KNUTSEN
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KNUTSEN
Instruments previously built by Christopher J. Knutsen in Los Angeles, CA circa WWI-1930.
While Weissenborn has become the prestige, and at the same time generic, name for wooden hollow-neck Hawaiian guitars, nevertheless the innovator of this design may well have been Christopher J. Knutsen (1856-1930), also a pioneer of harp-guitar designs (which were later licensed by the estimable Larson Brothers). And Knutsen often combined these two seemingly disparate concepts.
He also made harp-ukuleles, harp mandolins and even the occasional standard instrument, but even a plain roundneck guitar might bear some charming feature testifying to his eccentricity - like an angled metal bracket fixed to neck and body with wing nuts which took the place of the neck's heel. Knutsen was granted a U.S. design patent on the harp guitar in 1898 (he also had Canadian patents in which he attempted to sell a percentage).
He spent most of his life in Seattle and environs, moving to Los Angeles around 1916, interestingly close to the beginnings of the Hawaiian music phenomenon which swept through the mainland after the Panama Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915. Knutsen aficionados have been trying to determine whether he might have made any Hawaiian guitars during his residency in Washington. If so, such a hypothetical guitar could be a historical Holy Grail, especially if it pre-dated the Exposition.
While some instruments from Washington bear the paper label reading "Harp Guitar Factory," there's little to suggest that his Los Angeles operation was any more than a one-man shop. And while there is an unmistakable exchange of design ideas going back and forth between Weissenborn and Knutsen, there is no concrete evidence that the two ever worked together or one for the other.
Early Hawaiian guitar designs showed a variety of neck joints - from slight extensions of the body up to true hollow necks. While Weissenborn also made some square, solid-neck Hawaiians, Knutsen made several instruments with partial hollow necks; in other words, the headstock joints might be somewhere between the third and twelfth frets. One headstock sports original six-per-side tuners, perhaps thirty years before Merle TravisĀ“s Bigsby or the Fender Broadcaster.
The closest semblance to sales literature for Knutsen's offerings are the picture labels showing examples of his work found in some instruments.
(Many labels have name, business and address information only.) Unlike Weissenborn styles 1 through 4, Knutsen's instruments are not so conveniently identified and have to be considered individually. Some are very plain, while others are extraordinarily elaborate.
Koa and mahogany bodies (sometimes with spruce tops) are the most common woods for body construction. Familiar Knutsen design touches include rope binding (usually larger than Weissenborn's), harp sub-bass and treble strings, a fretboard inlays often mixing shapes, angled back braces and minimal top bracing. Some instruments feature dramatically figured one-piece backs with the grain pattern running at an angle somewhere between crossways or lengthwise. Seeing the variety and ambition of Knutsen's optimistic designs can't help but make the observer think this builder was a colorful benign eccentric.
Knutsen has been disparaged widely in vintage-instrument circles (his instruments are for the most part, woefully under built), but when they hold - or have been patched back together, they usually sound great. Builder and author Rick Turner said it best when he proclaimed Knutsen "a brilliant hack." His Hawaiian harp guitars are warm, resonant and responsive, but not as haunting and bright as most Weissenborns.
Perhaps the only way to identify an unlabeled Knutsen is to compare other Knutsen instruments. While codifying his designs flies in the face of organization and logic, seeing a few of his creations conveys the notion that Knutsen is better understood by feel and experience than by facts and statistics.
Because there are no standard models of Knutsen instruments, establishing prices becomes largely a matter of finding common ground between selling and buying parties. Weissenborn and other similar instruments can be a guide, with the most important factors being sound, condition and playability. The latter two can be a sticking point for Knutsen instruments, because they are so fragile. Some types of Knutsen instruments lend themselves to functional restoration better than others-e.g., Hawaiian guitars better than harp-guitars with many sub-bass and treble strings. Some guitars that began as Spanish guitars might better be considered as Hawaiians after three generations of cracking and warping.

From Blue Book Publications:


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