Merrill “Style 7-1/2” Harp Guitar
In early 2009, recognizing
the continuing demand for Merrill harp guitars, and scarcity of same, I
negotiated with Jim Merrill to build two new instruments for me.
The first would have basic Dyer Style 6-ish appointments and sell through my site (it did – twice – new, then used).
The second would have all custom appointments designed by myself, and was intended as my personal instrument (believe it or not, I’ve never really had my own new instrument, just those passing through the business).
Of course, as always the case, my “eyes were bigger than my stomach” and this instrument – which turned out to be the most elaborate and thus expensive Merrill ever – broke the bank. But that’s not why I’m offering it for sale. It’s because I simultaneously received another Merrill as an option – Merrill HG#1 (and we all know whose harp guitar that was). So both instruments have a very emotional, personal connection, and the decision to sell either remains extremely difficult.
My particular musical tastes have always led me straight to Dyers (and occasionally Knutsens) for tone, and one of the few instruments that can surpass that, IMHO – in essence, providing the equivalent of a “new Dyer” – is a Merrill. The best Dyer-type harp guitar I think I have ever played and heard was the Merrill with the cracked arm that I sold here on consignment in 2009. In hindsight, I should’ve kept that one. We suspected that its secret may have been the special laminated braces that Jim did on that one (thin ebony strips between two pieces of spruce). So for mine, I asked for the same bracing.
Interestingly, what this seems to have done on this instrument is made it more Knutsen-like. Perhaps the koa back and sides contribute as well. Specifically, the sub-basses sound more like my c.1898 Knutsen Symphony than a Dyer. Of course they are deep and powerful, but they are especially complex, like a fine (but unruly and arrogant) wine. The neck strings then graduate naturally out of the subs to become perfectly clear and balanced as expected. String separation, clarity, everything players look for. This harp guitar does not have a tight, pure, piano-like sound (which some players might prefer). Instead, it already plays, feels and sounds vintage, incredibly responsive and alive. Jim thought it was the best-sounding harp guitar he’s ever made. I concur, as does my assistant, Frank Doucette.
I chose Sitka spruce for the top (again, the Knutsen vibe) and koa for back and sides. I’d always had a hankerin’ for a koa harp guitar, and when Jim said he had a mate to the set he used for his previously-best-sounding harp guitar, I jumped on it.
With the koa’s color and (thus, to me) that Hawaiian connection, I opted for blue/green Paua abalone for the trim tastefully festooning much of the instrument. Sandwiching this is a thin 3-ply B/W/B wood trim. Then on the outer edge and also binding virtually the entire instrument is a beautiful maple strip, then a very delicate 5-ply wood trim of black/blonde/sea foam green/ blonde/black. Gold hardware was of course a given. I mocked all this up in Photoshop to convince myself (and Jim) that this would all work as it did in my mind. We then meticulously communicated during the long build on all the subtle choices and features.
All along, my idea was to create a modern version of my Dyer Style 8, but without the tree-of-life inlay. Why omit that? Because I already have it, and frankly, it gets a bit much when you’re trying to play new tunes! So the neck and head were instead decorated with one of the Dyer Style 7 patterns. I added a touch here and there, like the heel cap accent, while Jim added finishing touches like abalone side dots in the neck’s maple binding. He was kind enough to comment on each choice and give his opinions, and we both loved the results.
I did record a piece for my next album on this one and have that in the can, so this instrument is available immediately. It is technically a “secondhand instrument” and, though as “nearly new” as possible, there was one unfortunate minor (Miner) incident that put a tiny ding in the soundboard finish as the photos will show. For this reason alone, I am discounting this one-of-a-kind Merrill a full 25%.
I hope you agree that it’s gorgeous, while tasteful. It was meant to be.
But the tone!
DVDs by Stephen Bennett, John Doan, Muriel Anderson, Andy McKee,
Stacy Hobbs, Tom Shinness, Dan LaVoie, James Kline, Larry
Berwald, Bill Dutcher, Gregg Miner, Pasquale Taraffo
All Site Contents © 2006,
2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016
PO Box 573155
Tarzana, CA 91357