Russian Harp Guitar Catchup

For those new to this subject, all you need to know for now is that Russian guitars typically feature seven strings on the neck rather than six, and are tuned not in fourths but to an open G chord.  “Harp guitar” versions then add three or more floating bass strings to the equation.  In all other ways, they closely parallel the Viennese Stauffer/Scherzer school of guitars with floating basses, and Russian guitarists would play instruments from either country and sometimes with six strings on the neck as well.  We’ve had historical Russian guitar music master Oleg Timofeyev to our Harp Guitar Gathering twice (once with partner Vadim Kolpakov) and last year featured Oleg’s occasional duo partner John Schneiderman, who brought a 7-on-the-neck HG along with others.

So…yes, I’m way behind…with a mounting pile of Russian instruments and historical images to add to the site.  For now, here’s a healthy blog catchup, instigated by a couple of cool YouTube video sightings forwarded by our Brussels correspondent Benoit Meulle-Stef:


The first color clip from 1960 features a Russian harp guitar front and center, with what looks like an interesting lyre guitar in the background.  I’ve yet to see a 7-string lyre guitar (I can’t count the strings – you?) or any version in Russia iconography.

The second video clip (I love the soloist) includes an unusual hollow arm instrument in the background at the left.  But it looks more like an Italian instrument (?!) and is definitely a curiosity.


If Oleg or others can add some perspective to these clips, please do!

Speaking of Oleg…after his presentation at HGG10, he kindly sent me a few scans of Russian guitarists with name translations.  They blew me away – did no one over there play a single-neck guitar?!  Of course they did, but you’d hardly know it from these pages.  Like the Munich Guitar Quartet, there are groups here – three quartets and one quintet – where every member plays a harp guitar.  How cool is that?

The group at the top of the first page is the V. P. Lebedev Guitar Ensemble.  Vassilj Lebedev (center) was a well-known virtuoso and teacher of Boris Perott, both of whom appear in my Historical Players Encyclopedia.  Interestingly, these two professional Russian players chose to play in standard tuning on six-string necks.  Here, Lebedev leads a quintet made up of his students, in this instance V. N. Finnie, Kunitskiy, F. F. Dmitriev and Kurenkov.

Center right above is Zachariy I. Kipchenko of Odessa, South Russia (now Ukraine).

On the second page above, the top right image not only provides us the names of the players – including a woman, a rarity – but the makers of their instruments!  C. C. Pilenin, V. E. Pilenina, I. I. Solomatin and C. A. Kurlaev play harp guitars made by Eroshkin, Komlev, Scherzer and Bittner (the latter two from Vienna).  As the players’ names are given left to right as they appear in the photograph, I believe the maker names follow left-to-right as well.  Kurlaev – perhaps their leader – is repeated singly at upper left.

A player named K. A. G. Sheshunov appears below them.  Boris Perott made mention of this guitarist’s name – and interestingly, the instrument bears the same trademark Perott “pinky rail.”  Several other instruments on these pages do as well, including one with a finger rest patterned after Napoleon Coste’s.  Many of these guitarists (Most? All?) rested the little finger on the soundboard in the “old style” of playing, and they seem to have taken it to a logical level with these raised strips, allowing the hand to easily slide from bridge to sound hole.

The above page closes with another quartet of four harp guitarists: B. G. Bednenko, V. K. Galkin, V. P. Shubin and K. V. Danchenko.

Oleg’s third page features “Guitar players from Tomsk,” including a group shot with V. M. Chekanov on (harp) guitar, then six more soloists: A. P. Saveliev, S. Krelov, V. T. Mazur, P. V. Kolesnikov, V. A. Rusanov and a second image of Z. Kipchenko.  Note Kolesnikov’s little finger, all set to “ride the pinky rail.”

And a final harp guitar quartet below: the A. P. Soloviova Guitar Quartet, Moscow, 1900

One could amuse themselves for hours trying to identify all of the guitar makers in these images and counting strings (not to mention pinky rests).  I’ll leave that to others!  Something that might help:

I was next reminded of yet another “To Do” folder on my hard drive – the contents of which are these twenty-seven mostly-Russian harp guitars in the huge guitar collection of a fellow named Ivan Bariev.  His Paserbsky harp guitar with its original “pinky rail” is nearly identical to Perott’s instrument and was included in my Boris Perott feature.

I haven’t added the rest of his instruments to the site yet, as I need a good translator to get more information on some of them (like a “Stauffer” and “Schenk” that don’t make sense).

Since my computer crash last year I also need to relocate his web site gallery (please forward if you locate it).

For now, a couple of Ivan’s treasures:

Ivan has several Russian harp guitars with cutaways.  This is by “Berezin, from the Krasnoshchekova workshop.”

Rather elaborate wood inlay on this one…but the real interesting feature is that it appears to have cross-strung sympathetic strings inside!  Maker unknown.

A hollow arm with 7 on the neck and 5 subs marked Schenk?!

No label or markings.  A fretless (bass?) neck on top of the floating bass strings!

And finally, here’s a video I just found of Ivan Bariev’s collection on public display over there (a bit dizzying, but I’ll take what I can get).

Do svidaniya!

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