Rich Mermer 21-String Nova Harp Guitar
Thinline Acoustic-Electric


All photos copyright Rich Mermer

Alaskan yellow cedar top plate, ebony bridge, fingerboard and bass extension cover plate, as well as the ebony plate that the super-trebles are mounted to. 

Pinless bridge setup for the three different string banks: 7 sub-bass, 6 string neck, and 8 super-trebles. The fine tuners for the trebles have been inlayed into the bridge from its underside. 

By removing the screw on the cover plate, one can access the instrument's interior for servicing of the electronics (Shadow nano-flex pickups and EPA preamps). 

John Doan, Stacy Hobbs and I each take a bank for a triple test-drive at HGG5 in October, 2007.

A truly modern instrument, this innovative harp guitar was built by Florida luthier Rich Mermer in 2007.  

Rich has built many stunning acoustic steel guitars and creative doublenecks (Acoustic Eidolon's Joe Scott tours with a custom Mermer).  He has plenty of new ideas about guitar design, (including soundhole placement, as you can see on this one) - and has clearly been thinking about improved modern harp guitar design as well. 

Rich has been designing, building, and repairing fretted string instruments since 1983, after completing his studies at the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery in Phoenix, Arizona, where he was greatly influenced by master craftsman and instructor William Eaton, one of the most creative and innovative harp guitar builders of our time.

Rich builds about 12 instruments a year - usually client commissions; this is one of the few not designated for a particular client.  So perhaps more than any of his creations, this is what Rich strives for in every project - "an individualized, handcrafted, work of art."  More than simply artistic, there was clearly a lot of thought put into the technical and ergonomic details as well.

Rich explains:

"(This instrument) represents an offshoot from my Nova Series of thinline amplified 'acoustic' instruments. This is not a solidbody electric instrument.  The body is hollow and the top is full braced, just like an acoustic instrument.  This style of instrument can be heard well enough when played unplugged, but it is designed to be played plugged in, sounding like an amplified 'acoustic' instrument.  Why the 'thinline' body?  While at the Gathering in 2006, I did notice that several people were playing and carrying instruments and cases that were bigger than they were!  They did not always look comfortable.  I built this alternative style of harp guitar (to) be more comfortable for the player to actually hold and play.  An additional bonus is that it is also easier to travel with, as the neck and sub bass extension can easily be removed when traveling.  Loosen the sub-bass and main strings, coil the strings from the ball end, and remove the eight allen screws.  Now you can remove the neck and sub bass extension, fold them along side the instrument's body, and travel with it packed in a case the size of a small suite case."

"The 7 sub-bass strings are (currently) tuned E-F-G-A-B-C-D, from low to high (gauges: .080-.074-.070-.066.-062-.060-.056).  I do have sharpening levers for the sub-bass strings, but they have not yet been installed.  The 8 super-treble strings are tuned E (an octave above the treble E on the main guitar neck) -F-G-A-B-C-D-E, from low to high (gauges: .017-.016-.015-.013-.012-.012-.011-.011). All totaled, (it has) 21 strings and a 5 octave range."

I (GM) do not have this instrument in my possession, so cannot provide my input as far as tone (acoustic or electric) or playability.  I did noodle on it briefly at the 2007 Gathering, but was in a noisy room (and I had help - see photo).  The trebles were not specifically patterned after the Doan Sullivan-Elliott instrument, so provided their own unique sound.  My preference for something like this would be to eschew the standard high-pitched 8-note diatonic scale and experiment with different gauges and tunings to provide a more chordal tuning (which is what I gravitate towards anytime I spend time with "super-treble" harp guitar banks).   But, like any harp guitar, the tuning and playing options are limited only by one's creativity.

This may be the first true "travel harp guitar" that one can take out of a carry-on, set-up, tune up and play within 10-20 minutes!  I wish I had had the opportunity to spend time with the unique Peghed 16:1 tuners - something I wish I had for all my sub-basses!  

At five grand, this is probably the lowest price yet for a 21-string harp guitar - and yet it comes from an established, respected handcraft luthier (to me, that sounds like a deal).

Rich explains that this instrument was designed to be plugged in to get the full amplified 'acoustic' sound, although it can be heard well enough for unplugged rehearsal and practice.

Fingerstyle champ Don Alder just demonstrated this instrument at the Newport Guitar Festival and has this to say:

"The Mermer Nova Harp guitar is great fun to play, its body size is a lot easier to manage and the pickup system works extremely well. You can play at a loud volume without the usual feedback issues. The action is great and the body size of the guitar is so comfortable to play. If you want an electric version of a harp guitar this one will suit all your needs."

Check out Don's clip to get an idea of the plugged-in sound (click the "watch in high quality" link under "Views").

The instrument will ship from Mermer Guitars in Florida, with a generous week-long trial period.

The body of the instrument is bubinga, finished in gloss nitro cellulose lacquer, while the neck and sub-bass extensions are of Honduran mahogany. 

'Peghed' tuners installed on the sub-bass and main neck pegheads. These may look like old-style wooden friction pegs, but the shaft is actually metal and houses a 16:1 gear system. Great for fine tuning!

Tuning pins and ebony nut for the super-treble stings. 

Twas a tight fit on the sub bass peghead, so the tuner buttons needed to be shaped so that there was room for them to rotate. 

Bolt-on attachments for the neck and sub-bass extension. The allen head bolts do not go into bare wood, but screw into threaded metal inserts. 

  • Master grade yellow cedar top plate
  • Bubinga body
  • Mahogany neck and sub- bass extension
  • Ebony fingerboard
  • Pinless ebony bridges with fine tuners for the super-trebles
  • 'Peghed' geared (16:1) planetary-style tuners for the sub- bass strings and the main neck
  • 3 separate Shadow 'Nano-flex' pickups (under the saddle elements, but NOT piezo), going into 3 separate Shadow 'EPA' preamps that are attached directly to the 3 output jacks.
  • Gig bag included
  • Limited lifetime warranty to the original owner

Price: $5,150 (Paypal)
(cash or check discount price $

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
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