The Zodiac Harp Guitar

Written by Patrick Podpadec on . Posted in Harp Guitars


zodiac2zodia back1zodiacneckbodyjointzodiacbridgeconfigsoundhole

This Harp Guitar was commisioned to build for an extremely talented Musician that lives in my small town of Madison Ohio. Mr Don Adams had a vision of a handmade guitar that would call out to the stars and maybe dance with the moon. I think we might of hit the nail on the head with this one.


dreamcasterzodiac wchop16 BrianDon Woodchoppers2016copy Don Adams first time playig Zodiac2

This is me (the proud Father) of the

Dreamcaster and the Zodiac at


Ball 2016

Brian Henke with the Dreamcaster,

built in 2003 and Don Adams with the

Zodiac, built in 2016

Don Adams playing his Zodiac Harpguitar

for the first time in my shop




 For those of you who may not be familiar with the harp guitar and it's history, I suggest that you visit The site is well managed by Mr. Gregg Minor, affectionately known in the harpguitar circles as the "Pope".  

   Gregg Minor has been researching and collecting (with a passion, like no other) all and any information that is currently known about the elusive "Harp Guitar" and grasciosly shares this wealth of knowledge with all who will listen.


   He has written hundreds of articles in a online forum that he hosts from  .  Please do yourself a favor and visit to see the many shapes, and sizes from old to new, fom exotic to traditional, the makers, the players, discography, etc. You will be amazed at how much information that Gregg has gathered and put into one convienent area for all of us to enjoy. Thank You Gregg! or should I  say Thank You, "Your Eminence"!

gregg2012 s                                                                                                                                                                                              


 Originally Don had visions of building a copy of a Elliott- Sullivan Harp Guitar. This guitar was designed by Jeffrey Elliott for a Mr. John Doan from the Portland Oregon area back in 1985.It was built by a man named John Sullivan , hence the name Sullivan Elliott Harp Guitar. 

john doan elliot sullivan

At this link  you will find a lot of very useful information about the tuning and development of this guitar and it's design


     There was a little work done before we designed the new guitar. We had decided on the wood selections so I went ahead and prepped up some of the beautiful Zebra wood that I had been saving for a few years. Along with a AAAA bearclaw top  


resaw jig 1 bookmatched zwood 2 spruce top being glued Sullivan blueprint
This is the cool re-saw jig that I designed to make sure that I did a good job so that I wouldn't ruin any of my expensive woods.  This is the decided pieces of bookmatched Zebrawood that we are using This is the book matched Sitka Spruce top that is being glued together We had gone ahead and purchased the Elliot -Sullivan Blue print in the beginning because that was our original plan


In the early stages we were planning to build the Sullivan design , so there are a few pics of  some of the initial layouts and templates that were made 

harpguitat template harpguitar back bridge designs new bridge design

I always make a full size template from poster board.This allows me easy access to all of the important details

 The outer cutout piece is used to  locate the best lokking wood  lineups  There were many different bridge  designs.This only two of them This was almost going to be used at one point

After studied the instrument further, and many more discussions, Don and I, both decided that it would be better if we designed our own Harp guitar to fit the needs and ashestic values that were more in tune with Don's needs

 A couple of drawings later we came to settle on this basic design

Don Adams Harp guitar 001x2 I sent Don a sketch of a drawing and he did some photo shop work to it or something. All I know is that I loved it as soon as I  saw it


Before I start, I would like to Thank all of the fine Luthiers and craftsman before me that have allowed me to use some of their ideas and innovations in the features of this custom built Harp Guitar. The "general rule of thumb" is that with permission, most luthiers allow other luthiers to use their created features as long as they are given credit (and some times a beer or two) for the design .

As we continue I encourage you to take the time to visit the links I have posted for the different luthiers that with their brilliant designs and well wishes, I have been able to create this one of a kind Harp Guitar    "The Zodiac"


We have finally settled on the final design and all of the features that will be put on the instrument.  Although our first initial drawing of the Harp guitar has not changed too much, there has been some features added that has slowed down the production some to take the time needed to figure out structural changes that we would need for the added features. Two of the main features involved some serious setup and layouts to get everything to line up properly.  One feature that we both agreed to is that Don would need some sharping levers on the bass strings. This would allow him to play the bass section in different keys without having to retune each one of the bass strings. The sharping levers are from a company called "Dragon Whisperers". They are small but very well made and precise. This feature,  I believe has been credited to  Mike Doolin because he figured a way to add the sharping levers to a harp guitar that he was building for the famed instrumentalist, Muriel Anderson.

 Since there is also a treble section to this harp guitar we both felt that the fine tuners that are used on many violins would serve him well in keeping the zither pins in tune easier. This is also a feature that I first discovered on another harp guitar that Mike Doolin built for Muriel. One other very cool feature that I would like to incorporate on many of my new guitars is something that I borrowed from a fellow luthier named Harry Flieshman.

My hat's off to Harry for this brilliant design that offers the owner and any other future repairman full access to the lower section of the guitar through an access panel. It makes repairs to the interior a breeze. It also is much easier to install any type of amplification system. Click "here" to the article that I read and found out about it 

 It seems as though the little details are the ones that take up much of the build time to make sure that the final assembly goes off with out too many hickups. Of course, now that all of the figuring has been done, the templates made, the hundreds of trial fits and all of the mistakes have been corrected, we are coming to the final month of our project. I am very excited as I see progress every day in the shop.

The following pictures will be put in some sort of chronilogical order  ( to the best of my ability) to show everyone how the building of Don Adam's custom Harpguitar, the "Zodiac"  progressed




                                                                        The  "Zodiac"


Original Zodiac Design


Treble side bend in form long bent side
This is the original design that we came up with

I decided that I would need a work table and thought that this "universal" jig would do the trick.

"It was a bear to build!"

Other forms were made to use for drying the bent sides until the shape was set This the long bass side drying in the form


top bracing


back braces freshly kerfed side sides nearly kerfed and finished

I like using the "go deck" method to glue my braces. The braces don't seem to slide or creep away from their position

There are a few more braces and a backstrip piece that still needs to be glued on here

This the treble side just after most of the kerfing has been glued on

I used a spreader to try to keep the proper shape of things as the building process continues


Zodiacform2 kerfing being glued to the small upper bout section nearly completed frontback copy bent side resdy for kerfing
This another form that was built to make sure the shape stayed true this is the kerfing being glued to the short side of the hollow bass arm Here the back and front are neaarly completed. there was a few more braces added before all was said and done I decided that using the other form was more acceptible to the progression of the building process



Many things had to be considered which resulted in some structural changes that had to be made before the top and back were joined to the sides. Once I decided that the treble bank of strings (8 super trebles providing a full octave range) I need to add small fingerbraces and a small bridge plate to accomodate the fine tuners. There was a few options for the design , but I chose this design because I thought I would have better break angle on the trebles so that they would be a bit more responsive.


 One more feature that I borrowed from a fellow luthier, Mr Charles Freeborn was the hybrid headstock of the guitar neck. I first saw this design in a guitar show in Florida in 2010. Initially I just thought that it looked cool, but it turned out to be the perfect solution to my headstock problem. It incorporates both a solid and slotted headstock together in one space. I chose this because of the close proxitmy of  the bass headstock and the guitar headstock. The slotted design allows for the tuning machines to exit in the back which doesn't interfere with the short space between the two headstocks.

neckheadstock new hybred headstock design headstock zodiacguitar hybrdheadstock
 This is the neck just after the  truss rod slot was cut, the            lacewood overlay was glued on  and rough shaped  Here is where I cut the slot out      and made sure that the tuners fit.    I had to make the left side thicker  than the right side because of the  way the tuners are   I had to enlongate the slot so          that the strings would ride        freely over the wood 

 This gives a better view of what     I meant about the strings riding  over the nut and not rubbing on  the wood before it gets to the  tuner shaft


After I had the neck into it's rough shape, (before the frets and the inlays)  I concentrated my efforts back to getting the body parts all assembled. Making sure the braces were in the right locations and making sure that the access panel parts fit together right. Everything needs to be in place before closing up the box.


Thanks Again to Harry Flieshman for designing the cool access panel and allowing me to use this feature in the Zodiac. I think that every guitar should have one!

access panel 03 access panel 4 access panel 02 zodiacaccesspanel2
 Here is a view of the end block    access panel . I had to make a  template so that the female and    male counterpart fit snugly Here you can see how I laminated   a bent portion of the Zebra wood     to the male portion of the access     panel The fit and alignment of the holes      to the threaded nuts on the female    portion have been finally finished   Here is a good look at the final        product
















Another interesting feature is the fine tuners that were mounted in the lower treble side of the instrument which allows the player the ability to easily tune the "super trebles" with incredible accuracy. With the higher tension of the light guage strings that are mounted on a zither pin, this feature is almost a necessity, and comes in very handy. 


Unfortunetly the slots that were routed in the top to house the fine tuners were done after the box was closed up. I don't have many pictures of the bracing configuration that was needed to be figured for this feature

treble bank2 finetunerholes finetunerbracing zodiactreblebankfinetuners
This shot of the zither pins for the super trebls. I mounted them on a 45 degree angle. By doing this I was able to lower the pins a little so that they would not interfere with playing notes in the higher register of the guitar neck.  This the first shot of the holes that were drilled to mount the fine tuners. This is the bracing configuration that I used to strengthen the area beneath the fine tuners  The final shot of the tuners  in action. They work perfectly!


 Moving on to the bass section of the Zodiac. I wasn't sure exactly how I was going to design the headstock that holds the strings, sharping levers, guide pins and tuners.  On many other headstock designs I have noticed that the headstock seems to taks a turn in the opposite direction of the curve that is produced by the hollow arm. My client Don and I, both agreed that we were not big fans of this design. although having said that, it is a hard area to redesign because the strings need to be seperated enough so the headstock must go in that direction.

I was also trying to design a headstock that was different from others that I had seen. This proved to be much harder than it looks. I spent many hours drawing and redrawing the shape so that it looked ashectically correct with the curving hollow arm. I also did not want it to be too large so that it would look like a big "sore thumb", but at the same time it had to be large enough to house all of the hardware that needed to be there. 

First off. I decided to not use standard enclosed bass tuners because I was worried that the extra weight would make the instrument very unbalanced. I was lucky to find a geared viola tuner, another feature of one of Mike Doolins' harp guitars.These tuners are very lightweight and perform well and actually look very cool on the Zodiac. By spacing them correctly, I was able to fit all of the needed hardware into a relatively small space. The block on the back of the headstock was lighten up by drilling holes in the block to reduce weight. Capping the mahogony block with a Paduak overlay finished off the look nicely. It still  serves well to mount the headstock plate to, but does not add too much additional weight

bass headstock zodiac bass binding zodiac bass headstock zodiacbackofbassheadstock

It took many drawings to get to

this shape. The headstock has

a .095 Lacewood overlay ,

bound with bloodwood


This area was a little tricky to

match up the binding to make

any sense of the way it all

comes together.

With a finish and all of the

hardware on, I believe

I accomplished the goals that

I set out for

Capping the back with

another bloodwood overlay finished

out the back looks good with the

mahogony headstock



 The way the Zodiac's body is designed the bass side of theneck meets the body at the 13th fret and the treble side meets the body at the 15th fret. This design made it just a little more difficult to ensure that the neck projectory (side to side) was spot on. It was easier for me to mate the neck block and neck heel to each other before it was glued to the body. This allowed me to have to do minor adjusting after the neck was bolted on. I chose to use a bolt on mortise/tenon joint and glue the tongue of the fingerboard to the top of the guitar, This allows me to do any further neck setting procedures or repairs with considerable less work than with a traditional dovetail joint. I know there is controvery amongst many luthiers about different neck /body joints ( I believe they both have advantages), but I have had success with both and continue to use both methods in different guitars and instruments that I build  



neck joint roughed in neckblockwithbolts neckblockgluedin originalneckalignment
This is where Irough cut the angles of the neck heel and the neck block I had to extend the slot for the truss rod and drill holes for the bolts

After I was happy with the angle cuts I glued the neck block to the rims

I had temporarily bolted the neck on to check the alignment


  I have been blessed through the years of having repairing and building instruments to have met and been in association with many extremely talented musicians. After finishing the Zodiac, I was invited to a very cool musical event called the WoodChopper's Ball to show of the new harpguitar. My good friend Brian Henke, (whom I've also built a harpguitar for, the "Dreamcaster") hosts a musical event at the historic Kent Stage in Kent Ohio for the past 16 yrs.

 After many yrs of competing and judging competitions at the renowned Walnut Valley Guitar Festival in Winfield Kansas, Brian has been able to rustle up some of the world's best guitar players and assemble them under one roof for an evening of entertaiment that is like no other. The event is held in early Dec and the proceeds are given to the Coalition for the Homelees in the Cleveland area. In tha past yrs  Brian has been able to bring in many well named  harpguitar players such as Muriel Anderson, Andy Mckee, Tom Shinness, Stacey Hobbs,  Andy Wahberg, etc. and guitar players like Pete Huttlinger, Robin Kessinger, Tim & Myles Thompson, Michael Kelsey, Mark Sganga, Alex Bevan, the list goes on and on. 

 This year I was lucky enough to have some of the best players on the planet  look, play and add some of their "mojo" to Don's new Zodiac harpguitar

mandersonwoodchop2016 marksgangszodiac brianhenkezodiac MurielDon Woodchoppers2016
The one and only Muriel Anderson It was an honor for me to have Muriel play the Zodiac and give it some of her "mojo" Mr, Mark Sganga enjoying a ride on the Zodiac My good friend Mr. Brian Henke. He wants to know when I'm going to build him one now A very proud moment for Mr. Don Adams with Muriel Anderson and his new Zodiac harpguitar



 I want to Thank Don Adams for giving me the opportunity to build him his dream guitar. For sticking with the project through the thick and thin of it all and for our  friendship that continues to grow through are common admiration for life, music and the elusive Zodiac Harpguitar!