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Arch Harp Guitar
Steel String Photos by Dutch Treat Productions
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James Kline Playing his
Perlman Arch Harp Guitar

Steel String Arch Harp Guitar - Front
I met James Kline in late 2001 while hiking on Mt. Tamalpais, north of San Francisco. Jim had his 11 string arch guitar with him; I had my 21 string kora, a fortuitous meeting of many strings. A close friendship ensued and we discussed the possibility of my building a new 11 string for him.

Steel String Arch Harp Guitar - BackHis first arch guitar was built by Gary Southwell, an extraordinary British luthier. This is the guitar that Jim recorded with from 1993 until 2002, at which time he began to play the Perlman arch guitar exclusively. While similar to his old guitar- he did not want any changes in the “feel’ of the instrument- the new guitar was built with a different voice, the balance tending more towards a guitar-like tone with a bit less lute flavor than the first. There were some changes in construction and aesthetics.

Almost a year later, Jim called me from France with the idea of an “attachment” that would add 6 to 8 high harp strings to his guitar. The separate harp had several advantages. He did not want to significantly modify the guitar. He also travels a great deal. The baroque size arch guitar is small enough to pose no problem as a carry-on item for air travel while the harp fits into a fitted attaché case. It also gave me the opportunity to optimize tone and balance; to leave the arch guitar’s sound chamber undisturbed and create a suitably small one for the harp. The harp is tuned from B (7th fret, 1st string) to an octave above.

Steel String Arch Harp Guitar - PegheadSteel String Arch Harp Guitar - Front without harpSo, during our next visit, I brought along several cardboard patterns showing the various schemes I’d thought of. We settled on one and, as I was building, other ideas such as the ergonometrically tapered body were incorporated. Harp sharping levers were added to each string and an L. R. Baggs I-Beam Active transducer was added.

This configuration gave Jim’s formidable arranging and compositional skills a new outlet. His previous compositions expanded to take advantage of the new instrument and new pieces were written. As the repertoire shifted towards a more, in part, Celtic influence, Jim decided to have me build a steel string version of what was by now called the Arch Harp Guitar. Again, similar in feel, and with the steel and nylon strung attachments to be interchangeable.

We wanted this guitar to still have some of the qualities of a baroque guitar and lute. I chose to use a European Spruce soundboard with a hybrid bracing design, utilizing an X-brace with full fan bracing. This necessitated using a pinless bridge design - bridge pins would have penetrated the fan braces. This also worked well for Jim - he was accustomed to the pinless classical guitar bridge and bridge pins would have been a nuisance. The guitar and harp are equipped with Highlander pickups.

Steel String Arch Harp Guitar - Front - closeSteel String Arch Harp Guitar - Front - closeThe new steel string arch harp guitar was a wonderfully successful instrument, gauging success by Jim’s response. A CD featuring both arch harp guitars will be out on July 13. I’ll have them soon afterwards.

We’re always speaking of new possibilities. I’m currently building a guitar that has the 8 high harp strings and the 11 string configuration on a classical guitar body for a client that wants a more classical guitar tone. I’ll publish photos when it’s completed.

Nylon String Arch Harp Guitar
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Arch harp guitar-nylon string-apart
Arch harp guitar-nylon string
James Kline
Arch harp guitar-nylon string-apart
Arch harp guitar-nylon string
James Kline playing a Perlman Arch Harp Guitar
Photo by Jennifer Sauer

LINKS: James Kline’s website The website of James and his group “Bardou” The best harp guitar website L. R. Baggs and Highlander are two extraordinarily high quality transducer manufacturers. I use both, depending on tonal and configuration requirements. Article by Joseph Thompson, Jefferson Classical Guitar Society.


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Alan Perlman
Tel: 415-242-4457 • Email:

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