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The Harp Guitar – Part Two

26 March 2009

Let me introduce to you the guy who is building my harp guitar. He is a Malaysian lutheir named Edward Hiew. Edward has been building guitars exclusively for the last 7 years. You can check out his website

I first heard about Edward in 2007 through Yong Wee Chan, a fellow guitar player from Malacca. Yong is a proud owner of few of Edward’s guitars and has been encouraging me to check it out. I was very impressed with what I saw and glad to know there are more local lutheirs making quality acoustic guitars.

I am happy with the Maton that I have been using and have no desire or need for another acoustic guitar – not even a custom handmade one. But I did mention to Yong that if Edward is able to make a harp guitar, I would be interested.

I finally meet Edward when he came to see me at a concert in Malacca in November 2008. Later he brought me to see his new workshop in Kepong. I was impressed with his dedication to his craft and his attitude.

We started to talk about the possibility of him building a harp guitar. He has never done anything like that before, so I think he was a bit worried if he could handle such a project. After describing to him the kind of harp guitar I had in mind and as well as his own research into harp guitar making, he finally agreed build one.

My initial design guideline to Edward was simple: –

  • Make the body as compact as possible, so that it is easier to handle and travel with.
  • It should look contemporary and sexy. Unfortunately, a lot of harp guitars look really ugly.
  • It will have six open sub-bass strings and the saddle should be the similar to the saddle of a regular six-string guitar so I can use standard piezo pickup system.
  • I wanted the neck profile to be similar to one of my Maton.

Edward later suggested 2 very important points to include in the design: –

12th fret neck joint – regular steel-string guitars have neck that joins the body on the 14th fret while classical guitars do it at the 12th fret.  The 12th fret joint is known to give warmer and mellower sound due to change in placement of the bridge. Since there will be a cutaway, I will not miss the easy access of a 14th fret joint design. It’ll also bring down the overall size.

Slotted headstock – I have always associated slotted headstock designs to classical guitars. Apparently, this design gives a better string break angle at the nut. This extra pressure on the nut translates to better sound transfer. This also means the tuning peg will be facing backwards and not get in the way of the sub-bass headstock.

Few weeks later, Edward sent this sketch.

First sketch of the harp guitar

First sketch of the harp guitar

I liked the design and told Edward to go ahead and finalise it. This was followed by the design plan below.

Harp guitar design plan

Harp guitar design plan

The offset neck was included to allow the soundhole to remain in the centre of the body without increasing the size of the sub-bass arm.

With this confirmed, Edward started the build early March 2009 with the following specifications: –

Body Shape : Grand Auditorium
Scale Length : 25.5″
Body Clear: 12th Fret
Headstock: Slotted
Top: Englement Spruce
Back & Sides: Dark Red Meranti
Fingerboard & Bridge: Ebony
Binding Indian Rosewood
Rosette: Spiral Indian Rosewood

Pictures of the harp guitar build in progress.


The full-size design plan


This will be the back of the harp guitar. Made from 4 pieces of Meranti wood glued together.

The neck with slotted headstock

The neck with slotted headstock

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 March 2009 9:53 am

    wow… what a great harp guitar. The headstock is kind of big though… 🙂

    • rogerwang permalink*
      26 March 2009 5:16 pm

      Yeah… Unfortunately that’s as small as we can make it for 6 sub bass strings.

  2. Joshua Tan permalink
    26 March 2009 11:38 am

    But frankly Roger, it’s still a pretty hard instrument to play, compared to the usual 6 strings. And to complicate things a bit, there are very little instructional materials that harpgeetar players wannabees like me can get our hands on the learn to master this special instrument a little bit more.

    Maybe you can start giving tips when you get clever with it, eh Maestro?


    • rogerwang permalink*
      26 March 2009 5:26 pm

      Hi Josh, my fellow harp guitarist!… I am sure it’ll take awhile for me get use to it. Which is part of the thrill cause it’s like learning a new instrument but not really. You what I mean?? … I am told it will be a rewarding process. Will keep you updated on my taming of this 12-string beast!!! And share some tips as I go along.

      I wonder how many other harp guitarist are around Malaysia or this region?

  3. Kent permalink
    30 March 2009 3:29 am

    Wow nice harp guitar, can i ask roughly what is the price range of the one custom built for you. In addition where do i get the strings needed for the bass strings. Are you considering getting one with sympathetic strings too?:

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