circa1907-1908 Gibson Style U Harp Guitar
Ah, I have enjoyed this one! At the very top of the list of harp guitars that even six-string players want to own – if only to hang on their wall – is the Gibson harp guitar. And, condition issues aside, what's even more impressive than the commonly seen c.1908-1920's floating bridge Style U is the much less common scroll bridge model. The best part being the size – 21 inches wide! Massive fully-hand-carved expanses of top and back wood do not hurt either...the carved back is from a solid chunk of wood, for cryin' out loud! (either walnut or mahogany, no one is 100% positive!)
The fixed "scroll" mahogany bridge also gives these models a somewhat better sound, while giving the instrument – along with the engraved metal strap bridge support - that old turn-of-the-previous-century other-worldly vibe.
It is simply a stunning collectible that pretty much anyone into plucked stringed instruments is blown away by when seeing for the first – or thousandth – time.
Why am I getting rid of it, you ask? Simple - after over 20 years, I was able to upgrade, as you'll see soon in an upcoming blog.
Why so inexpensive? Because it's got a replaced side. The rest of it: high action, poor intonation, old repairs and condition are all par for the course. In fact, all in all, this is actually one of the better condition Gibson HGs from this era I've seen. The action is ~3/16" to 1/4" at the 12th fret, and doesn't intonate well there, but I'd challenge you to find one of these in original condition that's any better. Yes, the neck is like playing a baseball bat with frets. Quite frankly, it is a "labor of love" to play – as in "not very fun" to "painful." But I'm a wimp who plays sporadically; you'll do better! As my fans know, I've used it twice on recordings: the first time on my "Charlie Brown Christmas" medley for A Christmas Collection, and more recently, for one of Brad Hoyt's tunes ("To Last a Lifetime," with a similar Vince Guaraldi vibe) on Together Alone.
Listen to those tunes with good speakers or headphones (the CDs, not the lousy MP3 samples) to hear the amazing sub-basses. You know how owners of Dyers and other flat-top harp guitars love to boast that their basses "sound like a grand piano"? They don't. They sound like wonderful oversize low-pitched acoustic guitars. Gibson harp guitars sound like a grand piano. The subs, that is - the neck strings, not so much. It takes experimentation with strings and then arranging and playing adjustments to get them to balance with the subs (more so for fingerstyle). For usable intonation, I did my common trick of putting a second saddle behind the other saddle (in this case, removed and replaced with short temporary "backstop"), with the string contact point as close as possible to the bridge pins. I'm certainly not going to move that bridge; nor would a neck reset be easy. Had this been my main instrument, I would have put on a new slightly-wedged fingerboard (it could use a planing and re-fretting as it is). That's entirely up to you. Meanwhile, just stick with first position if you like.
Now about that side. Someone had replaced the bass side (tail pin to bass support) with a serviceable piece of mahogany. It kind of matches as the wood on the other side looks somewhat like mahogany, even though we think it's walnut (jury of experts still out). It had been bent badly at the tight waist and showed some splitting, so Kerry Char put fiberglass filler there, staining it somehow to blend it all in. Since you can't see both sides at once, it never bothered me too much. I don't think he did much else to it, other than touch up the top scratches and finish wear (you might even want to touch them up further). The two tiny pieces of fb inlay could be easily replaced. The headplate isn't perfect, but this is one of the extremely few old Gibsons I've ever seen with the classic Orville crescent & star logo. I just had to have that! (and will dearly miss it). The back of the head - which looks like it cracked down the middle at one time - looks re-painted and there's a bit of wood filler(?) at seam to bass head.
Other older repairs include a long splice of wood in the center of the back tapering from almost 1/4" wide at the tail to a sliver a ways up. It almost looks like a center seam except for that last couple inches. There a few other short and long back cracks that are decently repaired, and there's a tightly repaired crack in the top at the bass side waist. The top is otherwise very sturdy and undamaged structurally. A tiny piece of ivoroid was replaced on the bass side. There are typical fingernail dents at first position from a lot of playing at one time.
This transitional model (there a lot of transitional Gibson specimens) has the ten subs that Gibson settled on pretty quickly, with the tuning that starts above the neck's low E string with G# and ends at a low A#/Bb (note that sub-bass tuning wrench is not supplied). In 2009, I cleverly put together a set of DR coated steel strings with certain gauges in red to emulate the ingenious original copper wrap/silver wrap color coded set that Gibson offered. I used this instrument for the proof of the concept (which worked quite well!). It can be re-strung with full steel, silk & steel, or even full nylon/gut, a heavy set of which Gibson always recommended for these early instruments.
But no matter how you string or play it, it can never be less than the most imposing instrument in your home!
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