1900s 13-string Viennese Kontragitarre by Georg Haid
Those of you “across the big pond” are lucky – you have access to a steady supply of these instruments, which Brussels luthier Benoit buys, restores and sells to players all over Europe. He’s seen, heard and repaired more of these than anyone on the planet.
This is one Ben sold to one of my fellow Californians, who has enjoyed it for a couple years now. As Ben originally explained, Haid was one of the better makers, both in construction and sound. Having compared it to a couple of others, I'd have to agree.
After restoration, Ben retro-fitted it with Peghed 4:1 tuners. These are the little miracles that look like the original friction pegs, but are actually clever metal mechanical devices with hidden gears inside. They make all the difference in turning these otherwise fantastic old instruments into real players for modern use - you pull out to loosen them and push in to tighten, just like real friction pegs! A couple of these are scraped up, as the previous owner had to re-insert them after some loosening in shipping.
Action and neck relief are imperfect but decent. Neck is original with new frets. I have adjusted the clock-key neck adjustment to its furthest point (lowest action), and the low E is 5/32" from the 12th fret. It’s strung with standard classical strings, and no, it should not be strung in steel, though many have used silk & steel strings on these instruments with no ill effects. Top has mild bellying at the bridge.
Nut width on this instrument is nice, amost 1-7/8". Sub-basses have various historical tunings (Eb down to A chromatically would be typical). It is currently strung heavier for a diatonic tuning. But feel free to string and tune it any way you like.
Tone is very nice - rich, medium+ volume with good balance across the entire range.
Original label is present. The metal rod supporting the body is traditional for most makers.
Top is spruce with plenty of fingernail marks, and likely an old over-finish. Several old repaired cracks and a small diamond patch in top. Back and sides are a stained maple (decent flame on the sides). 1 medium repaired crack on back (built under tension) and plenty of finish wear. A few messy crack repairs in headstocks as well.
The Pegheds originally cost Ben $325, so that is reflected in the price (the 2 scratched ones could easily be replaced if desired).
All in all, a solid, ready-to-go Viennese harp guitar with plenty of potential. Common in Europe, but very hard to obtain in the States where you know what you are actually dealing with. For those of you who enjoy the sound of nylon (or better yet, Nylgut or real gut), you may find that these old Viennese instruments have a lot more character than do modern "classical guitar"-style harp guitars. And are easier on the pocketbook!
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