Welcome to the Kontrabasharpa Build.

 I am a professional luthier, building mainly mandolin family instruments for over 30 years in Canada on tiny Hornby Island, BC. I built a moraharpa-styled nyckelharpa quite awhile back. It’s fun to play, but is limiting and I wanted to make something larger and with sympathetic strings, while sticking to tradition. 

 I chose to build a kontrabasharpa over say, a chromatic nyckelharpa as I like the drone string placed in between the two melody strings, and to be honest I don’t like the look of all the metal tuning heads on chromatic harpas (for all the sympathetics) – it takes something from the ancient look of the instrument.

To the left is a photo of the Moraharpa I made. In a way it is very like a kontrabasharpa, the way I did it, cuz it has two melody strings with a drone in between. No sympathetic strings though. The historical Moraharpa had one key row and 2 drones.

 There is some info on building this fine swedish folk instrument on the web, but not really enough. Hoping you find this interesting and I am sure the Swedish builders will be quietly amused at my techiniques and ideas 🙂

I just love those harpas. 


Making the Frame

rough dimensions needed

So. Where I’m at.
I have received the Soren Ahker chromatic harpa instructional book and plans for reference. I’ll use some of the specs from this but customize in my own fashion. There are great tips and techniques in this book. Invaluable. AND I have an old Backstrom plan of a Silverbasharpa, which is good to consult.

Also, I have 2 funny booklets in swedish on building harpas from the 1970’s – one by Harold Lundin and another by Lars Backstrom. I may consult these occasionally but my swedish is non-existent and they are out of date in technique, though the black and white photos are helpful. 

I looked at the basic dimensions of the Ahker harpa and tweaked it to look like an older kontrabasharpa. You can see below the shape and a template to cut out the inner contour of the frame.

The frame is made of 4 blocks of wood. I used sitka spruce for all pieces including the neck. It turned out to be difficult to find the right sizes of blocks available. Most spruce blocks aren’t big enough. The layout of the blocks looks like the pic below.
I ended up buying some ‘headblock and enbdblock’ stock from Alaska specialty woods. Not quite wide enough, they were, so I had to add a bit more. Was a fuss so make sure you get the right size blocks.

The width of the neck determines the width of the end block as well. In my case I chose an 84 mm wide neck. Chromatic harpa necks are around 100mm, but they have more strings and keys so the neck needs to be wider. At the most I will have 2 rows of keys, plus one drone string, maybe 2, so I can go narrower. The blocks after planing gave me a body rough depth of about 60mm.

I made sure I used quartersawn spruce for the neck as there isn’t much additional support on the head for all those strings and I need max strength. I used some 1″ archtop spruce blank that I just sawed off what I needed or bracing stock will work too. I had to laminate some off-cuts for the ‘heel’, which in luthiery is called a stacked heel. As a note, I am using titebond glue for all joints. It’s what I am used to, but is a severe no-no in violin making where only hide glue is used. But it’ll be fine 🙂

frame block end grain
laminating up the endblock.
gluing up neck blank