Questions People Ask

Where can I learn more about harp guitars?
Have I got a website for you! Even if you aren't sure you are interested in harp guitars, visit Gregg Miner's, where you can see lists of luthiers, find out who plays the harp guitar, browse instruments on sale, learn about the history of the harp guitar, etc. Be sure to browse the iconography pages -- you'll see a lost world of music.

Who made your harp guitar?

Kathy Wingert built my harp guitars.

Why did you start playing the harp guitar?

I was inspired by two guitarists. First, I heard Goren Sollscher play Bach's cello suites on an 11-string classical guitar. His playing is free and relaxed, with great bass voicing. A few years later I heard Stephen Bennett play beautifully on his steel-string harp guitar. A while later I took the plunge.

The harp guitar makes a lot of music easier for me to play -- my left hand can wander all over the neck and fret all of the strings while my thumb creates a nice-sounding bass with a lot of sustain. That's a lot easier than going up and down the neck with bar chords, so with the energy that's left over I can put more into the music.

How heavy is it?
What an interesting question! It's only a little heavier than a standard guitar.


Are they expensive?
Compared to other guitars overall, yes. Concert-quality harp guitars start at around $5,000. Some custom guitars cost much more than that.

How many strings do harp guitars have?

My Kathy Wingert guitars have the usual six guitar strings plus seven sub-bass strings. Vintage Dyer-style guitars have five or six sub-bass strings. Some of the Gibson harp guitars have up to 12 sub-basses. Some harp guitarists play instruments with both sub-basses and super-trebles.

What tunings do you use?
For most music, I use a tuning from Stephen Bennett with the additional, seventh sub-bass tuned to F: GABCDFG EADGBE. This is a great tuning that supports a lot of music, and in the key of C the guitar just roars. For slack key tunings I like to use the traditional tuning for the six guitar strings and tune the sub-bass strings to support them, for example here is a variant on F Wahine tuning: FAB(flat)CDFG CFCGCE. The guitar resonates like chimes in a tuning like this, and the sub-bass strings let me play in minor slack-key.

What guitars do you play besides the harp guitar?
I have two beautiful six-string guitars, one by Ed Claxton (his Malabar model) and one by Kathy Wingert (a 12-fret cutaway E-body).

Is playing a harp guitar similar to playing a normal guitar?
Yes, but in the way that jumping is similar to flying.

I assumed that I would be able to play my six-string repertoire on my harp guitar and gradually learn how to use the sub-bass strings. Instead, I could barely play a C-chord on the guitar neck the first few days, and it took over a year to train my right thumb to reach the bass strings reliably (and longer still to do it reliably in front of an audience).

Much of my problem was that I depended too much on vision to play, especially seeing my left hand, and that just isn't very easy the way I sit with a harp guitar. I was surprised at how this small change in posture upset all of my playing. So, I had to fix my posture before I could play anything well on the harp guitar. It was about time I did that, and I'm sure it improved my playing on any kind of guitar.

Another major challenge was learning to pluck the lower guitar strings, four through six, with the right-hand fingers. Just try it on a six-string guitar and you'll see what I mean. Playing music on a harp guitar, I often pluck all six guitar strings, sometimes in scales across the neck and back, while my thumb stays over the sub-bass strings. This felt very strange at first, but it was a whole new universe of sounds and a lot of fun. When I combined that technique with harmonics on the sub-bass strings I had left the old world of the guitar behind.

And finally, while the sub-bass strings sound great when I play them right, they sustain for a long, long time, and that's a big problem when the harmony changes. So, I needed to learn to damp them. Most players use the heel of their right hand to damp the sub-basses, but I can't reach the strings that way because my right wrist is arched high, like a classical guitarist's. So, I made a harp guitar bass damper that slides onto my wrist.

browntrout_4Thanks for visiting.