1900s Levin Scholander Harp Lute Guitar

My friend Rick picked this up from a stockpile of somewhat-fixed instruments done-up by a local fellow. When he took it out of the case (yes, it has a '60s chip case that fit it) I knew immediately what it was despite the lack of branding, because I happen to be a fan of Levin instruments. It even has a 1907 Stockholm repair label which solidifies the Swedish connection.

This is a really strange duck. In some ways it reminds me of an archlute, but it's clearly a "retro-futuristic" design for 1900 with its lute-ish shape but harp-guitar playability. It has a very short 21" scale length on the fretted neck and it was definitely made for gut (now nylon) strings. The 5 sub-basses that were remaining on the "harp" portion of it are silver-plated on gut and the last sub-bass is just a plain "filler" I added as I didn't have a thin-enough wound string to suit.

On the fretted board I used a fancy set of Thomastik KF110 strings which are made for classical guitar (they intonate on a straight line at the bridge, too) but feel and sound like a very lightweight set of flatwound steel strings. This gives my buddy a steel-stringy fingerpicked tone that sits nicely as contrast with the tubbier bass strings.

The instrument has a ton of old crack repairs -- some done well and some done OK-enough. My own work included a plane and refret of the rosewood fretboard (as it had some pretty bad warp), a dramatic bridge shave and "ebonization" touch-up as well as a replacement fret saddle, and a lot of tweaking to the setup. I also added a K&K pickup so he could plug it in.

This last bit transforms the instrument from a mediocre harp guitar (great mids/treble but confined bass) into something that sounds tremendous plugged-in. All the heft of the bass comes through the speakers, afterall!

I have it setup on-the-dot with 3/32" action at the 12th fret (standard "classical" height for me), but I have a feeling it might rise over time. The trouble is a neck reset will be extremely difficult on this design and there's only a sliver left of the bridge to shave for the future. Oh well! It is an oddball.

I'm aware that these were design for some sort of special tuning, but I have it tuned like a standard guitar on the fretted neck and the open sub-basses are DEGACD at the moment, though retuning to suit your preferred keys is the name of the game, here. I think it'd be fun to have a whole bunch of thicker sub-bass string stock to figure out what you actually want. Maybe cheap synthetic-core cello strings of various gauges with lower tension would be ideal? Those can sound dang full when plucked.

The neck is made from one piece of wood. I mean -- wow!

New medium frets decorate a flat-profile rosewood board. The neck has a mild-medium C-shaped profile and a 1 3/4" nut width that's actually very comfortable.

Note that the 12th fret is over the body.

When I shaved the bridge, its material (maple) and the half-dozen old "repairs" in it became quite evident. There were dowels installed in it at one point, there's a hairline crack down the middle of it that I filled, and there are -- of coruse -- the three screws that I left in it because I liked the folksiness. I re-ebonized it before string-up to hide all the ick. I was dark-stained to start.

While the top is spruce, the back and sides are lovely flamed maple.

Heck yeah on that maple, right?

The belly on the top is the only bit that terrifies me. I hope it remains stable.