2010 Black Bear Harp Ukulele

Stunning first-ever Duane Heilman creation with 2 subs!

If you're a uke or harp uke fan like me, you've probably been drooling over the occasional hollow arm harp ukulele that the amazingly creative Duane Heilman, of Black Bear Guitars & Ukuleles, has offered from time to time.  You can see an example at Harpguitars.net, where you'll see that they have a short arm and no extra strings - similar to the original Knutsen harp ukes.  Having never experienced a Heilman in the flesh, I recently had my uke-collecting neighbor Jeff Turner haul out his.  Turns out he has three completely different non-harp ukes by Duane - each better than the last.  Original, beautiful, and they all sound great!

I subsequently told Duane that I'd be interested in a listing if he ever had another harp.  Turns out he was just finishing up this little prize.  Not only did he agree to list it, but he sent it down for a full "pope's blessing" (I was frankly way too curious and lustful to have it remain just a standard off-premises consignment)!

I'm glad my cajoling paid off...now I don't want to let this out of the house!  Really cool, especially the incredible handmade "vintage-style" rope binding amidst the spruce and koa.  It's concert scale, which is perfect for a harp uke - especially one with two floating sub-basses.  And how are the subs to be tuned, you ask?  Well, it's rather interesting!  You can do anything you like, of course, but Duane had some specific ideas in mind in building it.  Here's his explanation:

"I wanted to be able to tune the uke at least one of three different ways.  The first and most common would be to tune the strings to the standard re-entrant tuning which is GCEA with the G being tuned high, and the two bass strings tuned to C and D.  The second method would be to tune the G to a low G and the bass strings tuned to a C and D. Some people like the fuller sound of the low G, but the string would have to be changed.  The third method would be to bring the bass string D over next to the high G and have both tuned to G, high and low octave.  Take the bass string C and move it over on the nut to the D string position. You can tune the bass string to whatever note you need (within reason of course) to accommodate the key you are playing in, but C sounds good.  With these options, the player can create different sounds and playing styles."

Clever, huh?!  Duane's photos show the different string set ups.  Note the extra nut post on the headstock and the extra saddle slot for the options.

The tuners are 5-Star 4:1 for the standard 4 strings and Grover fiction pegs for the bass strings.  Very easy to keep in tune.  Duane always makes his own tuner buttons - these are rosewood.   His trademark Black Bear logo is mother of pearl inlaid into ebony, enclosed by a ring of maple.  The main headplate is koa, while the bass head is solid koa.  Rosewood was used for the fingerboard and bridge.  Bridge pins are very cool fossilized ivory with black dots.  He includes a hand made cloth-lined wood case.

The photos with blue background are Duane's (except top center), the others are mine.  I wasn't obligated to take photos, but frankly, I could not stop looking at this thing, and wanted to capture it every way I could.  As always, I had to massage quite a bit to try and get the colors true - assume somewhere between his and mine for overall color value.

After all the photography, I finally tuned it up.  It seemed too good to be true - the sound just melts in your mouth.  So I took it to Jeff's to compare  to his Black Bear ukes - a spruce concert, koa concert and koa tenor.  All of these sound different, but are among the finest of his some three dozen ukes (new and vintage).  This was as loud as all but the spruce concert (which is a well-broken-in instrument), but quite a bit more mellow - as in "gorgeous."  It's strung with Aquila's (my favorite) on the neck.

We both loved everything about it - the design, the "vintage aesthetic," the materials, details, and finally, tone.

I would seriously consider coming up with the green on this one before Jeff or I do...

- Gregg Miner, the "harp guitar pope"


  • Sitka Spruce Top
  • Koa Back & Sides, and headplates
  • Mahogany Neck
  • Rosewood fingerboard and bridge
  • Handmade rope binding, fingerboard center strip and rosette (rosewood/maple/mahogany)
  • Indian rosewood back binding
  • Pearl, ebony and maple Black Bear headstock inlay
  • Pearl dot fret markers
  • Fossilized ivory Bridge pins
  • 5-Star 4:1 tuners on neck, Grover friction tuners on arm, knobs handmade of rosewood
  • Nitro lacquer finish
  • 15" Concert scale
  • Dimensions: 8" lower bout, 3" depth @ tail block, 24-1/2" total length
  • Limited lifetime warranty
  • Handmade wood case included
  • Price: $2900 Sold

CDs & 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
To learn more about harp guitars, please visit Harpguitars.net
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