Time Will Tell – Original Weissenborn piece

The Weissenborn is an amazing instrument! Just learning to play it has been a challenging and rewarding experience. The vibrations that this thing can produce are something to be heard. Unfortunatly my camera mic doesn’t do it justice!!

Here’s a little history on the Weissenborn Guitar:

Hermann C. Weissenborn a German piano and violinmaker immigrated to New York around 1902. In 1910 he moved to Los Angeles where he mainly did repair work on instruments until the end of the decade. With the Hawaiian music boom of the early 20’s, Weissenborn started making ukeleles, flattops and eventually his captivating Hawaiian steel guitars.
With their raised string action, frets flush with the fingerboard, square hollow necks and featherweight koa wood construction the Weissenborns offered both greater volume and sustain than conventional Spanish neck guitars for Hawaiian lap steel playing. Due to their sweet timbre, expressive tone and eye-catching design these guitars were an instant hit and stayed in demand until the advent of the Nationals and Dobros. Hermann Weissenborn died in 1937 amidst debts and declining business for his shop.
It is important to credit Chris J. Knutsen for the original square neck, rope binding and overall design of the Hawaiian steel guitar. Knutsen, another immigrant born as Johan Christian Kammen in Norway on June 24, 1862, started building Hawaiian steel guitars as early as 1908. Both Knutsen and Weissenborn (as well as the Schireson brothers) built Kona style guitars almost exclusively to a Mr. Charles S. DeLano starting around 1915. DeLano held himself out as an “instructor of Hawaiian steel guitar” and most likely sold many guitars to his students, after 1923, the Konas were built exclusively by Weissenborn.

It is impossible to determine just when Weissenborn began to experiment with his own designs in crafting Hawaiian steel guitars, there are some noteworthy differences though between his and Knutsen’s Hawaiians.

Most of the Knutsens have spruce tops, all have lateral or diagonal bracing on the back, also due to his eccentric building skills many of his guitars used some crude solutions such as: wide number of screws, brackets, wing nuts, sheared-off tuning machine plates, odd-shaped nuts and dressmaker’s seam tape rather than wood strips to reinforce ribs and butt fitted back plates. H. Weissenborn’s guitars however, used mainly koa tops, he used X bracing exclusively and also adopted 4 different models or “styles” as he would advertise them, creating a growing scale of ornamentation from basic to fancy.

Other vintage Hawaiian steel guitars worth mentioning are the Schireson brand: Lyric, Mai-Kai and Hilo, mostly made by Oscar Schmidt. Also the Brinks (Brink was a Michigan violinmaker who appeared to have experimented), Greenfields and according to preeminent Weissenborn researcher Ben Elder (“after the Weissenborns and Knutsens, the next best vintage acoustic steel I’ve played”) the Mastertone Special, an absurdly cheap looking model made by Gibson from about 1939-42. Of course none of these instruments compare sound, feel or look wise to a Knutsen/Weissenborn Hawaiian.

Thanks to players like David Lindley, Ben Harper Bob Brozman and Jerry Douglas today the Weissenborn guitar – more than 70 years since the last one was manufactured – is enjoying resurgence. It is now used for virtually any musical style. From country to rock, Hawaiian to blues and now Brazilian music as well! The downside to the Weissenborn’s renaissance and its renovated demand (specially among collectors) is that prices have gone sky high. Luckily many wonderful luthiers and guitar makers have come up with their versions of the expensive originals.
I have been hypnotized by this instrument’s sound from the very first day I heard it. It has the sound I only heard previously in my dreams and it allows me to come up with very unusual ideas for my compositions.

Below you will find quotes from Weissenborn players, pictures of the different original models and some links to their contemporary builders.

This is from my friend Christiaan Oyens site. He has an amazing all weissenborn album that I can’t put down. I’ll post a video of him playing way better than me next time. Keep playing friends 🙂

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