Paolo De Barbieri Harp Guitar
Provenance: On our 2010 trip to Genoa, Italy, our friend master-violinmaker and scholar Alberto Giordano told me of a rare and wonderful harp guitar he had located in a shop in France. As a huge favor, Alberto kindly helped procure it for me, negotiating the price and having it shipped to my friend Franco Ghisalberti, from whence I picked it up on our 2012 trip to Genoa. Restoration to ensure it was both playable and displayable was done by Bill Fiorella. Per my request, we skipped filling the large open back crack (shown below) as there isn't that much string tension to cause any problems and it wouldn't be seen from the front. I leave this to its next custodian.
According to expert Alberto Giordano, Paolo De Barbieri (1889-1962) was one of Cesare Candi’s top protégés. Typically, guitars and the occasional mandolin were just a small sideline for these top violinmakers and Alberto told me that in all his years he had seen only one 6-string guitar and this one harp guitar by De Barbieri. I do love owning the only known example of an instrument, don't you? Alberto dates it to circa 1920, telling me that the label style puts it at not later than 1922.
For a fine violinmaker, it is of surprisingly crude construction, with a rather folksy pine top and what I believe is walnut for the back and sides. The overall aesthetic design and carving of the bass head structure and bridge are of course simply wonderful. I love the "orange peel" texture of the flat portions of the bass head affair also. The 6-string headstock is a copy of another Candi design. At some point, a bone insert was added to the ebony nut, most likely from the wear and tear of steel strings. Yes, Genovese harp guitarists often strung their instruments with steel or silk & steel strings, especially as the decades went by.
On my blog I talk about why I was so keen on this instrument; it is my love of the designs of Candi, starting with the instrument at left. This incredible floor-standing harp guitar was the follow-up to the 6-string chitarpa, an invention of guitarist Giovanni Noceti and executed by the Candi brothers. I also found a lap-held version of the same harp guitar owned by the late Riccardo Marasco. It doesn't take a genius to realize that this graceful and imaginative design was simply their chitarpa with the pedastal removed. That's how I show the De Barbieri at page top: in playing position which emulates the floor-standing Candi.
For me, this was more about history and a showpiece rather than a player's instrument. Indeed, tone is sadly unremarkable (though who knows with steel strings...?!). As to why I am willing to deaccession this beautiful instrument, it's only because I later acquired from Franco the similarly Candi-inspired and even more flamboyant Priano harp guitar.
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