The Knutsen-Weissenborn Connection  

by Gregg Miner, with Jonathan Kellerman, as part of

Sorry to disappoint you, but the title is something of a teaser.  I am hoping for a volunteer to write a more detailed and scholarly chapter on this topic - there are several more knowledgeable than I, including, of course, Tom Noe, whose book so ably begins the tale.  In the meantime, I wanted to share news of the instrument below, as it is a pretty interesting bit of history for both Weissenborn and Knutsen researchers.

I also asked writer and Weissenborn collector/player Jonathan Kellerman to share the benefit of his considerable experience with these instruments.  Jonathan has a wide range of Weissenborns from various years of production, and knows much more than I do!  He also adds much in the way of valuable historical conjecture, continuing the saga of the much-hidden Knutsen-Weissenborn connection.

We begin with, simply this: a ladder-braced Weissenborn.

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The photos speak for themselves.  They are from an anonymous owner, who wondered about the bracing.  As far as I know, it is the only known ladder-braced Weissenborn - all others are X-braced.  As everyone knows, Knutsen's Hawaiians were also ladder-braced, with various sloppy variations. His backs were either straight or slanted.  

To me, this depicts an obvious early Weissenborn - when Hermann either copied Knutsen's bracing, or was perhaps even instructed or helped by Knutsen, as he built his first instruments.  The ultra-thin body is also believed to be an early-Weissenborn-period form.  But I'll let Jonathan take over from here. -GM

From my experience, the earliest Weissenborns - those with the paper labels - which seem to have been hand-made by Hermann Weissenborn, or perhaps built with the assistance of one or two workers, are softer but a bit more subtle in tone than the later "wood-burned logo" factory models.  As time progresses,  the bridgeplate gets larger and the bridge shorter and chunkier and the volume goes up.  Which was precisely HW's intention.  Often the braces on these instruments are smoother and hand-carved, as opposed to the crude, squarish braces of the later models. The earlier instruments are also more idiosyncratic and varied, visually and dimension-wise - not surprising given that they were hand-crafted and in some cases experimental.

In the earliest Weissenborn I own, a birdseye maple b/s, spruce-topped relatively thin-bodied bound guitar, there are some definite Knutsenesque features - e.g. the wider, butterfly bridge that is extremely similar to Knutsen's design.  The spruce is striped and of uncertain origin, and has aged quite prettily. The maple sides are extremely thin and the back is veneered - figured maple on differently figured maple!  Definitely something one would term Knutsenesque rather than Weissenbornian.  Even more interesting, the guitar is wood-bound quite similar to many Knutsens I've seen.  There may be other examples of such but this is the only Weissenborn I've seen like that.  The guitar sounds marvelous.

One difference between Weissenborn and Knutsen seems to be consistent throughout their respective careers; even on this very early guitar, Weissenborn uses X bracing.  Despite some obvious "borrowing" from Knusten, there are none of the diagonal back-braces, dressmaker's tape, etc, that one sees commonly in Knutsens.  But Knutsen's influence is apparent and the instrument is a fascinating transitional model.  My best guess is Weissenborn built it around 1918, when Knutsen was still working.

It is clear to me that Knutsen instruments served as models for Weissenborn and that HW ended up refining, routinizing, and beefing up the end-product.  Once Weissenborn began turning out the factory-made instruments, there was an even greater tendency toward uniformity, e.g. Styles 1, 2, 3, 4.  Though there was constant refinement along the way.  And toward the end, perhaps due to financial difficulties, HW created some unusual instruments, most notably the teardrops.  My guess is they were made in order to utilize some undersized pieces of koa.  I own two and have seen a couple of others, which is probably close to half of the total production.  All were fashioned from some pretty ugly, tan, almost greenish koa, and were style 1's.  Another interesting variant, is also a later Style 1 - quite deep.  Ben Elder has seen one other like it.  We call it "The Emperor."

In general, I find the Weissenborns more stable and louder than the Knutsens.  Despite that, these are musical instruments with great variability even among similar models. My two teardrops look like identical twins and do share a certain tonal similarity but they still sound quite different from one another. The Knutsen instrument is, of course, the paradigm of individuality.  No two look exactly alike and no two sound remotely similar to each other.  That is a large part of their charm.  Despite some adventurous "technique", Chris Knutsen managed to create some marvelous-sounding instruments whose beauty and utility have endured into the twenty-first century. -JK

Weissenborn in his shop, circa 1929

Thanks to Darrell Urbien for finding and Photoshopping this wonderful image.

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