The harp guitar (or "harp-guitar") is a guitar-based stringed instrument with a history of well over two centuries. While there are several unrelated historical stringed instruments that have been referred to as "harp-guitar" over the centuries, its most common definition is a "guitar, in any of its accepted forms, with any number of additional unstopped strings that can accommodate individual plucking." 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.
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 and Michael Hedges. American musician William Eaton both designs and plays electric harp guitar and is considered one of the world's great designers/builders of unique guitars. 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. The instrument has an additional movable bridge on the harp section allowing to pitch the harp section higher or lower.
Harp guitar players
Historical harp guitar players include the great Italian virtuosi Pasquale Taraffo (1887–1937), Mario Maccaferri, and Luigi Mozzani. Viennese and French virtuosos who often played instruments with extra, floating bass strings include Carulli, Coste, Giuliani, Mertz, Padovec and Sor. Michael Hedges was known for occasionally using a 1920's 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". 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". The early generations of harp guitarists have certainly helped in inspiring another generation of players. One such active harp guitarists is Dan LaVoie. Very few guitarists would faithfully stick to one type of instruments for the sake of variety and also commercial purposes. Dan LaVoie has toured as a harp guitarist for more than a decade and he still writing and performing regularly worldwide.
Notable harp guitarists
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- Muriel Anderson
- John Doan
- Michael Hedges
- Andy McKee
- Pat Metheny
- Jeff Martin
- Robbie Robertson
- Michael Lardie
- Matt Thomas
- Antoine Dufour
- Corey Petryschuk
- Kaki King
- Jimmy Page
- Steve Bennett
- Multi-string classical guitar
- Eleven-string alto guitar
- Harp ukulele
- Harp mandolin
- Chris Knutsen, early harp guitar luthier
- "What is a Harp Guitar?". www.harpguitars.net. July 2007.
- Belgium article about Finn Andrews' electric harp guitar
- See http://harpguitars.net/players/taraffo/taraffo.htm and http://guidodeiro.com/taraffo.html.
Media related to Harp guitar at Wikimedia Commons
- William Eaton website and information.
- James Kline plays The Alchemist's Dance on archharp-guitar with Kornel Mariusz Radwanski on nyckelharpa on YouTube