1912 Knutsen 11-String Harp Guitar

I've wanted to do right by this guitar for years, now. A friend of mine owns it and he's had it since a little bit after it flip-flopped on eBay a decade ago. It remained in a state of added-tailpiece, wonky-rebraced stupor since then, but I just knew it would be killer if I could snag a few hours with it. Thankfully, he indulged me -- and the glorious, piano-like, guitar-beast tone this now has is the result of those efforts.

This seems to be a "three-owner" guitar -- it was sold in the '80s to a fellow by the original owner who bought it in 1912. The next owner was probably the fellow who had it hot-rodded internally with new top bracing and externally with a bizarro, retro-inspired tailpiece setup and floating-style saddles installed on top of the original bridge.

The bracing job is actually pretty decent if a bit mad-scientist -- a nice, really light, x-braced pattern was put in. It has an extra-large, plywood(!) bridge plate and some ply support patching here and there, but lacks significant tonebar support or finger braces. Thus -- you can't really tune this up to high tension or with heavier gauges and expect it to survive. It looks a bit like the weight of late-'20s Gibson bracing in there. The original bracing was a sort of hybrid X/fan/A-frame style like in this pic I stole from HarpGuitars.net:

The back bracing and "tone arm" bracing remains original, however. In a weird bit of craziness, the guy doing the old rebrace installed a dowel through the center of the body (side to side, below the soundhole) with a little knob that made contact with the middle of the main x-brace and supposedly helped against downward-force tension from the tailpiece string load. Well, it didn't work and all it did was kill tone, so I summarily cut it right out using my handy-dandy new Foredom and a quick-cut wheel. After that, work was fairly straightforward to get it up to snuff.

I didn't weigh the guitar but it's very lightweight -- an average concert-sized modern guitar is heavier than this guy. Tone-wise it sounds full, balanced, and the low notes (with the harp strings muted, even) have a huge, piano-like sustain and robustness to them.

Work included: a fret level/dress, removal of "floating" saddles on the bridge, bridge clean-up and new saddle slots installed in the correct place for good compensation, new bridge pin holes and 11 new ebony bridge pins, new compensated bone saddles, side/back seam repairs, cleaning, and a good setup. The neck is straight, the guitar itself is very stable, and it plays with 3/32" EA and 1/16" DGBE action at the 12th fret, strung with gauges 50w, 38w, 28w, 20w, 15, 11 and detuned DGCFAD (a full step down). I have the sub-basses tuned D, E, F, G, A but the tension seems OK so I'd expect them to be able to tune-up a step or so if needed to suit the player's needs.

Scale length: 24 5/8"
Nut width: 1 11/16"
String spacing at nut: 1 1/2"
String spacing at saddle: 2 5/8" (wide!)
Lower bout width: 14 3/4"
Upper bout width: 13 3/4"
Side depth at endpin: 4 1/4"
Top wood: solid spruce
Back/sides wood: solid mahogany
Neck wood: spruce or pine, it looks like!
Fretboard: some form of rosewood-like stuff
Neck shape: 14" radius with slim/med-C shape
Bridge: mahogany or similar
Saddle: bone
Nut: original bone

Condition notes: half-rebraced top, new saddles and saddle-slot locations, refretted, new position dots in board, a few old crack repairs, mild usewear throughout. It's actually absurdly clean for a guitar of its size and style -- probably mostly due to its having its original hard case.

I love the backward-turning headstock tuners.

It's nice to have newer frets on the neck.

The bridge appears to be original but it'd been heavily-modified before I got to it. The black line in front of the new saddle is probably from an original fret-style saddle slot. That area had been backfilled (along with the old pinholes) long ago.

My new work included cleaning-up the look of the bridge, cutting new saddle slots in the right spots, and figuring-out a way to get all those pins on the bridge even with the saddles so far to the rear of the deck. It's a little awkward but it works just fine.

The guitar itself has been amazingly stable, by the way. I'd only rough-cut the saddles to match the action specs I wanted before stringing, expecting that after tuning-up and letting it settle that I'd need to cut them down a little and then would polish them up at the same time. Surprise, surprise, though! This guitar tuned-up with the action perfectly-adjusted to the specs I'd initially set and hasn't moved at all. That's a shocker, to me. I don't know any guitar that's done that for me save solid-body electrics -- and those would've needed a truss adjust, at least, after getting strings on.

Anyhow, I left the saddles as-is and erased my cutting marks. Good enough! I can polish them up  pretty when the owner comes back with it at some point.

The real stunner about the fretted neck design is that the neck is essentially "floating" off the body. It's held in place by one bolt at the "heel" and one at the headstock. I'm shocked that this works but it's stable in service.

Did I mention that the neck appears to be made from spruce?

I love the hack-n-slash approach to modding the period tuners.

Do you see how this neck is just cut "flat" at its end and mated to the body? There's a single bolt on the inside holding it to the body. This setup hurts my head but it works.

There are a few filled screwholes and quickly-plugged pickup-jack holes near the "endpin" area.

Here's the original hard case (with a '60s replacement handle).


Phillips said…
Incredible..that really is a knut son...reminds me of Michael hedges....