Dyer Symphony Style 5 Harp Guitar, made by Larson Brothers , c. 1907

Dyer Symphony Style 5 Harp Guitar,  made by Larson Brothers ,  c. 1907

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Item # 8178
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Dyer Symphony Style 5 Model Harp Guitar, made by Larson Brothers, c. 1907, made in Chicago, natural varnish finish, mahogany back, sides and neck, spruce top, rosewood fingerboard, black hard shell case.

The fantastic-looking Symphony Harp guitars are one of the most renowned of the Larson Brothers' many fretted creations, made exclusively for W.J. Dyer & Bro of St. Paul in the first decades of the 20th century. These Dyer Harp guitars are considered among most harp guitar enthusiasts as the best of their kind ever made, and many modern luthiers currently use them as a pattern. Since their re-discovery in the 1980s by Michael Hedges and his followers, the Dyer Symphony Harp Guitar has been generally considered the de facto standard design for guitars with sub-bass strings.

A whole family of both guitars and mandolin family instruments were marketed by Dyer before the First World War, based on the design patents of Chris Knutsen but after the first few years actually built by the Larson Brothers in Chicago. The guitars were the first to be offered from around the early aught years of the last century, and by far the most successful. This "Style 5" is the second model up the line and has a mahogany body and neck with a spruce top bound around the edge, along with a simple sound hole ring. This is a fairly early example of the Style 5, seemingly the most popular of the Dyer models, and still has inventor Chris Knutsen's signature on the patent label.

All "Dyer Symphony" instruments feature a hollow upper body extension; on the guitars this serves to hold the banjo-style tuners for the sub-bass string array. Even if these strings are ignored, the extended body with a larger air cavity definitely enhances the instrument's tonal character, giving a depth and airiness unusual in a flat-top guitar of any design. Actually, flat-top is a bit of a misnomer -- while not carved like the Gibsons, the Dyer guitars are "built under tension" with a subtle but noticeable arch to the top and back.

This is a superb original example and a very fine-sounding instrument, very different from both the heavy carved Gibsons and the typical double-neck flat-top German-style harp guitars of the period. It is extremely well-preserved for its age, and although it has some old repairs does not appear to have been much played over the last century. Despite a production history spanning a couple of decades, there are only a limited number of these Symphony Harp guitars in existence, and each one is a masterpiece of both style and sound.
Overall length is 41 1/2 in. (105.4 cm.), 15 5/8 in. (39.7 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 4 1/16 in. (10.3 cm.) in depth at side, taken at the end block. Scale length is 25 1/2 in. (648 mm.). Width of nut is 1 7/8 in. (48 mm.).

This fantastic Larson brothers creation remains in very fine condition overall; one of the cleanest, most original, and best-sounding of these gems we have yet had. There is some light finish wear and some old repairs, but the instrument remains in every practical way as the brothers built it well over a century ago. There are small dings and dents to the finish, but none of the common pickwear spots and no large areas of finish loss. There appears to have been a strip of tape (or something similar) stuck to the face on the lower treble bout under the fingerboard, leaving some small marks.

The bridge has been very neatly reattached and there are four long and one short spruce grain cracks just behind it running to the rim. Several appear to have been sealed long ago, a couple are more recent, but everything is completely solid. The back and sides also show a number of sealed grain splits to the mahogany. There is an old laminate split to the rear side of the harp string pin block, off the inside edge of the body extension. This did not go through the block itself and is again solidly sealed up, but visible. The top veneer of the pin block has a pattern of hairline cracks, but this is not a structural issue.

Everything on this guitar is cleanly repaired, with no notable alterations from the original. The interior is unaltered; the early-style Dyer label is present but shows some deterioration, and unfortunately the ink-stamped portions are heavily faded, making the serial number impossible to read. All tuners are original, as are the spacing pins for the harp strings, which themselves appear to be original or at least period and still sound fantastic! The frets show very little wear and the instrument as a whole plays extremely well, with a big expansive sound. It is currently housed in a truly enormous modern rectangular hard shell case. Overall Excellent - Condition.