Gibson Style U harp guitar

The harp guitar’s extra strings provided players with additional, chromatically tuned bass tones that could enrich some of the more difficult chordings, such as Eb or Bb, and expand the harmonic possibilities of the guitar.

Gibson’s first catalog of 1902 included four harp guitar models with varying numbers of sub-bass strings and degrees of ornamentation, but only Style U survived more than a few years. Catalogs featured Style U in the center spread, while catalog text touted the harp guitar as being to the standard guitar what the piano was to the harpsichord.

However, the large body size was unwieldy, and the right-hand technique was more difficult than it might appear. On top of that, the price – it was Gibson’s most expensive model – made it a luxury item for most musicians. Gibson offered Style U in catalogs into the late 1930s, but few if any were made after the mid 1920s.

A handful of guitarists still play harp guitars today, but most prefer the traditional flat-top style over Gibson’s carved-top design.