Knutsen Harp Steel
Rarely offered and way cooler than a Weissenborn!

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Now this is my cup o' tea!  I have a soft spot for these beasts (as you might have picked up on) and have been hoping to offer one ever since opening Harp Guitar Music for business.  I have my ear to the ground for these, so know just how infrequently they are ever offered for sale.  Those who follow the Knutsen Archives know that this one has had a more circuitous path than most.  Originally, two different alleged owners sent in rather poor photos (partial glimpses so poor and random that I catalogued it as two different specimens!).  One of these owners then sold or traded it to Gruhn Guitars.  They apparently all but gave it away, as George offered it to me at about half price in a group of harp guitars that he wasn't moving.  Concurrently (he was fishing apparently) he offered it to my friend, Weissenborn researcher Ben Elder.  Rather than get in a bidding war, I let Ben have it (though he ended up paying a grand more than my original offer).  It promptly went into the Steel Guitar Exhibit at the Museum of Making Music, from whence it has just returned.  Ben has another, so decided to offer it before he became too attached it.  You do not want to give him a chance to change his mind!  So that's what's known of its owner provenance of the last few years.  Now what about its original life?

Well, we know it was built in the last three years of Chris' life (1927-1930) as it has the McDuff Street label.  This label is large, still intact and in fabulous condition - surprising when you realize how much work has been done on this instrument!  Heavy restoration?  No - almost none!  No, the work was to modify this instrument from a standard 12-course harp steel guitar with two subs and four trebles to a harp steel with the trebles on the bass side, and then even further!  Currently it has no trebles, but this can very easily be remedied as I'll explain below.

But first, you should read the entire original explanation that I just updated on the Knutsen Archives, specimen number HHW22.  Ben and I thoroughly sleuthed this out, and I believe we have the history pretty accurate.  (Note: "HHW' is my code for this model, "22" means it is the 22nd specimen of this model inventoried.  There are no Knutsen model designations, nor style or serial numbers)

OK, clear as mud?  As I explain in the Archives, Knutsen may have done some of these modifications for a customer himself; he certainly did so on a similar "multiple reconstructive surgery" specimen here.  Regardless, at this point it should be a fairly simple matter to re-drill four zither pin tuner holes in the upper right bout inlay piece (with care, they can be installed in the exact original location) and this will look essentially like an unaltered fancy Knutsen harp steel.  Truth be told, Knutsen aficionados don't consider this a detriment in any way, we actually consider it of value.  This is what gives Knutsen so much charm and character.  No two Knutsens are quite alike, and when we find something that clearly has some additional personal story behind it like this one, we relish it.  Still, because of these funky alterations we're listing it at a very attractive price.

In my opinion, it's infinitely more interesting than a Weissenborn.  Unlike those much more common and uniform instruments, this is truly one-of-a-kind, one of only 28-30 known (not all have been added to the Archives yet), and similarly fancy with its rope bound top and back.  The back itself is a beautiful piece of wood - like so many of Knutsen's instruments, difficult to identify.

Sidebar: We have recently started referring to these unique instruments as "harp steel guitars" rather than "harp-Hawaiian guitars" that Noe, Most and I originally came up with twenty years ago.  Why?  It's a bit more eloquent, accurate, and also what we recently discovered was the term used by Knutsen himself, as discussed in Chris Knutsen: Harp Guitar “Triple Threat.”

Condition is as the photos show, and much nicer than typical surviving Knutsens.  Light/moderate finish wear and scuffs.  I cleaned up about half the dirt - you should be able to continue to brighten it up.  There is one repaired center top crack above the soundhole and a tiny one between bridge and pickguard and I think that's it.  The bridge pull and bellying is very nominal for an under-built Knutsen, and of course does not affect the playability, being a slide guitar.  The insides look pretty much like hell, but this is typical Knutsen workmanship (along with the additional work, apparently all done without removing the back!).

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Tone: Believe it or not, the "puzzle piece" tops of this type of Knutsen do not seem to adversely affect the tone (I've played many).  Strumming this and my other two Weissenborn-shaped  Knutsens in a direct comparison, I can truthfully claim that it sounds twice as good as my Brazilian rosewood specimen (as painful as that is to admit!).  So please give me some time to record something with this before buying it (I'm serious).  I've heard plenty of gorgeous Weissenborns and Knutsens both; I've also heard some really crappy specimens by both makers.  It's all a matter of taste, so I won't try to rate the tone, but it's quite lovely.  Words I would choose are: rich, buttery, mellow, smooth, warm, clear and resonate.  Even without the two subs, it has a nice deep, robust bass - a bit like a baritone - that does not overpower the trebles.  Not quite a "canon," but balanced and plenty kick-ass.  

Ben wouldn't mind selling it quickly, and so I priced it somewhat low, due to its modifications and because I realize that the "Weissenborn mindset" is still prevalent out there in the vintage guitar market.  Why the affluent collectors like Jonathan Kellerman, Mac Yasuda and Tony Ku jump on these Knutsens and hang onto them is still a mystery...or is it?

- Gregg Miner, the "harp guitar pope"


  • Spruce top with various wood inlays and inserts
  • Back & sides: curly/flame mahogany?
  • Fir headstock
  • Mahogany bass arm and bridge
  • Koa fingerboard with pearl and celluloid dot fret markers
  • Rope bound top and back
  • Original tuners
  • Original slanted nut
  • Original McDuff St. label
  • 25" scale
  • Dimensions: 15-1/4" lower bout, 3-1/2" depth at tail block
  • New gig bag include

    Price: $4900 SOLD

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