Volume # - 82 Building a Harp Guitar

Written by Patrick Podpadec on . Posted in Northcoast Voice

Stay in Tune #vol 82

By Luthier Patrick Podpadec

It seem as though the time is flying by at a pace that is almost mind boggling. I can't even stop long enough to look back at what I just did, because if I do I will be off schedule for my next project. Sometimes I think I may have bit off more than I can chew, but there is something to be said about how that a direct time schedule forces you to have to produce results everyday, good or bad. You just have to work a little longer on the bad days to fix your mistakes. And with all that added experience you naturally learn to be a better craftsman. I was once told that 'Repetition is the Mother of Perfection”. Doing things over and over can only make you better at it.

I just signed a contract for a new commission to build a Harp Guitar by May 1. I Have estimated the instrument to take about 300- 350 hrs. So having about 150 or so days till then, I figure I have to work at least 2-3 hours every day on it to make that happen. At first that does not sound like that will be to hard to do, but you have to consider that I will be building a ukelele and another full size guitar during the same time frame. And of course there is always the daily or weekly repairs that find their way into the shop. Needless to say I think my plate is getting full.

In the last article I talked about the new Ukelele that I was building.That build is still on schedule, but I did come across a small snag in the process. I attempted to bend the sides by hand using a hot pipe ( the traditional method ). As it turns out , the spalted sycamore that I chose tends to be a little unstable to bend with that method. It needs to be supported from both sides by a metal bending strap to ensure that there will be no cracking in the bending process. So it will require me to build a heating form for this shape. That really is not a problem because I will be repeating this design in the future so it will be worth the time and effort to do so.

The harp guitar that I have been commissioned to build is based on one that has been designed and built by John Sullivan and Jeffery Elliott in 1986 for touring artist John Doan http://www.johndoan.com/. It has proven to be very stable and great sounding over the years.Other luthiers have built many replicas of this design with great success. My customer has chosen to use a wood that is known as “Zebra” wood for the back and sides. It is called that because of its very dramatic striping figure that runs through out the wood. It is not a wood that is traditionally used for guitar building ,but do to it's density and tonal capabilities, I believe it will prove to be an astounding choice for the guitar. Another interesting feature that the instrument has is that it has an additional 8 “super treble” strings that are located on the lower treble side of the guitar. It allows the player another tonal range that is not normally available on a normal guitar. Of course the 6 “sub bass” strings, something that the harp guitar is best known for, adds another tonal quality that will knock your socks off. For those of you that are not familiar to this instrument, I highly recommend you check out this fantastic website http://www.harpguitars.net/. It is an excellent reference site for everything that has to do with the history and development of the harpguitar movement from it's conception.

It has been since 2010 that I have built any major new instruments. I find that I'm having to go through all of my old data and find my templates and jigs so that I can refresh my memory of all the things that I have to do to. This harp guitar will certainly bring on it's own particular challenges that were not present in my past instruments. It's always very exciting to take on projects that there is little information on, in regards to the building process, and what is out there is difficult to understand. I have many questions that I'm sure will answered in due time. If time is allowed I plan on trying to build two of these instruments at the same time. Often is is just as easy to do a process twice and it also makes sure that the procedures are in grained into the brain a little more firmly. I also will have a bit more freedom to experiment with the design as I'm building the second one. Things that I believe may improve either the structure or the tone can be done on the second one and compared to the already established plan of the Sullivan/ Elliott design. Of cours I will be trying to document me building experiences through out so that any one that it is interested can visit my website for more info and pictures.

Before I leave I would like to remind everyone about a fantastic concert that will be held at the Kent Stage on Dec 8th called the “Woodchoppers Ball” . This will be the 12th year that my good friend Brian Henke will host this musical event. As always, the veteran Mr. Charlie Brown will me the M.C. and all of the proceeds will benefit the homeless. It is a chance to hear 9 of the best musicians in the country and help out a good cause at the same time. This year is especially exciting for me because there will be a new comer to the event. Mr Andy Wahlberg from Naples Fla. will be performing on his Harp guitar that he has been playing since the late 70's. A treat that I'm sure everyone will enjoy.

So hope to see you there and Happy Holidays to all!

Thanks Again!

Patrick from Liam Guitars / Wood-n-Strings