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Taking a little break from harp guitar news…

Greetings, all. As more and more of my friends and family seem to be dropping off Facebook, I feel compelled to post some of my personal posts here in addition to the quick “please like my photo” posts I normally do there.

We had a free Delta companion fare to use or lose, so my wife Jaci and I booked a quick trip to Denver just for fun. Highlights from Thursday eve to Monday AM:

Stephen Bennett recommended the Buckthorn Exchange – a historical landmark, open since 1893, with the walls stuffed to the gills with stuffed souvenirs of seemingly every mammal, bird and reptile served there since opening. I’m exaggerating, but yeah, it’s a game restaurant and not for the squeamish. Besides ranched bison and elk, we had their fried rattlesnake appetizer (though an ex-herpetologist, my first time…I’d describe it as a cross between pork and clams, and no, that’s not exactly a recommendation.

Friday was a drive north and up to 7500 feet to the town of Estes Park and then further up to do the complete drive through Rocky Mountain National Park.

Beautiful sun, then cold and drizzle, and by 9000 feet where we reached the “road closed” sign in a little rental Kia, we were in a full-blown snowstorm. Exciting! The cleaved wall of snow on the uphill side of the road was taller than the car.

We stopped for a relaxing hike around Sprague lake, once a popular resort before being sold to the Parks in 1932. Spectacular views of the Continental Divide.

We did well with wildlife sightings: lots of elk, two moose (caught them just as they disappeared into the thickets), mule deer, ground squirrels, a large woodpecker of some sort, lots of the beautiful large black and white magpies, and wild turkeys, a solitary one of which hogged the median strip of the road for some time. (Left: selfie with elk herd in wind and rain)

Almost adjacent to the park entrance is the Stanley Hotel, of Stephen King fame. We had forgotten the specifics – no,  it wasn’t used for the Jack Nicholson Shining as we had thought, it was where King stayed for inspiration while writing his famous novel, then used to later film his own TV mini-series (with that guy from Wings, remember?). We snuck around the place before eating in the restaurant (but eschewing the souvenir “REDRUM” T-shirt).

We stopped by Boulder on the way back, but it was already dark. I joked “OK, ready?”, rolled down the windows, and sure enough – an immediate miasma of weed filled the car. This went on for a mile as we drove into town (the only place on the trip we smelled it, actually).

Saturday was a beautiful day outdoors that we mostly spent at the Denver Zoo. We rarely do zoos anymore (and I’m an ex-zookeeper) but this one is rated #9 of the top 10 zoos in the States, so worth checking out.

Many animal training/feeding sessions are shared with the public. They do very well with a small herd of Indian bull elephants – the largest (shown) is 49 years old.

A recent Komodo dragon successful clutch hatching, the holy grail for monitor fanatics like myself.   Here’s a brief clip of this little jewel.

A pair of mated hornbills sharing a large private exhibit, with viewing at tree level. I caught them perfectly in “mid-kiss” during a sudden fruit-sharing bonding moment.

Next was the Molly Brown house, a pretty cool historical landmark and museum – home of that most famous Titanic survivor, Margaret Brown (turns out that during her life, she was never referred to as Molly).

Despite its various change of hands, it has original wallpaper, built-ins and many furnishings (the silver tureen), though the fancy Broadwood grand is a replacement.

Dinner that night was an overpriced restaurant at the beautiful Union Station.

Sunday we spent at the excellent Nature & Science Museum. By dumb luck, it was a free day, with the special Da Vinci exhibit hugely discounted.

Above: full-size models of Da Vinci’s mechanical war drum and portable piano with a hurdy-gurdy style mechanism.

My favorite was the elaborate Mona Lisa exhibit, detailing the incredible new scientific scanning of the invisible underlayers, and recreating the four Leonardo artworks it actually is (and who is who and not). So interesting I got the book on the project.

The museum has an excellent gem collection, as well as a huge Native American Indian exhibit representing the major tribes.

A view towards the city from the back of the museum

Heading out, we caught this incredible walk-around T-rex puppet that every kid (and many adults) couldn’t wait to get eaten by.

Upon leaving, someone tipped us off that there was an immense prairie reserve a few minutes away (the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge). Surrounded by the city, coliseums, airports, etc., this huge expanse hosts a herd of 185 wild bison, 80 re-introduced black-footed ferrets (once though extinct until 18 were discovered, captured and bred to save the species), and over 50,000 prairie dogs the ferrets prey on. We saw (and heard the warning chirps of) hundreds of the latter, but no BFFs, other than rare photos in the visitor’s center.

Afterwards, we drove south to the small town of Castle Rock, just to see what else the area might have to offer.

At the last minute, we learned that the nation’s first stand-alone, dedicated insect zoo (est. 1995) was just 5 minutes from our hotel – so Monday morning we ran over there for an hour visit before dashing off to the airport.

I hold to the theory that one should always avail themselves of any opportunity to hold a tarantula.

Jaci and I lost ourselves amidst the jungle of butterflies (the stunning Caligo sp., or “owl butterfly” is one of the few species self-propagating continually at the facility. Several dozen other species are delivered weekly in their cocoons from farms and breeders all over the world to emerge daily in front of visitors’ eyes.

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Firstly, make sure that no matter what, you get to the bottom of this post to play the video Matt has kindly let me share with you.

Last week, you met Matt Redman, a pen pal of mine from the U.K. who I met just this last February. For his authentic musical recreations of early 1900s BMG (banjo, mandolin & guitar) music, Matt has been keen to acquire examples of an early American mandocello and harp guitar.

To that end, he first stopped off at mutual friend Matt Wood’s place to compare mandocellos (I’ve only the one, Matt is obsessed with them). He then stopped here for the full harp guitar experience, where I tried to talk him into taking home something I actually had for sale! But no, it turned out that Matt is Gibson-crazy. After getting a vintage Gibson L-4 oval-hole archtop a couple years ago (below), he seems to have found his sound.

And so, after unsuccessfully trying to convince him a flat-top was the way to go (he was after volume, and the Carlson at left is as loud as it gets!), we brought out the Gibsons. Matt is now on a quest to get one of the later, common Gibson Style U’s. Yes. what I (and the majority of modern American harp guitarists) find jarring and toneless, Matt considers heaven. He just loves that sound.

He may be one of the few playing Gibsons authentically, stringing his L-4 with heavy strings and just wailing on it. His shows are generally all acoustic, and with proper Gibson tension and technique, I suspect he can fill most any hall. As you listen to him play in my room, realize that if we strung these instruments with period strings (so heavy though don’t even make them anymore) they’d sound even louder and punchier.

You’ve heard me play some of these on recordings, but I typically use my antique instruments only for modern music and arrangements. These 13 minutes of clips will give you an idea of what these instruments can sound like in a specialist’s hands, and also what sort of music might have been played on them by early 1900s soloists. For harp guitar music historians specifically, this is important as all of these tunes might have been played by harp guitar accompanists, if not by the better soloists. Mind you, this is just a tiny sample of what Mr. Redman is capable of.

Unfortunately, I keep my valuable instruments strung with light strings and tuned down a couple steps when not in use. We tuned most up to full pitch, but most were still too lightly strung for Matt’s forceful technique. Me? I can barely fret those Gibsons up the neck, but Matt had no problem playing with his trademark passion and dynamics.

Before watching the video (at page bottom), here are further details, caveats and notes on the instruments and Matt’s tunes:

Gibson Style O Artist: A funky-sounding old archtop guitar, virtually identical in construction and sound to Matt’s L-4. He liked mine a little better, even though its strings are 25-years old (just as I had left them after recording its Christmas Collection piece). He claimed he could hear the difference between the quality of the (birch) wood selection…!

In the clip, Matt first explains that he couldn’t find a 1910-era waltz challenging enough for a solo showpiece in the “plectrum style,” so wrote his own “period” piece, “La Carnauba Waltz.” The title is not just a clever gag – Matt actually released this as a wax cylinder that you can buy and hear “authentically”! OK, that’s just too cool. It’s what you hear under the opening credits.

He next jams on “‘Tain’t no Sin (To Dance Around in Your Bones),” a popular early 1930s dance band tune (later covered by Tom Waits, which seems perfect). Then a quick snippet of Kern/Mercer’s “I’m Old Fashioned” made popular by Fred Astaire & Rita Hayworth in You Were Never Lovelier.

Gibson 18-string HG (the super-rare, long-scale 12-sub-bass one): While the neck is strung in light silk & steel, the subs are purely decorative – a set of colored nylon-core Schrammel strings installed for our Carlsbad museum exhibit a couple years back. So there was nowhere near enough tension for his technique (and one bass tuner didn’t hold, so he skipped that one). He apologized for not singing on key, as he was so busy concentrating on the instrument! While the string colors match Gibson’s historical method (copper-color every other third string), Matt uses something completely different (a small knot of red cotton as a marker around his C and G bass strings) – but the new system barely bothered him. About the tune, he quickly says “This is 1919” but then later told me 1920, “made popular by Nora Bayes, then later the Andrews Sisters and Vera Lynn.”

Winsor 7-string bass zither banjo: Matt plays all the banjos, but this was probably his first 7-string. And he had to hear the bass version. This type of banjo has metal for the melody strings but gut and overspun silk for the rest (you heard me play it on Brad Hoyt’s Far Away From Everyday CD). This is an old American Civil War tune sung by the Union Army.

Gibson ‘teens Style U: One of my least favorite-sounding harp guitars (and almost no modern American harp guitarist plays this model), yet Matt chose this model as the one he must get. Note how it almost sounds like an electric guitar in his hands. Again, projection for the back of the music hall. We both agreed that the unique 10-bass “re-entrant” Boehm tuning system is ideal, especially for the music he is playing. He’d never played one of these, and you’ll hear me ask how he can immediately get around on it … (damn virtuoso jazz music major…)

He first noodles for a while (explaining later, “there’s a paraphrased fragment from Eddie Peabody in Strum Fun,’ the rest is just scales and arpeggios, then a typical 3-chord waltz German folk tune accompaniment a la contra/Schrammel guitar style.”), then finally goes right into “Till We Meet Again.” Of this tune, he says, “From the end of the great war, into the 1919 flu epidemic, and 1920s. Introduced by Campbell and Burr, then later Doris Day, Patti Page and Bing Crosby. I have a video of me visiting the grave of (composer) Richard Whiting in Forest Lawn, Glendale, CA from December 2018 where this melody is written on his tombstone. I say the words to another of his songs. It was also the closing theme for Don Messer’s Jubilee on Canadian TV 1957-1969.”

McGinnis & Shaw “Clef Club” banjolin: This 2016 museum addition is a prize. I would love to know who the “Ramblers” were! McGinnis & Shaw were professional but extremely obscure African American makers of plucked string instruments in Philadelphia. Though there may or may not have been a relationship, their “Clef Club” brand obviously refers to the famous Jim Europe-led orchestra and ensembles I’ve written about at length. You’ll remember how their main instrument was this little 4-string “melody banjo” (pre-tenor banjo). I had yet to play it and wanted to hear it, so handed it to Matt … a quick tune up, search his mental song Rolodex, and … blam! His later notes explained that this 1917 tune was recorded (with banjolin) by the Savoy Quartet in England. Harpguitars.net readers may remember that one of Vardon & Perry’s many “Wilbers” (Joe Wilbur) went on to play with the Savoy Q. (he predominately played guitar banjo with the Quartet).

Maccaferri harp guitar: Another wonderful instrument that appears on Brad’s CD (playing Gypsy jazz of all things), I forget why I handed this to Matt, other than maybe to feel the unique square, flat neck (and perhaps he was curious about a pre-Selmer Maccaferri). Another instrument strung (with Nylgut) a little too lightly for my Vaudevillian friend, and we also left it tuned down a half step. It was when Matt was trying to wrap his head around its 4-sub tuning that I discovered he has perfect pitch. My simple G-B-C-D was to him all flats, and to his ear and brain, he was playing in Gb, plain and simple. He just had to remember to play everything one fret higher in G! That level of professional musicianship I want nothing to do with…!

Again, he’s playing a harp guitar form and tuning (and key) he’d never experienced before. He does always give it his all though!

Last but not least, this was all completely impromptu, and until Matt arrived, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into! He set his cellphone down just to capture some of these videos for reference, and he, then I, cleaned things up a bit. I’d like to thank Matt for allowing me to share these “authentic performances on historically-correct instruments” with you. May there be much more to come.

PLAY THE VIDEO!

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“What do they sound like?”

“What music did they play?”

These are two common questions I am inevitably asked by visitors to the Miner Museum, whether the visitors are interested in ethnic, ancient European or early American instruments. I wish I had the time and talent to be prepared to demonstrate on command, but alas, I’m falling further behind (my old Christmas Collection project and the recent Norwegian Wood CD may have to suffice).

For the “BMG instruments” (early American banjos, mandolins and guitars), one not only needs to keep their chops up, but be familiar with the repertoire. It’s not my forte by any stretch, and there aren’t a whole lot of dedicated researchers and practitioners these days.

And so, I was thrilled when the young and dedicated virtuoso Matt Redman came to visit this last February and spent some time (an entire Sunday, it turned out) putting some of my instruments properly through their paces. He had his camera phone turned on for some of it and his kindly allowed me to share some of that with you. I’ll post that in the next blog issue with details on the tunes and instruments. Meanwhile, I highly recommend reading this post for background on Matt & Co.

I first discovered Matt in 2015 when he responded to my article on Roy Butin, after he had taken the time to figure out the actual notes and keys of the improperly-digitized 78rpm recordings. That was when I learned of his activities and his desire to add a harp guitar to his growing fretted instrument arsenal. Matt is a classically-trained multi-instrumentalist and jazz performance graduate, who has been seriously bitten by the “BMG era” bug. Meaning: the popular fretted instruments and music of America (and correspondingly, Europe) of the early 1900s.

In the last several years, Matt – mostly in his duo with mezzo-soprano and vintage sheet music collector Patricia Hammond (above) – has undertaken numerous projects, with countless successful appearances with Patricia (and sometimes the Versatility Serenaders) all over Great Britain. They do seem to have this obscure niche pretty well cornered! Visit Matt’s web site or Facebook page and you can get a sense of the variety of these activities. The latest? Matt will be heard in the upcoming film “Tolkien” (anxiously awaited by hobbit-lovers everywhere). With any luck, Patricia and another friend (miming the guitar part Matt recorded) will appear on screen in a hotel scene set in 1910. Matt’s arrangement for clarinet, violin, cello, voice and guitar was meant to include his harp guitar, but he was unfortunately away on vacation. Too bad – that would have been nice to see.

In the musical world Matt and his partners have chosen to explore, it is impossible not to encounter the harp guitar – where it was ubiquitous, often promoted as a necessity, for the live performance of this music. Ergo, Matt’s haunting of Harpguitars.net as part of his investigations and our eventual meeting. He eventually got a “temp HG” – an inexpensive German kontragitarre with (rare for that instrument) a full 12 chromatic sub-basses.

But he was really after a classic American harp guitar form of the era, and so – in a rare lull between engagements – booked a trip to come all the way to California to try some out at – where else?

Until next time, here’s a recent clip of Matt and Patricia working out some new Ernst Brockmann music with his nylon-string contra-guitar:

Next: Matt Redman live and impromptu at the Miner Museum!
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It’s always nice to discover an unpublished photo of Michael Hedges. This one is a beautiful shot that shows his black-top Knutsen harp guitar (“Darth”) to good advantage, especially the replaced neck/headstock.

It’s unfortunately printed on newsprint and folded, but still a rare and wonderful find. It’s currently for sale on eBay (please let me know if you win it).

I continue to hear from new and old Hedges fans who discover this site. So now’s a good time to remind you of where Hedges can be found on Harpguitars.net:

He heads up the always-sad In Memoriam section of the Players page.

He has his own in-depth Player of the Month article, with contributions from many fans and sources around the globe.

His Knutsen is still under-represented in its Knutsen Archives listing.

I investigate his relationship with the late luthier Lance McCollum in two blogs: McCollum & Michael and McCollum Harp Guitar Legacy, Part 2.

And finally, I investigate the 5-sub-bass configuration of his six-sub Dyer in Stringing for Hedges. (I offer my own four different Hedges sub-bass sets at Harp Guitar Music.)

Here’s another new (to me) photo of Michael as part of the Klein Community. Please let me know what else you find out there!

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First off, I just have to say what a leap of faith the W. J. Dyer & Bro. Company took when they made the decision to market something called the “Dyer Symphony Harp Plectral Ensemble”! Who wouldn’t have wanted to have been first on their block…? (Apparently everyone).

Continuing with my PDF-format article updates, I’ve just finished a monograph on the Dyer harp mandolin family. That section of Harpguitars.net has been offline for a year or more while I re-organized the last twenty years or so of discoveries by Bob Hartman and myself.

It led me on a merry (and merry-go-round) chase, but at last I think I can commit to the information presented herein.

Whether this new article will remain accurate for years to come or become obsolete tomorrow is anyone’s guess! For now, I just hope you find it suitably interesting. You can view in your browser or download for archival purposes. As always, donations to our non-profit Harp Guitar Foundation helps us make this information and resource available.


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Merrill harp guitar #1 fitted with Rickard’s new state-of-the-art tuners.

Actually, these weren’t technically invented for us, but they are going to be huge hit with harp guitar owners and players of the Dyer-style configuration!

Vintage Dyers and Knutsens, also – more on that in a minute.

As every schoolboy (and girl) knows, c.1900 harp guitars were fitted with friction tuners for their sub-bass strings (and sometimes the neck also). That’s only a 1:1 ratio, and they are notoriously difficult to keep from slipping. (Replacing the fiber washers will help, but they’re really hard to find).

So typically we’ve been swapping those out for 4:1 banjo tuners. Yes, banjo tuners. Despite the inevitable complaining, there is absolutely nothing wrong with them for sub-basses – at any gauge or tension. One simply has to keep the screw snug. If you change tunings often then the screws will eventually back off. Trust me, it won’t happen in the middle of a gig – it takes a long time. Crank too hard and you’ll eventually crack the plastic knobs. And 4-to-1 is a nice ratio for subs. Many professionals (Bennett, et al) and amateurs (me) have been using them without complaint for decades. For appearance, I have long preferred Stew-Mac 5-Star machines with Waverly ivoroid buttons (now “Galalith” at Stew-Mac). This gets you closest to the vibe and visual of the original friction tuners. Many banjo tuner brands work great: 5-Star, Waverly, Gotoh and others I’ve forgotten.

But now we’ve got idiot-proof 10-to-1 banjo tuners!

If you’ve heard the hype, believe it – and believe me now. Rickard Banjos kindly sent a set for evaluation and I couldn’t be more impressed.

As I understand it (from the man himself), the concept of a “cycloidal reduction drive” tuner was first prototyped by the legendary Frank Ford. He has a video that shows the assembly and operation. Kinda cool.

A few years later, after some discussion with Bill Rickard, Frank turned over his ideas to Bill, who has now patented his version of the cycloidal drive and started manufacture of the tuners that banjo players – and vintage guitar players, and harp guitarists – have all been waiting for.

Frank told me “they have a ten-to-one ratio, are perfectly smooth with no backlash, simply can’t slip and have no need for tension on the button.” I thought he was B.S.ing me until I tried them myself (this was after he assured me that he had tested them to maximum tension). So, you know that little end screw we have to keep so tight or the strings will slip? Forget about it! You can literally take it out and your heavy gauge low E sub-bass will still hold pitch!

My friend Randall Sprinkle was the first to manage to get a set to install on one of his problematic harp guitars. He loved them also. Mine (nickel plated; gold is also available) came with boxwood buttons, as I had asked about ivoroid to keep that vintage look (and they now have an ivoroid option). But now I’m actually sold on the wood buttons – as these are modern machines that I was putting on a modern instrument – Merrill #1. As I said, Stephen Bennett had no problem recording and touring with this instrument for years with its Stew-Mac tuners (and Waverly buttons, my exact preference by complete coincidence). But these Rickards are a serious upgrade. First is the no-more-slipping worry I already mentioned. No muss, no fuss – it’s incredible. Then the 10:1 ratio – being used to 4:1, I hardly needed it, but sure appreciate it! To change pitch a half step is still quick and easy; you turn two and a half times the distance and dial it in much easier and flawlessly. For subs, I’d say that it’s preferable to 16:1 gears.

There are a ton of new harp guitar instruments – and future designs – that might benefit from these, and I imagine Rickard will have a hard time keeping up with demand. Oh, your thick gauges? No problem. As we’ve been drilling out Stew-Macs, etc., we’ll drill out these. In fact, you won’t even have to; Rickard plans on doing it for us – pre-nickel plating even! For my strings of .050–.080”, they used two different drill sizes (.062”. and .093”).

Before I give you the link, here’s my direct comparison with the Stew-Mac 5-Stars next to a new Rickard 10:1 on the Merrill:

Left: Stew-Mac 5 Star 4:1 (note ivoroid button beginning to crack from constant tightening); Right: Rickard 10:1 with basswood button

And here’s a set of Rickard tuners mounted by Frank Ford on a 1931 OM-18, with original 1920s ivoroid buttons and a bit of “relic” treatment on the nickel-plated parts:


The only thing I altered was that I used the original Stew-Mac washer, as (see table) it is less heavy in visual appearance (they’ll consider reducing the size for the future). The Rickard screw heads and opposite shaft heads are similarly larger and more square, but fine. The housing is overall larger by a bit and 10% heavier than 5-Stars. Any set of 6 sub-bass tuners will weigh under half a pound either way. The 0.7 ounces extra per set that the Rickards weigh is negligible.

As I intimated above, I would probably stick to the Stew-Mac (with Waverly buttons) for my vintage instruments (which aren’t for the stage, and the tuners are already paid for), but switch to the Rickards for all modern instruments.

As now, I expect, will you!

To Rickard 10:1 Ratio Tuners

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You saw my NAMM post a week ago. I’ve just finished fully revamping my Harp Guitar Music Timberline section. Lots of new pics, specs, details, arrival dates, testimonials, etc.

1 year in, we’ve sold almost a hundred of these things!  Time to join the club?

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A few weeks ago, I blogged about the unique one-off “nightmare lute” (at left) and mentioned the collection it had come from.

I am now happy to report that Mr. Erdmann’s widow Sabine and I collaborated to tell the world the story of her late husband and his unique private collection. It’s a story with a less-than-happy ending, one that echoes the nagging fears of many of us.

Thank you to the American Musical Instrument Society for publishing it as the cover story of their Winter, 2018 Newsletter.

Please enjoy; you needn’t be an AMIS member (though it couldn’t hurt!) to read the PDF and fill your screen with Ms. Erdmann’s never before published photos.

Besides the lute, I won two other of Walter’s instruments in the mentioned auction, which I wrote about in the previous AMIS Newsletter. Then recently, I was thrilled to be able to get a fourth, after learning that Pamela’s Music had won over 30 lots for their private collection and re-sale, one of which (as the underbidder) I was now ready to pay a premium for:

It is a rare and obscure “Harfen-Laute für Einarmige” (“harp-lute for one hand”), registered on May 16th, 1927 by one Sepp Müller of Kleinholthausen, Germany. Fortunately, an AMIS colleague was able to decipher and research the label for me, providing key information for this forgotten instrument (my thanks and appreciation to Dr. Gunther Joppig).

Neither harp nor lute, it’s actually a simple fretless zither in the shape of a miniature guitar, 12-1/2” wide and 25” long. I’ve long known of it from a single example in the Handel-Hauses collection in Germany. It’s rather cute, if a bit goofy, and has this curious headstock design with some sort of intriguing “you decide!” saddle option – where the metal tube saddle for the 25 strings is split in half, either half then able to lie in the upper or lower troughs that form an elliptical pattern.

On both specimens, the (default?) stringing is with the left side high, the right side low. I see no remotely advantageous reason for such a design, do you? I can only guess that the separation is related to the (unknown) tuning ; accompaniment/melody is what it looks like to me.

Shown to scale with various harp guitars.

The label shows this instrument and a second design in more of a “lute” shape, perhaps the nominal form behind the instrument’s term. Of course, “zithern” would have been a better choice than “harfen” (harp). The “schutzmarke” (trademark) consists of the illustration of the two instrument designs and monogram “S. M.” (Sepp Müller). “No. 1004” would be the stamped serial number – what I would surmise indicates the fourth instrument built (that this invention died an ignoble death is perhaps unsurprising). The handwritten “D.R.G.M. 996 378” signifies a 3-year “lower level patent” registration.

Besides the now four Erdmann instruments I was lucky to obtain, here are the Mehlis Auction lots I also found rare and interesting (many undocumented and now scattered to the four winds):

You see now why my “shopping list” was so long…

You did good, Walter – sorry we never met.

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I can sum up my short NAMM experience this last Saturday in two words: Filippo Bertipaglia. But more on that later.

Ah, the NAMM circus in Anaheim … every year I say last one, and every year I’m back (but just for a day). It’s actually fun – mainly seeing all the musical friends I’ve made over the years and meeting new ones. Like most, I also get a kick out of the microcosm of musical human oddities of every size, shape and accoutrement. This time, while I did find myself laughing out loud at some of the more ridiculous, I was feeling more curmudgeonly than usual, wondering (not for the first time) “What in the world do these people do in their normal lives when they leave here?!”

If I was more put off this year, it was mostly because I was under the weather and should never have gotten out of bed. But I had to go, as we had an important meeting with the Timberline factory folks about a new model I’d spent the last month on (designing and engineering). The good news is that it looks promising (spoilers!).

Before I get into harp guitar player sightings, I need to mention Muriel Anderson’s All Star Harp Guitar Night she held a week before Anaheim NAMM down the road a ways. I wasn’t able to make it, but she represented the instrument and players well with (L-R) Michael O’Brien, Jim Earp, William Eaton, Muriel, Stephen Bennett, Jake Murphy, Scott Holloway and Tim Bertsch. Bravo!

My first harp guitarist sighting at NAMM was Jim Earp – Timberline’s longtime endorser. After the harp guitar’s debut at last year’s show, owner Rob Smith handed it to him … Jim said “What am I supposed to do with this?” – and he hasn’t been able to put it down since (to be fair, I do warn all 6-string players of this).

Jim’s already got a harp guitar EP recorded. The soundhole rosette is a feedback dampener he installed.

Later, Jamie Dupuis from Canada arrived for his sets. Another major endorser, Jamie has switched almost exclusively to the harp guitar for his weekly (160k subscribers) YouTube videos. He and Rob were planning to shoot another dozen or more during this Southern California visit.

Kitty-corner from Timberline was Journey Guitars (another patented removable neck travel guitar), where our friend and Harp Guitar Gathering (HGG) Feature Tommy Loose was demoing all weekend.

I took a late morning break to say hello to my Carlsbad Museum of Making Music friends out in the foyer and catch one of their bookings, the marvelous Brazilian accordion duo Creosote.

Next was over to the Mayson Guitars booth, manned by Travis Bowman (our HGG feature 2 years ago). Here I found 3 harp guitarists (none of whom I got to see play): Travis, Mark Grover and Matt Thomas – last year’s HGG featured virtuoso, out for his very first Anaheim NAMM experience. Mark and I chatted about him getting an HG upgrade, while Matt brought me up to date on his custom Tonedevil HG-in-progress. Sorry, no photos of this bunch.

Back at the booth and more visitors. Outermost are Dave and Tone Powell of Tonedevil fame, who were down for a write-off-able vacation. That long-haired dude is Tim Bertsch, newly added to the Timberline family of players.

Role-reversal. During our annual Heavy Metal Shred Face moment, I apparently busted up Tim enough that he broke character.

Other HG friends (not pictured) who wandered by at some point were Don Alder (Timberline endorser, Steve Klein (from the Boutique Guitar Showcase upstairs) and Scott Holloway (who, with Jim Worland, is still building high-end “Dyer” harp guitars when custom-ordered).

The best thing about NAMM is the insane amount of concentrated talent – the number of incredible guitar (and other instrument) players you can see in concert throughout the long weekend. I heard about many great shows and performers I would’ve loved to have caught, but it does takes a commitment.

Then there are all the demo performers scattered throughout the halls – from the unknown (to me, like new FretMonkey players) to the known (Trevor Gordon Hall, my favorite CandyRat composer).

And you never know who might sit down and just start playing. I tuned most of this out at the Timberline booth, including ignoring (seemingly) yet another long haired kid who sat down with a plugged-in 6-string…

…until I heard something that sounded like someone had put on my old LP of the Bucky Pizzarelli Quintet playing Bix Beiderbecke.

This was Filippo Bertipaglia, one of those “Best Guitarists in the World You’ve Never Heard Of.” Not as young as he looks (confessing he was “old”), from Milan, Italy, with seemingly triple-jointed fingers several inches long and a technique and style the likes of which I’ve never heard. Right hand often using flatpick with second and third fingers; left hand, where two random fingers would hold position as two others moved in opposite directions defying all physics. Several of us thus stood around memorized for almost half an hour to talk and listen to this amazing and delightful young man, immediately my new favorite guitar player. Fairly indescribable, but, say, somewhere between a classical guitar quartet, Allan Holdsworth and modern Impressionists such as Les Six, the creative disciples of the eccentric Erik Satie (Filippo admits he is similarly “mad”). Meaning virtuosic originals – complex, flawless and often incredibly beautiful. Police and Cyndi Lauper covers also, in his own creatively marvelous arrangements (here, I was reminded of another mad genius, our Guitarp-playing friend Phil deGruy). We couldn’t believe he had no recordings yet, but he sent us to YouTube where I was thrilled to find two of the original pieces he had played and the Time After Time cover. Filippo is one of those players who simply begs watching (which is why, sitting five feet away, we were getting goosebumps).

He may not be to everyone’s taste (ex: though he can do all that FretMonkey stuff, he doesn’t) – but all guitar fans should check out at least one of these:

A Trip Through Your Sweetness (a beautiful original)

Time After Time (cover)

Sultry Weather (original madness utilizing his flatpick-fingerstyle technique)

Sorry to blather; this was just one of those magical moments. Needless to say, I wouldn’t gush so publicly without good reason. Subscribe to his channel and tell your friends.

T’was now 5:45 and closing time. From the parking tower, I rolled down my giant box o’ photography gear to shoot the now four models of Gregg Miner-co-designed Timberline harp guitars. (They sell out so fast, we can never get them in one place at one time, so this was it).


I’ll get the listings updated soon – I got these quick shots as best I could in our short hour before I was unceremoniously ushered out, the very last to leave the now hauntingly empty Hall E.

It was then that I discovered that a giant convention center full of NAMM – but devoid of all life and any sound – could be true bliss.

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The late great Michael Holmes (May 24, 1941 – Feb 18, 2016) was 14 years my senior. While I was just discovering the acoustic guitar and instrumental music in High School in 1971, he was founding Mugwumps, his self-produced journal that was years ahead of its time (this was 8 years before the seminal Frets Magazine debuted). In 1997, he took Mugwumps online, where the family keeps it archived today. At that same time, you could (and still can!) get back issues of his journal through Elderly Instruments.

Mike and I became friends and colleagues after I had released my 1995 A Christmas Collection, and he had read my two extensive booklets if information. Expert that he was, he had a few comments and corrections (much stemming from the fact that he didn’t seem to realize that I was foremost a humorist)!

Over the many years of Harpguitars.net, I would query him often about clues or topics, as his files and knowledge were extensive. From time to time, he’d send me some rare treasure unsolicited – sometimes leading to an entirely new research project. Frustratingly, his provenance was often buried deep, or consisted only of his handwritten notes describing a long-lost piece of library microfiche. I can’t begin to imagine recreating his steps today, even with the Internet. Though he finally published his labor of love – the Index to Patents and Patentees of Acoustic, Fretted Stringed Musical Instruments 1831 to 1949, I still think of that monumental stringed instrument encyclopedia he had in his head.

Back in May, I wrote about stumbling on the Mugwumps issue with his harp guitar article (back in the Chicago suburbs, with my dad and brother, at right).

Of course, all the instruments in it have long been known on Harpguitars.net – but it was amazing to see what Michael had awareness of and access to all the way back in June, 1981 (this was two years before I would acquire my first harp guitar)! I can’t imagine what folks back then thought of some of his finds: not just Gibson and Dyers, but the Martin harp mandolin? The Harmony?! Then there’s the first appearance of the bizarre c.1900 Angelo Mannello that Matt Umanov has owned since the 1960s (until just last year when he finally sold the curious instrument).

As I don’t see this 38-year-old issue available for purchase, here’s my PDF scan for posterity. (If anyone would like the original, just let me know privately).

Please enjoy this little trip down memory lane.

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