Harp guitar

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Harp guitar
Guitare harpe.jpg
Gibson Style U, c. 1911. [1]
Classification String instrument (plucked)
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.322 (plucked)
Developed19th century [2]
Attack Fast
Decay Slow
Related instruments

The harp guitar (or "harp-guitar") is a guitar-based stringed instrument generally defined as a "guitar, in any of its accepted forms, with any number of additional unstopped strings that can accommodate individual plucking." [3] The word "harp" is used in reference to its harp-like unstopped open strings. A harp guitar must have at least one unfretted string lying off the main fretboard, typically played as an open string.


This family consists of many varieties of instrument configurations. Most readily identified are American harp guitars with either hollow arms, double necks or harp-like frames for supporting extra bass strings, and European bass guitars (or contraguitars). Other harp guitars feature treble or mid-range floating strings, or various combinations of multiple floating string banks along with a standard guitar neck. [4]

Electric harp guitars

While most players of harp guitars play on acoustic instruments, a few of them also work with electric instruments. Notable artists who played electric harp guitars are Tim Donahue (who uses a fretless guitar section) and Michael Hedges. American musician William Eaton both designs and plays electric harp guitars. [5] The Japanese noise band Solmania built their own harp guitars. Yuri Landman has built a 17 string electric harp guitar for Finn Andrews of The Veils. [6] The instrument has an additional movable bridge on the harp section allowing players to pitch the harp section higher or lower.


Historical harp guitar players include the German composers and guitarists Adam Darr (1811–1866) and Eduard Bayer (1822–1908) and the Italian virtuosi Pasquale Taraffo (1887–1937), [2] [7] Mario Maccaferri, Italo Meschi (1887-1957) and Luigi Mozzani. Viennese and French virtuosos who often played instruments with extra, floating bass strings include Carulli, Coste, Giuliani, Mertz, Padovec and Sor. [8]

English guitarist John McLaughlin notably played a harp guitar, particularly with the group Shakti, often using the harp strings for Indian-inspired drones and open chords. Michael Hedges was known for occasionally using a 1920s-era harp guitar, such as in his song "Because It's There".

Andy McKee also plays a harp guitar in a few of his songs, such as "Into The Ocean" and "The Friend I Never Met," the latter being a tribute to Hedges' "Because It's There." Robbie Robertson of The Band used a harp guitar on the main title theme for their concert film The Last Waltz , and is seen playing the song on the instrument in the film's final scene. Don Alder uses the Harp guitar in songs such as "Sayonara.calm" and "Man from Ladylane" a song dedicated to Stephen Bennett, founder of the Harp Guitar Gathering and one of the top current day harp guitar players. Antoine Dufour also uses the instrument occasionally, such as in his song "Paroxysm".

Oleg Timofeyev primarily uses a traditional Russian seven-string guitar with floating sub-bass strings. American harp-guitarist Gregg Miner owns the world's largest collection of harp guitars ("The Miner Museum") and runs harpguitars.net, a website dedicated to education and promotion of harp guitars. Alongside Stephen Bennett, he has organized, attended and documented every Harp Guitar Gathering since its inception.

Alfred Karnes (1891–1958) was an Old-time Country and Southern Gospel singer and guitarist who recorded at the famous Bristol Sessions in 1927. He was known for songs such as "I'm Bound for the Promised Land" and "To the Work". His records are the only known use of the harp-guitar in Old Time Music.

(in alphabetical order)

See also

Related Research Articles

The bass guitar, electric bass or simply bass, is the lowest-pitched member of the guitar family. It is a plucked string instrument similar in appearance and construction to an electric or an acoustic guitar, but with a longer neck and scale length, and typically four to six strings or courses. Since the mid-1950s, the bass guitar has largely replaced the double bass in popular music.

Guitar Fretted string instrument

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six strings. It is held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or plucking the strings with the dominant hand, while simultaneously pressing the strings against frets with the fingers of the opposite hand. A plectrum or individual finger picks may be used to strike the strings. The sound of the guitar is projected either acoustically, by means of a resonant chamber on the instrument, or amplified by an electronic pickup and an amplifier.

Jazz guitar Jazz instrument and associated playing style

The term jazz guitar may refer to either a type of electric guitar or to the variety of guitar playing styles used in the various genres which are commonly termed "jazz". The jazz-type guitar was born as a result of using electric amplification to increase the volume of conventional acoustic guitars.

String instrument Class of musical instruments with vibrating strings

String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when a performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.

Twelve-string guitar

The 12-string guitar is a steel-string guitar with 12 strings in six courses, which produces a thicker, more ringing tone than a standard six-string guitar. Typically, the strings of the lower four courses are tuned in octaves, with those of the upper two courses tuned in unison. The gap between the strings within each dual-string course is narrow, and the strings of each course are fretted and plucked as a single unit. The neck is wider, to accommodate the extra strings, and is similar to the width of a classical guitar neck. The sound, particularly on acoustic instruments, is fuller and more harmonically resonant than six-string instruments.

Michael Hedges

Michael Alden Hedges was an American acoustic guitarist and songwriter.


Maton is an Australian musical instruments manufacturing company based in Box Hill, Melbourne. It was founded in 1946 by Bill May and his brother Reg. The name "Maton" came from the words "May Tone" and is pronounced May Tonne.

The fingerboard is an important component of most stringed instruments. It is a thin, long strip of material, usually wood, that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument. The strings run over the fingerboard, between the nut and bridge. To play the instrument, a musician presses strings down to the fingerboard to change the vibrating length, changing the pitch. This is called stopping the strings. Depending on the instrument and the style of music, the musician may pluck, strum or bow one or more strings with the hand that is not fretting the notes. On some instruments, notes can be sounded by the fretting hand alone, such as with hammer ons, an electric guitar technique.

Seven-string guitar

The seven-string guitar adds one additional string to the more common six-string guitar, commonly used to extend the bass range or also to extend the treble range.

Mike Rutherford English guitarist, bassist, songwriter, and singer

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Eight-string guitar

An eight-string guitar is a guitar with two more strings than the usual six, or one more than the Russian guitar's seven. Eight-string guitars are less common than six- and seven-string guitars, but they are used by a few classical, jazz, and metal guitarists. The eight-string guitar allows a wider tonal range, or non-standard tunings, or both.

Baritone guitar

The baritone guitar is a guitar with a longer scale length, typically a larger body, and heavier internal bracing, so it can be tuned to a lower pitch. Gretsch, Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, ESP Guitars, PRS Guitars, Music Man, Danelectro, Schecter, Jerry Jones Guitars, Burns London and many other companies have produced electric baritone guitars since the 1960s, although always in small numbers due to low popularity. Tacoma, Santa Cruz, Taylor, Martin, Alvarez Guitars and others have made acoustic baritone guitars.

An extended-range bass is an electric bass guitar with a wider frequency range than a standard-tuned four-string bass guitar.

Outline of guitars Overview of and topical guide to guitars

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Multi-neck guitar

A multi-neck guitar is a guitar that has multiple fingerboard necks. They exist in both electric and acoustic versions. Although multi-neck guitars are quite common today, they are not a modern invention. Examples of multi-neck guitars and lutes go back at least to the Renaissance.

Classical guitar with additional strings

A classical guitar with additional strings is a nylon-string or gut-string classical guitar with more than six strings, in which the additional strings pass over a fingerboard so that they may be "stopped" or fretted with the fingers. These are also known as extended-range guitars, and should not be confused with harp guitars.

Experimental musical instrument

An experimental musical instrument is a musical instrument that modifies or extends an existing instrument or class of instruments, or defines or creates a new class of instrument. Some are created through simple modifications, such as cracked drum cymbals or metal objects inserted between piano strings in a prepared piano. Some experimental instruments are created from household items like a homemade mute for brass instruments such as bathtub plugs. Other experimental instruments are created from electronic spare parts, or by mixing acoustic instruments with electric components.

Andy McKee American musician

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Experimental luthiers are luthiers who take part in alternative stringed instrument manufacturing or create original string instruments altogether.

William Eaton is a New Age guitarist and luthier, known for building unique instruments, particularly harp guitars. Eaton is currently the director of the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery. In 2015, Eaton was conferred the Governor of Arizona Arts Award. Eaton lives in Sedona, Arizona.


  1. "Gibson Harp Guitars by Benoit Meulle-Stef". www.harpguitars.net. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  2. 1 2 "Pasquale Taraffo, Harp Guitar Virtuoso". harpguitars.net. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  3. "What is a Harp Guitar?". www.harpguitars.net. April 25, 2004.
  4. The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (Second Edition)
  5. "William Eaton: Harp Guitar Luthier, Performer" . Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  6. "Belgium article about Finn Andrews' electric harp guitar". Archived from the original on 25 July 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  7. "Guido Deiro and Pasquale Taraffo". guidodeiro.com. Archived from the original on 2016-03-06. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  8. "Harp Guitar Players". www.harpguitars.net. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  9. Harp guitarists on Tone Devil Guitars