Wild Style: 1910 Dyer Style 8 Symphony harp guitar

June 17th, 2014


By Adam Perlmutter | Photo courtesy of Eric Schoenberg Guitars

Some of the most desirable and playable vintage harp guitars are those bearing the name W.J. Dyer & Bro., which were actually made by a different pair of brothers, the Swedish emigrants Carl and August Larson, in the early decades of the 20th century. With its dazzling inlay work, the Dyer Style 8 Symphony harp guitar is the fanciest and the most coveted of these instruments. Only about 15 are known to exist. One recently surfaced at Schoenberg Guitars, in Tiburon, California, with the asking price of $29,900 justified by the guitar’s scarcity and condition. “I’ve seen a handful of the lesser models,” proprietor Eric Schoenberg says, “but this is the only Style 8 I’ve ever known in 40 years of business.”

Made in 1910, Schoenberg’s Style 8 has mahogany back and sides and a spruce soundboard. The guitar has a scale length of 25 1/2 inches and a nut width of 1 7/8 inches. The harp arm, which supports six sub-bass strings, extends a few inches beyond the guitar’s headstock, making the total length of the instrument 42 inches. (Compare this to the standard dreadnought length of 40 1/2 inches.) Yet, despite its bulkiness, this example weighs a mere five pounds. “It’s surprisingly light compared to the Gibson harp guitars,” Schoenberg says, “but it sounds amazingly full, with robust bass notes.”

This specimen has survived in excellent condition and needed only regluing to repair a bit of separation between one of the sides and the back. The guitar is completely original, save for a few pieces of the pearl tree-of-life motif that were replaced by inlay artist Larry Robinson, a handful of replacement bridge pins, and a hint of finish touchup around the bridge.

A curious detail seen on this Style 8 and not documented on any other Dyer harp guitar is the carved side veneer, which resembles the top of a grandfather clock and whose presence lends a bit of mystique to the instrument. “If it was a repair, then it was incredibly well done, as it matches so perfectly with the rest of the guitar,” Schoenberg says. “But it could have been original.”

FLASHBACK 1910

March 18
The first filmed version of Frankenstein is released, starring Charles Ogle.

April 1
Halley’s comet is photographed for the first time.

April 21
Mark Twain dies at the age of 74.

September 8
New York’s Penn Station opens.

November 7
Wright Brothers pilot Philip Parmalee delivers the first air-freight shipment.

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