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Nyckelharpa
Harp Guitar
Hardanger Cello d'Amore
Hardingfele
Cittra
Button Accordion

Nyckel is the Swedish word for “key.” Harpa is a word that was used for stringed instruments before violins were in use in Sweden.  Like a hurdy-gurdy, the instrument has keys, but instead of being played with a wheel, it is played with a bow like a violin or fiddle. So, a nyckelharpa is a “keyed fiddle.”

The nyckelharpa has several keys that when pushed individually, moves a wooden dowel against a string, shortening the string length to produce a higher pitch. Each key on the modern nyckelharpa increases the pitch by one half step, making it fully chromatic.  There are four strings that can be bowed. The highest three strings have keys. From highest to lowest, the strings are tuned to A (440), middle C, G and the octave lower than middle C. This low C is used as a drone, or for the bottom note in a chord. In addition to the four strings that are bowed, there are 12 chromatic strings set lower into the bridge. These cannot be bowed as separate notes, but are “resonant strings” that vibrate sympathetically along with each pitch.

The first appearance of the nyckelharpa may have been as early as the 14th century, documented by a stone carving on one of the gates of Källunge church on Gotland, an island off the coast of Sweden. The earliest nyckelharpas did not have the resonant strings, and were not fully chromatic. These features were added later, with the resonant strings appearing in the 16th century, and the modern, chromatic nyckelharpas developing in the early 1900s by August Bohlin with further improvements by Eric Sahlström.  Visit www.nyckelharpa.org for more information on nyckelharpas.

Kris plays a nyckelharpa built by Esbjörn Hogmark. Verlene’s nyckelharpa was built by Martin Westermark of Sweden.

The harp guitar has most likely descended from the theorbo (Italian: tiorba, also tuorbe; French: théorbe, Spanish: tiorba, German: Theorbe, Portuguese: teorba). The theorbo signifies a number of long-necked lutes with second pegboxes for bass strings, such as the liuto attiorbato, the French théorbe des pièces, (shown at right) the English theorbo, the archlute, the German baroque lute, and… the Swedish lute. Theorboes were developed in the late 16th century in response to a need for more bass strings.

Composer and balladeer Sven Scholander (1860 – 1936) of Stockhom, Sweden did more to popularize the "false" Swedish lute than anyone. Scholar Kenneth Sparr credits Scholander with creating the instrument - modeled after the original multi-string Swedish lute, but now tuned like a guitar (in fact, it is tuned exactly like today's 12-course diatonic harp guitar). That bridges the gap between the lute and the harp guitar. Harp guitars just like the theorbo were played throughout Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s and were used both as a solo instrument and as an ensemble instrument in mandolin orchestras around the world.

Another Scandinavian connection is that the harp guitar’s introduction in the US in the early 1900s was made by a guitar builder from Norway, Chris Knudsen, and the Larson brothers from Sweden, who built the “Dyer” model harp guitars. One of the Knudsen harp guitar models included the guitar neck with the standard 6 strings and frets on the fingerboard, with 5 “free” bass strings, unfretted, and tuned lower than the low E, and 5 unfretted treble strings that were attached to the body of the instrument. The Larson brothers’ harp guitar had just bass strings added, and no treble strings.

The harp guitar that Verlene plays was built by Belgian luthier, Beniôt Muelle-Stef, which he designed after the early 1900s Italian luthier, Luigi Mozzani.  Some of Mozzani’s designs included the extension of the body on both sides of the neck, where the Knudsen and Larson harp guitars had the body extension only on the bass side of the instrument. Verlene’s “Mozzani” harp guitar has 21 strings – with the 6 guitar strings, 7 bass strings, and 8 treble strings. The bass strings are tuned diatonically from the D below the lowest guitar E string down to the E an octave below. The treble strings are also tuned diatonically, from the E at the 12th fret of the highest guitar string up to the E an octave higher. Visit www.harpguitars.net for more information on harp guitars.

A lover and collector of just about any bowed stringed instrument (she has a stable of 8 or 9 cellos, 4 violas, 10 violins, a gamba, her Swedish Nyckelharpa, two Swiss “Streichmelodeons,” a Persian Kamanche, a Chinese Erhu, an Indian Sarangi...), Kris set her mind one day on the idea of finding an authentic Scandinavian cello. A google search for “Hardanger cello” revealed that such an instrument was pretty much a fiction.  It also landed Kris at the website of Fred Carlson, a maker of fantastical hybrid instruments, from Harp-Guitars to his original “Guitarangi da Gamba” and beyond.


Upon contacting Fred via his website (www.beyondthetrees.com), and finding he was just over the hill in Santa Cruz, Kris was successful in engaging him and his partner, Suzy Norris - also a luthier - in the challenge of designing and building the first-of-its-kind, “Sympathetic Cello #1, as the label now reads. Many drawings and re-drawings and four years later ~ “Hardy” was born.

The cello has five bowed strings, tuned as a traditional cello with one fifth added above to facilitate the fiddle tunes and alto range and five resonating, sympathetic strings that run beneath the bowed set and pass through a slot in the bridge, as those of the Hardanger fiddle do. Fred’s take on the traditional dragon/lion head scroll gives “Hardy” a real personality - note the detail in  the scales, teeth and tongue, not to mention the Viking-pirate earring . . . .

The loving care and laborious months of hand-crafting were a revelation. Fred and Suzy, with lots of input from Kris, put so much imagination and heart into its making! Please see the gallery (link to “Cello of Love” - coming soon)* for pictures of the journey from slab of Spruce to the beautiful and unique instrument Kris proudly calls her Hardanger cello d’Amore.”

The hardingfele is known in the US as the Hardanger fiddle. The earliest hardingfele was made in 1651 in Hardanger, Norway. It is shaped pretty much like a violin, with 4 bowed strings, but has an additional 4 or 5 resonant strings that run though a hole in the bridge and under the finger board. There is usually some rosmalling inked into the body, and inlaid designs on the neck. There is also typically a stylistic lion carved on the head of the instrument.

The bridge is less curved on the hardingfele than the violin in order to make double stops easier. The hardingfele can be tuned in various ways – sometimes the same as a fiddle, which is GDAE, but more often the bowed strings are tuned to ADAE. The 5 resonant strings are generally tuned to BDEF#A. It is usually also tuned up a step to a step and a half higher than concert pitch, so the A string (which is still referred to as the A string) might be a B or a C. 

Verlene’s hardingfele was made in the USA by Joe Baker. It was made on commission in the early 1990’s for a somewhat elderly gentleman who lived in Brooklyn. It came into Verlene’s possession in November 2012. Her hardingfele has 5 resonant strings, and is tuned up a step and a half above concert pitch.

Cittra is the Swedish word for zither. The Swedish zither is tuned in chords, so that each group of strings includes all the notes of the triad. Each is tuned to either a major or a minor chord. The range of notes within each chord is 3 and a half to 4 octaves.



Barbary plays a Hohner Corona II diatonic button accordion, tuned in F / Bb / Eb. Unlike a piano accordion, both the chord buttons (played with the left hand) and the melodic buttons (played with the right hand) are not ordered in scales. Each button also changes pitch depending on whether the bellows are blowing or drawing. To state it simply, this instrument defies all Barbary's previous musical training. The only reason she puts up with it is because it is red and because it belonged to her Norwegian grandfather, Haakon Hove. It has seen a lot of dance action and is lovingly held together with duct tape.

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