The Museum of Making Music presents

Harp Guitars: Passion, Imagination, Artistry

Jan 15 - July 31, 2007

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Report by Gregg Miner

This spectacular exhibit - the world's first public museum display of harp guitars is a presentation by the NAMM-supported Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, California, and is an exciting collaboration between the devoted Museum staff, guitar guru Rick Turner, and myself.  Besides including nearly my entire harp guitar collection, other incredible and valuable one-of-a-kind instruments were loaned by several donors (see list below).  

February 3rd marked the Grand Opening, with a gala evening featuring Stephen Bennett in the first of three concerts.

Photo from the North County Times.

Click here for the article and video clips of the opening night!

The March issue of the San Diego Troubadour also includes a nice write-up on harp guitars and the exhibit.

Click here to read the article.


Over 150 visitors to the sold-out event enjoyed wine and cheese while strolling through the "in-the-round" museum, where the harp guitar story was told in three distinct galleries: Europe, America and Modern Makers.  Curator Tatiana Sizonenko tells the 200+ year story, while I supply the details (and the modern builders describe their own creations).  Perhaps half of the specimens are the only examples of their kind known or truly one-of-a-kind - including all the modern instruments.  Dozens of rare photos and other ephemera further paint a picture of the seemingly unusual yet prolific use of these instruments for over two centuries.


Entering the first gallery, one encounters European harp guitars.

Alongside a case of ephemera are an Edward Light and a Scherr-style Stumcke - two completely different "harp guitars in name only." 
The two arch-lutes were included to show the inspiration and precedence for the harp guitar concept; the lyre guitar to compare with the Mozzani chitarra-lyra harp guitar. Frank Doucette (left) looks on as I point at his loaned Schrammel guitar (highlighted at right).  I'm not sure why we're laughing.


Stephen and I in front of the American wall

With his wife, Linda
My wife Jaci Insert Caption Here

As one leaves Gallery, they pass by a wall of American harp guitar ephemera...

Modern Makers

Schmoozing in Gallery 3 are instrument loaner Lowell Levinger (Banana) talking to exhibit curator Tatiana Sizonenko (and two guest in black), while in the foreground I am sharing a story with my musician friends Dave Marchant and Sue Harrison, with Rick Turner (back to the camera) joining in.

Modern harp guitars do not get any more extravagant than two by William Eaton, two by Fred Carlson, the Manzer "Picasso" and a Steve Klein electric, with more "normal" creations by top harp guitar luthiers Mike Doolin and Duane Noble on the floor.

Credits that appeared at the end of the exhibit include everyone that made this possible.  In my list of repairmen (above and beyond the call of duty) is Mario Martello, who did an extensive major museum-quality restoration on my Stumcke in less than a month.  It may have been his last major repair, as he passed away in October of 2006.  I only then learned that he and I share the same birthday.

Museum director Carolyn Grant introduced the evening.

I did a quick re-cap of 350 years of harp guitar history...a quick explanation of evolution in Europe...

...and then the harp guitar in America.  I came up with a new and effective demonstration of what I believe was the key to the American harp guitar's success and popularity - i.e: they were the nation's largest and loudest guitars in an era of small parlor guitars.  Additionally, they were some of the first guitars to make the switch from gut strings to steel.  For backing up the lead players in vaudeville, noisy clubs and large mandolin orchestras, they simply blew the competition away.  Some famous players (such as Butin and Davis, heard on 78 records) never bothered to use their sub-basses at all - the volume increase using just the same 6 strings was plenty.  The demonstration took place "off mic" and consisted of a few simple accompaniment chords on a nylon-string parlor guitar, then the same thing on a huge Harwood harp guitar with the basses muted, then ringing, and finally the same pattern played using the sub-basses along with the neck.  The audience remarked on the dramatic several-fold increase in volume, tone (and finally, range) from start to finish.

I closed with a demonstration of the simple original use of a 1915 Knutsen harp mandolin (with sub-basses!) and a modern fingerstyle composition pulling out all (well, most of) the stops.

The master then took the stage.

Stephen Bennett has re-defined the modern Dyer-style harp guitar, and the majority of the audience had never heard anything like it.

March 24th, 2007, Concert 2: John Doan
The new bard spins his first tale... ...and later performs Sor on the Harpolyre.
In Gallery 1 (I tried unsuccessfully to convince him to leave the harpolyre on exhibit). Deirdra and John Doan with loyal fan Frank Doucette.

April 21st, 2007, Concert 3: William Eaton

William took over the entire expanse of the hall for his multi-media show that included his six harp guitar creations and harp bass by Bart Applewhite.  The event represented an extremely rare occurrence in that William almost never performs solo, let alone with this many instruments, each one completely unique.   He opened with his Lyraharp guitar. 

The electric Spiral Clef
With the addition of some individual pyramidal bridges, this is now the Koto Harp Guitar.

His "over-under" harp guitar with Southwestern landscapes slideshow

The fascinating Oelen Strings

And finally, the new double-neck acoustic/electric harp guitar with Transperformance system.  Bart joined William on his fretless harp bass.  Bart is the Financial Manager of the Roberto-Venn School of Lutherie, of which William is director.

L-R: Frank Doucette (my right-hand man), John Doan (who came down to document William's performance on video), Bart Applewhite, myself, exhibit curator Tatiana Sizonenko, museum director Carolyn Grant, William Eaton

...and the harp guitar surprises never end!  A gentlemen brought for evaluation a Dyer owned by his father, who played with Roy Rogers.  His dad had "personalized" the instrument by shaping the headstock and adding a wild Formica top decoration! 
Thus ends the harp guitar concert series at the world's first special engagement harp guitar exhibit, which will close our "Year of the Harp Guitar" at the end of July.  Thanks to all who have visited and supported this unprecedented effort!

Visit the Museum of Making Music's Harp Guitar Exhibition Overview

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