13-string mid-1900's Viennese Kontragitarre


Here's an authentic, Schrammelgitarre from the Vienna Franz Nowy factory, built sometime before the mid-1900's.  I don't find Franz Nowy listed as an independent builder in Vienna; instead it may have been a company under his name.  Indeed, this looks like a later, "factory-built" instrument, with lesser-grade wood and a thicker finish than seen in handbuilt 1900's instruments.  The Franz Nowy label has been seen on several instruments; most are likely repair labels, like the one (identical to this harp guitar's label) seen in a zither repaired at the factory in 1949, according to one Internet source.

This one is in decent shape, and could probably be used as a "starter" nylon string harp guitar in its present condition.  As almost always seen in these instruments, the neck has a noticeable bow in it.  I've set the clock-key neck angle adjustment as far as I can before getting buzz on the high E string's upper frets.  They bottom out both from the bow and from some uneven frets.  Both are pretty easily remedied (a task we leave to the buyer).  With these handy bolt-on necks, it isn't too difficult to heat and straighten the necks.  Dress the problematic frets, re-attach and you may find this instrument is all you'll need for awhile.  It is playable now, it just has uncomfortable action.  The intonation at the 12-fret is just about spot-on.

The other noticeable defect is the main back brace below the label.  This has lifted and cracked, and has been crudely glued as is (stable, as far as it goes).  The top has an old repaired crack down the center (from the side, you'll see some tiny glue squeeze-out bubbles that one could clean up).

The top is otherwise very flat, and other than various nicks and scratches, the body is good.  Finish looks all-original (a dark orange tinted varnish).  It looks to have all-original rosewood pegs in great condition.  They work and hold very well for friction pegs.

Tone is fine, not as loud or rich as the Haid currently for sale, but as is typical for these instruments, the basses are never lacking.  I'd beef up the trebles by using Aquila nylgut, and re-string (eventually) with new Thomastik basses, after which I don't think you'd be disappointed.

I don't know that this instrument needs or warrants a full restoration; I'd consider just working on the neck and frets a bit, putting back on and adjusting for best action, re-string and go.  As I keep harping on, I think these Viennese harp guitars remain under-appreciated, under-valued options for "entry-level nylon-strung harp guitars."

- Gregg Miner, the "harp guitar pope"


  • Original label
  • Spruce top
  • Maple Back & Sides
  • Ebony fretboard and bridge
  • Necks and headstock unknown (lacquered black)
  • Rosewood tuners
  • 7 sub-bass strings
  • 25-3/8" scale
  • 1-27/32" nut width
  • Zero fret
  • Dimensions: 15-3/4" lower bout, 3" deep at endpin, 3-3/8" deep at waist, ~45-5/8" total length
  • No case

    Price: $775 SOLD

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