” turns to “garish.”
This may be that time.
There is a reason, however, for the patchwork quilt of excessive, ill-placed inlays all over this guitar. The details tell a pretty clear, but highly unusual story…

This instrument clearly started out as a left-handed harp Hawaiian, with the common 2 basses and 4 trebles.
It was then re-configured to become a right-handed harp Hawaiian, with the same stringing pattern (now reversed).
Finally, it was modified again into it’s current state – a right-handed six-string.
The fascinating thing is – all the modifications appear to have been made by Knutsen himself! And, as it is probably one of the later models, it must have been done in a relatively short span of time.

Version 1.
The left-handed beginnings are first evident in the main koa and mahogany sections of the top. They are a mirror image of (most) right-handed specimens. By the way, I haven’t yet pointed out that, on all these and similar instruments, these contrasting wood sections are not inlaid into the top, but are the top, fitted like giant puzzle pieces suspended in space (how the top survives or produces a decent tone is just another part of the Knutsen mystique!). These design elements aside, the fingerboard extension is also a reverse of all right-handed specimens (i.e. always on the treble side). Clearly, this guitar was initially intended for a left-handed customer. An aside: it’s not known whether left-handed Chris Knutsen played steel guitar in addition to harp guitar. The standard harp arm was attached to the right side of the upper neck – apparently with 3, rather than the normal 2, screws. The holes are simply plugged (cosmetically disguised) with bridge pins. Underneath the current Knutsen-made bridge, the holes for the two bass strings remain. Strangely, there were two sets of treble string pins (on the left side of the body for the original “lefty” configuration) – all the holes are still visible from inside. The upper and lower 4-hole rows of each set are adjacent to each other. One set was filled with round pearl inlays and filler (note that all original or replaced inlays are from Knutsen’s recognizable stash of “flower” and “snowflake” patterns). The other set was covered by solid wood inlaid designs (the lower with strange inlays matching the “pickguard”). For this first version, there would have been a different nut and bridge.

Version 2. For whatever reason (perhaps losing the left-handed customer), the guitar was next modified into a right-handed version of the same 12-course harp Hawaiian. The screw and pin holes were hidden or “disguised” as discussed above, and the old bridge was replaced by a shape similar to the existing bridge (a slight indentation of a similarly shaped, but slightly smaller bridge can be seen with the current bridge removed). A new bass harp arm was attached on the left side, where again, the screw holes were later plugged with bridge pins. The new “pickguard” was probably added at this time, and is inlaid into the top. Of unknown wood, this piece is inlaid with a similar “pre-psychedelic” flower design (made of abalone, pearl and, for the thin pieces, celluloid) as HHW14. This time, the tail end of the trebles attached to the bridge (as on HHW7, which coincidentally has an identical bridge design!) – the holes are visible from inside (and underneath the current bridge), and are interspersed among the older left-handed bass string holes. The four upper end pins were inserted into the pickguard area, and were subsequently filled/disguised with more "flower" inlays.

Version 3. I’m not sure why Knutsen (or his new customer) still was not satisfied, but the decision was made to remove all the harp strings, plug and disguise this second set of holes, and pretend it was supposed to be a 6-string all along. Other players might have simply ignored or removed the strings, but Knutsen went to great lengths to try to turn it into an “original” 6-string, including installing a third, unblemished bridge (note that it is, of course, inappropriately shaped for a 6-string bridge. He was necessarily hiding the harp string holes and marks of the identical earlier bridge).

Other features and comments:
This is the widest yet of Knutsen's "Weissenborn-shaped" Hawaiians - the lower bout is almost a quarter inch over the next largest. Similar to the short and squat HHW16, it also has an even shorter scale - nearly two inches shorter than the 25" average.
Funny headstock:
The headstock probably suffered damage to the end, ergo someone created a new “cut-out” design to clean it up, additionally painting both sides black. I plan to recreate it as close to original as possible.
My guess is that the guitar started out as a fairly tasteful “fancy” model, with minimal celluloid dot and pearl “snowflake” inlays. As the substantial amount of additional “disguising” inlay was added, Knutsen probably kept throwing more on the fingerboard, to keep up. It’s a pretty strange, asymmetrical mix of shapes and materials.
Again, Knutsen uses the unstable "puzzle-piece" part-of-the-top construction.  Note how the innermost koa ring is deliberately out-of-round. Rather cool!

A couple more inlay touches, very rare on the backs of Knutsen instruments.
Missing. Again, the instrument has features of the presumably later Temple Street period and last McDuff Street instruments. Remnants of a handwritten tuning guide are currently visible through the soundhole. Stranger yet are the cut-up portions of a religious bulletin glued here and there inside the top. They were put in from the beginning, as both sets of lower left-side treble pin holes are drilled right through the paper. Was Knutsen “cheaping out” again and simply using any material at hand as “seam tape”? Overall, the insides of this guitar are about as sloppy and embarrassing as anything Knutsen’s done.
None, unless the "Glendale Branch of the Angelus Temple" glued inside is a clue.
I find the  modern story pretty interesting however. Somehow, this Knutsen sat unidentified and unsold for over three years in San Francisco's Guitar Center (with an extremely reasonable sticker price yet!). Finally, after becoming familiar with some of the specimens in the Knutsen Archives, John Bushouse (who owns the Dunn tenor harp-uke on the Similar Instruments page) put two and two together and sent in some quick photos. He and I (and G.C.) quickly worked out a deal - I couldn't let this one get away!

Conceivably, one could easily re-configure this instrument back to either a right or left-handed harp Hawaiian, and I’ve toyed with the idea. For now, I’d like to preserve the evidence of what I believe is an original all-Knutsen story.
You gotta love it!

Knutsen Archives Inventory Number



Hollow Neck Hawaiian Guitars

                 Body Style

"'Weissenborn-shaped' Harp Hawaiian" > "Hawaiian"

                 Current or last known owner

Gregg Miner

                 Year (approx)

late period



                 Courses / Strings

12 course left-handed: 6 strings on neck, 2 bass, 4 treble > 12 course right-handed: 6 strings on neck, 2 bass, 4 treble > 6 string right-handed


inlaid wood

                 Scale length ~23-1/8"
                 Neck Joint hollow, square, taper begins between the fourth and fifth fret



spruce with koa and mahogany sections

Back & Sides








Headstock veneer


Binding, trim










rope, koa


pretty much everything imaginable


ebony? Or dyed wood? With inlaid pear, abalone and celluloid

Dimensions Upper Bout 10-1/4"
Lower Bout 16-3/16"
Body at endpin 3-11/16"


see above


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