Mooresville musician Randall Sprinkle compares seeing Stephen Bennett play the harp guitar for the first time to what it must have been like for other players to hear the Beatles or Jimi Hendrix play for the first time.
“It completely changed my path,” says Sprinkle, who hosts the 13th Annual Harp Guitar Gathering in Mooresville this weekend.
The harp guitar is certainly eye-catching – a traditional guitar that appears to have an extra appendage growing out of its shoulder.
“Basically it’s a regular guitar with any number of additional strings, but they’re open strings. They’re not fretted. They’re harp-like. Very often those are bass notes, which means the range is extended,” explains Bennett, who compares the way the “harp” strings respond when the guitar is played alone to a piano’s extended notes.
“Even if you aren’t necessarily playing one of the lower notes, when you’re playing the regular guitar part those bass strings get excited, and it’s like what’s happening with the sustain pedal. It’s releasing the dampers from those other strings inside the piano,” he says.
Though the weekend-long convention is intended for harp guitar enthusiasts and features players, speakers, luthiers and historians, it also includes public performances Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church.
Saturday will feature longer sets from some of the world’s most renowned players, showing several styles and types of harp guitars. Players include Bennett, Muriel Anderson, Russian gypsy guitar duo Zingaresca, Vancouver’s Don Alder, and Sprinkle’s Musically Yours, a wedding and event trio. Sunday’s show will include shorter sets and more performers.
Bennett was already a working musician when he inherited his great grandfather’s harp guitar years after his death in 1968. The instrument, built by the Larson Brothers in 1909, was kept in a basement in Oregon for almost two decades before the East Coast-based guitarist found it and tuned it up, he says.
Like Sprinkle, he fell in love with its versatility and capabilities.
“It’s a magical sounding thing. Anyone that likes guitar music would enjoy it,” says Bennett, who, also like Sprinkle, found it a marketing tool as well as a way to broaden his sonic palate. “It hasn’t hurt a bit to have something that helps get noticed. The instrument itself has opened up a world of musical possibilities in terms of writing. I write the tunes with the whole capability of harp guitar in mind. It’s kind of its own compositional entity.”
13th Annual Harp Guitar Gathering
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 24 and 25)
WHERE: St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, 164 Fairview Road, Mooresville