All through historical past, musicians and instrument makers have turned to expertise to seek out options to their musical issues. 300 years in the past, including floating strings to a fretted instrument, was an acceptable resolution for musicians who needed to extend the bass vary of their guitar to attain their musical targets. Identified right this moment as “harp guitars,” these devices traveled by way of time, crossed continents and oceans, fell out and in of recognition, and defied standardization. Sarcastically, in right this moment’s world of superior expertise and infinite multi-string guitar choices, harp guitars are technically not crucial; nevertheless, their recognition is on the rise. Why?
What’s a Harp Guitar?
Harp guitars are available in many shapes, sizes, and types. They do have nevertheless, a typical defining factor. Along with the fretted neck strings, there are further strings that aren’t fretted, i.e. floating. These strings might be hooked up in a wide range of methods, and are sometimes plucked with the thumb or fingers. The harp guitar wasn’t initially known as such. Relying on the nation, historic interval or configuration of the instrument, they have been referred to as by many alternative names, and typically given no particular title in any respect. They have been merely “guitars.” The time period “harp guitar” as we perceive, it right this moment was invented and popularized in the USA. With probably the most profitable producers of the day championing the brand-new title, it quickly turned frequent vernacular. And, with the globalization of our planet by way of the web, it was solely a matter of time earlier than “harp guitar” turned an appropriate alternate time period for any guitar with the options above. In 2014, “Harp Guitar” was lastly given its personal full entry in The Grove Dictionary of Musical Devices (Gregg Miner, writer, 2014).
Guitars with further floating strings existed for hundreds of years in Europe in an astounding array of types. In America, the harp guitar first gained public enchantment within the late 1800s, having fun with a gradual and notable presence till abruptly disappearing within the late 1920s. Mendacity dormant in closets and attics throughout the nation for many years, they reemerged within the 1970s, touchdown within the palms of inventive—and curious—gamers and builders. A renaissance would quickly observe, leading to right this moment’s vibrant group the place harp guitars are collected and preserved, invented and constructed, and shared on a world stage.
In 1659, G.B. Granata of Italy wrote a sequence of compositions for a “chitarra atiorbata,” an instrument with the seven floatings bass strings under the guitar’s then-standard 5 strings. Whereas floating strings have been frequent on lutes, that is the earliest indication we have now of floating strings on a guitar. Over the subsequent century, different experimental devices made transient appearances. Within the late 1700s, devices we now classify as harp guitars emerged. They didn’t entice a repertoire nevertheless and handed into oblivion. Because of each musician and builders. The instrument got here into its personal within the 1800s. Within the cultural facilities of Europe, a virtuoso on the six-string guitar created each a repertoire and viewers for guitars with floating bass strings. In Vienna, the middle of excellence in guitar making at the time, luthier J.G. Staufer and his contemporaries made enhancements on devices that may turn often known as bass guitars. And within the 1880s, recognition of the Schwammel brothers’ quartet–and their “Schrammelgitarre”–launched a whole business of bass (or contra) guitar constructing. On the flip of the 20th century, guitarists all through Europe and Russia continued to play guitars with floating bass strings. In a number of areas of Italy, a brand-new wave of guitar virtuoso sparked an explosion of harp guitars in more and more spectacular types. This ensured recognition of the Italian harp guitar into the mid-1900s.
European-made guitars with floating strings doubtless made it to the USA within the palms of immigrants through the 1800s, though no report of this has but been discovered. The earliest documentation of harp guitar construction in America was a sequence of 4 two-neck, or 10-string guitars ordered in 1859-60 from C.F. Martin by a Virginia guitar instructor. Martin himself had apprenticed in Vienna previous to emigrating and settling in Nazareth, PA, and was doubtless conscious of guitars with floating bass strings. He didn’t pursue the thought, nevertheless, and issues have been quiet for a number of many years till a flurry of recent harp guitar manufacturing started within the Midwest. In 1885, touring businessman J. Hopkins Flinn arrived at J.W. Jenkins’ Sons Music Co. in Kansas Metropolis with a brand invention: he had nailed a chunk of wooden onto the neck of a normal guitar and used violin tuners to add three floating strings. After his instrument was met with lackluster enthusiasm; Jenkins furnished Flinn with an improved six-bass string design. The consequence? What’s believed to be America’s first manufacturing harp guitar. In the meantime, within the Pacific Northwest, a curious hole arm guitar appeared, designed by a Norwegian immigrant, Chris Knutsen. When he subsequently added floating bass strings to that arm, he created America’s first hollow-arm model of the harp guitar. Quickly thereafter, over two dozen patents for harp guitars have been granted in the USA.
1900, it was clear that the American harp guitar was making an effect. In a world of small, softer toned parlor guitars, they stood out in each method. Gamers responded to the brand new musical prospects, the visible effect of the massive our bodies, and the more and more fashionable use of metal—as a substitute of the intestine—strings. Harp guitars have been impressively loud and may very well be heard above the ever-present banjos and mandolins. Members of the burgeoning American banjo, mandolin, and guitar (BMG) motion wholeheartedly adopted them. Their publications, The Cadenza and The Crescendo featured them prominently in articles, commercials, and testimonials. Whereas solo use was uncommon throughout this era, they turned indispensable as accompaniment devices in teams of each size–from duos to massive mandolin orchestras. Harp guitars additionally accommodated all kinds of musical tastes: they have been heard in severe classical settings, in fashionable tunes and recordings, and in novelty vaudeville acts. Thought-about a family -friendly instrument, they appeared within the households and group gatherings of turn-of-the-century America. Ultimately, practically each guitar builder or producer supplied a harp guitar, and new designs and experiments proliferated.
Decline and Disappearance
By 1920, harp guitars have been firmly established in practically every type of American music. By 1930, they had successfully vanished. Why? Altering tastes, technological advances, and an ever trend-conscious American public have been definitely elements. Vaudeville, the place harp guitars had as soon as flourished, was changed by cinema, after which radio. When the Jazz Age arrived quickly after World Warfare I, gamers traded their mandolins for tenor banjos, and most popular piano and drum accompaniment over harp guitar. If a guitar was wanted, the brand-new arch prime guitar with its punchy sound was the higher selection. There have been just a few harp guitar holdouts as late as 1930, once they might nonetheless be heard as accompaniment devices in fashionable Hawaiian music ensembles.
Additional causes for the demise of the harp guitar embrace the truth that it was by no means standardized, both in the variety of strings or tuning; no memorable harp guitar soloist ever got here to the fore; there was no outlined repertoire, and each lecturer and methodology books have been scarce. The harp guitar had been embraced when it performed an essential musical function—to be heard over the banjos, and mandolins it accompanied. And so when extra voluminous devices arrived—the resonator guitar and, later, the electrical guitar—it was Recreation Over. Or was it?
Rediscovery and Reinvention
Though the sights and sounds of America’s harp guitar had left the public area by 1930, the devices themselves didn’t truly disappear. Hundreds rested in attics, closets, and basements for many years. It was solely a matter of time till they’d be rediscovered and resurrected by a brand-new era of builders and gamers. Through the people’s music growth of the 1960s, new music shops carrying all kinds of forgotten classic devices opened their doorways. It was there that many musicians have been launched to yesteryear’s harp guitar. Regularly, the instrument began appearing in public boards and within the 1980s, a number of virtuoso fingerstyle guitar gamers launched them to receptive public audiences utilizing novel taking part in strategies. This rediscovery of classic harp guitars additionally sparked inventive reinventions of the instrument. Reworkings of outdated designs, fully new designs, in addition to customizable manufacturing facility manufacturing fashions, emerged. Thus, the continued (but sporadic) growth of the harp guitar that we have now witnessed for nearly 4 centuries, continues right this moment.
Curiously, in a world of efficiencies, uniformizes, homogeneity and streamlining, the harp guitar stays steadfast in its id of non-standardization. Whereas this may occasionally reduce the probability of wholesale adoption of a single frequent instrument, it will increase alternatives for creativity, enjoyable, shock, and astounding magnificence. And maybe therein lies the actual definition of a harp guitar!