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NMM 1147.  Harp-guitar by Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Company, Kalamazoo, 1915.
Style U (18-3/4").  Serial number 21789.  Factory Order Number 2415.
Arne B. Larson Collection, 1979.

Click on any image below to see a larger image.

NMM 1147.  Harp-guitar by Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Company, Kalamazoo, 1915

The harp-guitar was produced by the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Company from its inception. While its 1903 catalog featured three harp-guitar models, Styles R, R-1, and U, the first two were soon eliminated in favor of the Style U, as seen in the advertisement below from their 1912 catalog. With its ten sub-bass strings tuned chromatically from A-sharp to G-sharp, the harp-guitar was an ideal instrument to fill out the sound of the mandolin orchestra. The bass strings were to be plucked by the thumb, while the chords could be played, as on a conventional guitar, on the top six strings over the fretboard.

Advertisement for the harp-guitar from Gibson's 1912 catalog

Gibson aggressively tried to combat the reluctance of players to adopt the huge harp-guitar. In its 1912 catalog, it minced no words when promoting the harp-guitar as the instrument of the future. In an essay, "When Gray Hairs Applaud, Progress May Well Ask: What Have I Done Amiss?," the company likened the difference between the harp-guitar and the standard guitar to that between the piano and the harpsichord, and wrote, "Death alone saved Bach from the ridicule of the then rising generation, for time and the piano proved Bachís satisfaction and joys were cheats that held him within the narrow limits and belittled his gratifications by hedging his musical aspiration and inspiration with an instrument of but dwarfed comparison."

A mandolin orchestra from Gibson's 1912 catalog

Harp-guitar with its original case

Other old-fashioned examples held up to mockery included the "dear old grandma" who insisted on using candles and the "quaint old Massachusetts town" that still used oxen for public works. Concluding with a fanciful, not-so-subtle metaphor, Gibson stated that "Because the elevator to success (the Harp-guitar) has been generally stuck (construction not permanent), you have been toiling up the stairs (the six-string Guitar), but the 'Gibson' Harp-guitar is the elevator never stuck. Come in. Itís only 16-2/3 cents a day (a mere pittance, a few cigars or a little candy daily sacrificed) and the matchless 'Gibson' Harp-guitar with black leather case is yours to use and enjoy now."

Front, Back, and Side Views

Front view Bass side view Treble side view Back view

Front, Back, Side, and Lower End Views of Body

Front view Bass side view Treble side view Back view

Lower end

Maker's Label and Soundhole

Inscriptions:  Inlaid in peghead, in mother-of-pearl: The Gibson

Printed in black ink on paper label, the model, style, and number written in ink:  Gibson Harp-guitar Style U / Number 21789 is hereby GUARANTEED against faulty workmanship or material. Should / this instrument with proper care and usage, go wrong, / we agree to repair it free of charge at our / factory, or replace with another of the same style or value. / GIBSON MANDOLIN-GUITAR CO. / (Manufacturers) / Kalamazoo, Mich., U.S.A.

Stamped into tailpiece mounting plate:  PAT. APPLIED FOR

Stamped into pickguard:  PAT. MAR, 30, '09

Stamped in black ink on neck block: 2145


Peghead, Fretboard, and Tuning Pins

Front of peghead Bass side of head

Back of peghead Treble side of peghead

Tuning pins with tuning key Back of tuning pins

Lower End of Neck and Neck Heel

Back of neck heel Neck heel

Fretboard and Pickguard

Fret board Pickguard

Bridge and Tailpiece




Measurements: Total instrument length:  1170 mm (46-1/16")
Fingerboard length:  435 mm (17-1/8")
Vibrating string length:  622 mm (24-15/32")
Nut to neck/body joint:  313 mm (12-5/16")
Fingerboard width at nut:  43 mm (1-11/16")
Fingerboard at body joint:  56 mm (2-7/32")
Width of upper bout:  360 mm (14-5/32")
Width of lower bout:  480 mm (18-29/32")
Width of waist:  295 mm (11-19/32")
Body depth of sides:  90 mm (3-17/32")
Body depth from crown of top arch to crown of back arch:  130 mm (5-1/8")

Literature:  Joseph R. Johnson, Mandolin Clubs and Orchestras in the United States (1880-1920):  Their Origin, History and Instruments, M.M. Thesis (Vermillion: University of South Dakota, 1987), p. 140.

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Most recent update: March 24, 2014

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