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 James Kline with Arch-Harp guitar

 

James Kline

with his new

Arch-Harp Guitar

by Joseph Thompson

Those of you who attended the Ashland concert of modern day troubadour, James Kline on March 3rd of 2002, were treated to a wonderful performance on the eleven string arch-guitar. (Read a review of the concert.) Though there are a few other eleven string guitarists in existence, the particular instrument that James plays was based on ideas of arch guitar innovator, Peter Blanchette, and designed by James himself. James says, "The instrument is a combination of lutes and guitars from the 16th through the 18th centuries." It would seem that, these days, James' mind is as restless as his feet. Extending the range of the six string classical guitar by the addition of five strings, appears to have proven too much of a limitation both to his technical capabilities and to his creative imagination. He recently approached his San Francisco based luthier, Alan Perlman with his new invention; an addition to his present instrument (built by Perlman) which would give him eight more strings in addition to his current eleven, giving him a total of nineteen strings. James told me, "Alan came over to my house, listened to my description of the new extension, took a few measurements, and then went home and built it. And it was a perfect fit." The first one that Alan built had seven strings. After trying it out, James decided he needed one more string, and so Alan went back home and built one with eight strings. Now all James has to do is figure out how to play the thing and then create a new repertoire for it.

He is well on the way to figuring out how to play it. The new addition is actually an 8 string harp. There are no frets and so the left hand is not involved in playing it. Each string on the harp has a lever which allows him to adjust the pitch by one half step depending upon what key he happens to be playing in. He says he can even flip a lever to change the pitch of a string while he is playing, if he needs to. The notes of the harp are pitched in the next register above the normal range of the eleven string guitar, giving him another octave; really a soprano register. He has discovered that he can tap a bass line with his left hand on the original instrument while his right hand is playing on the harp addition. He mentioned that he has seen players who are very proficient in their tapping techniques and he is looking forward to developing that ability further. He can also do a cascading glisando of notes which is, of course, very idiomatic on the harp. It is quite surprising to hear it in the context of guitar music.

I was treated to a brief concert via the telephone and was struck by how well the new harp addition blends with the old arch guitar, both tonally and dynamically. In the hands of the maestro, the two instruments become one. He told me that at one point there was some consideration of creating a new instrument with the two sections joined permanently. He decided, however, that he likes the idea of being able to detach the harp from the guitar. Currently, the harp extension is tied onto the arch guitar by two leather thongs. For amplification purposes, the harp extension has its own pick-up and 1/4" jack .

Two years ago, while James was in Europe, he met a musician named Mariusz Radwanski. Mariusz plays an instrument known as the nyckelharpa. It is an instrument which dates back to the 14th century and is still played in Sweden. It is played with a violin-like bow and has a set of keys which are pressed to change the pitch. (See photo of Mariusz and James below) Last year, James returned to Europe to work with Mariusz on a recording project and concert tour. The result was their first CD entitled "Bardou". I recommend a visit to the Bardou website if only to satisfy your curiosity about the nyckelharpa. (Hint: click on the British flag to gain access to the English version.) Once there, you can hear sound clips from the CD, view photos and even see a video clip of the duo playing in a street setting. Be sure to visit the link to the nyckelharpa page. You can also order the CD from the site.

James has worked primarily as a solo artist for many years with an emphasis on classical repertoire. This move towards working with a folk ensemble is a big change for him. His current plans are for a March trek into the Copper Canyon of Mexico where he has extensive experience leading hiking tours which occasionally involve concerts in the mysterious "Lost Cathedral" at the bottom of the Copper Canyon. After Mexico, the troubadour is off to Europe for more recording and touring with Mariusz and friends. Only this time the nyckelharpa player will be joined by the arch-harp guitar player. Perhaps, when he next settles for a while on the west coast, we can get him back up here to Ashland for a performance on his strange and wonderful "arch-harp guitar".

© JCGS 2003

A footnote: The following is a response to the James Kline Arch-Harp Guitar article from JCGS member Grant Ruiz ...

Wonderful article and pictures. I also hope we get to hear the new instrument. With Jim's skill and creativity, I can just imagine what might happen in 10 years:

 MUSICIAN FOUND DEAD UNDER INSTRUMENT

Today James Kline was found crushed under his amazing arch-harp-guitar-lute-dulcimer-cello-bass-banjo-ukelele. It took three firefighters to lift the strange contraption off of the body. One of the men sustained back injuries after hefting the 220 lb. object. The other two were riddled with splinters when one of them touched a string and the instrument exploded from sympathetic vibrations. The fire chief noted a curiously satisfied smile on the face of the deceased.

For more information on the archguitar, its players and builders, visit the following sites:

On James Kline, or to order his CD's, visit his website at: ElevenStrings.com
On James Kline's adventures in Europe with Mariusz: Bardou.be
On Peter Blanchette the history of the arch guitar: Arch Guitar WebPage.

On Walter Stanul, archguitar builder and co-designer: Walter Stanul

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