I recently began a rather complex restoration of a Harp Guitar of unknown origin. The intricate shell inlays, and decorative nature of the top and scrolls certainly lean toward a European origin, somewhere in the late 1800’s. Upon removal of the Brazilian Rosewood back, I discovered no markings inside, other than some pencil marks that seem to represent the maker’s original idea of the top size, or, a location of a curved brace that was reconsidered during construction. The maker clearly used a gouge to shape the neck blocks, and it appears that much internal repair work has been done over the years. It is worth noting that most of the internal braces are glued and screwed together with tiny flathead screws, and the bridge is secured by screws with six sided nuts, hinting at a later time period.
Upon examination, many of the internal braces were either loose, or entirely detached, and the cracks in the sides and back were many. The original side braces had to be removed to allow the cracks to come back together for gluing. Hide glue was chosen to maintain the character of the original construction.
Due to the condition and tight fit of the dovetail joints, and the fact that screws were hidden inside both heels to strengthen the joints, the decision was made not to attempt removal of the necks to achieve proper neck angles. Instead, I removed both fingerboards and fashioned mahogany wedges to go underneath.
While I had the main fingerboard off, I re-bound it with nitro cellulose, as the original binding was either disintegrating or missing.
After checking (and double checking!) that all internal bracing and crack repairs were solid, it was time for the most challenging part so far.. re-gluing the back. Any repair person out there knows that when you remove the back from a 100+ year old instrument, the shape of the sides changes, and the back will never line up when you go to re-glue it. Using a host of clamps, and gentle pressure here and there, I was able to glue the back with very little discrepancy, and therefore, my work to chisel the binding shelf was minimal.
The binding re-glued well, although I had to graft in a small piece at the upper scroll due to shrinkage of the original nitro-cellulose material. After carefully shaping the wedge that I had glued to the bottom of the fingerboard to accomplish the goal of reducing the incredibly high action that the instrument had come in with, and making sure that the upper portion of the fingerboard would gently slope away from the strings, I began the process of gluing the main fingerboard back onto its neck, and then gluing the wedge and fingerboard onto the harp-side neck.
The next phase involved the replacing of missing pearl and abalone. There were many inlays damaged and/or missing and I could not help but fix them all! This is very time consuming work, and typically involves much fine cutting and delicate sanding of the material. 1/2 of the decorative strip pictured below was missing entirely.
The fingerboards also had many inlays that needed attention. Once all inlays were restored, I began re-installing the original frets and re-gluing the detached scroll.
As you can see below, the instrument is now starting to look good! .. and best of all, it is structurally sound and will be able to play again.. in tune!
Stringing and set up required all of the usual procedures that one would expect with 100+ year old instrument including reaming the bridge pin holes, filing grooves for the strings inside of the pin holes, a lot of fussing with the friction tuners, etc.. but in the end, the action was perfect, and the intonation decent. This instrument, which may have never played again now has a new life!
Completed on April 18, 2018
This amazing piece recently came in from the Miner Museum, Los Angeles, CA. It is a perfect example of the guitar as it existed in England in the late 1700’s, before the influence of the Spanish guitar. Popular among mid to upper class women, it was typically used to accompany the popular songs of the time. This example represents the later form of the instrument, as it is fitted with the “new” attachment that effectively removes the player’s picking hand from the strings altogether. Perhaps touching the strings was seen as “low class”! Either way, organologists have given this instrument the name Pianoforte guittar. I will be working on an assessment and plan for restoration, and will post pics and commentary as I go, so stay tuned!
Oops.. snuck this one in! My brother-in-law Mitch Van Dusen, a musician from the NYC area came for a visit and asked if we could finish a Seperwa (African hand held harp) that we had started a few years ago. We set to work and came close! The tuning pegs are temporary, as I will be turning custom ebony pegs that will be retro fitted in November. We departed from the contemporary design of the instrument in several places such as the ebony “tree”, or bridge, which utilizes an older method of holes for the strings instead of side cuts. Tuning pegs are also not traditional, but sure make keeping in tune on a gig much easier. The entire instrument was built around an original African stick, which came from a previous Seperwa. The box is quarter sawn 50 year old Spanish cedar, with the mitre joints coming in at a esoteric 43 1/2 degrees! Only hide glue was used to enhance authenticity and tone, and we used varying string thicknesses to bring out the full range of frequencies. Last, but not least, we created a radius on the gluing surface of the skin into the box.. allowing for the maximum of overtones when set into vibration.. this produced a fuller sound, with a sweet, subtle natural reverb.
Completed September 22, 2018