forefathers of the National, Dobro and consequently pedal steel
guitar were conceived and built by Chris J. Knutsen and Hermann
Weissenborn as early as the first decade of the last century.
C. Weissenborn a German piano and violinmaker immigrated to New
York around 1902. In 1910 he moved to Los Angeles where he mainly
did repair work on instruments until the end of the decade. With
the Hawaiian music boom of the early 20's, Weissenborn started making
ukeleles, flattops and eventually his captivating Hawaiian steel
their raised string action, frets flush with the fingerboard, square
hollow necks and featherweight koa wood construction the Weissenborns
offered both greater volume and sustain than conventional Spanish
neck guitars for Hawaiian lap steel playing. Due to their sweet
timbre, expressive tone and eye-catching design these guitars were
an instant hit and stayed in demand until the advent of the Nationals
and Dobros. Hermann Weissenborn died in 1937 amidst debts and declining
business for his shop.
It is important
to credit Chris J. Knutsen for the original square neck, rope
binding and overall design of the Hawaiian steel guitar. Knutsen,
another immigrant born as Johan Christian Kammen in Norway on
June 24, 1862, started building Hawaiian steel guitars as early
as 1908. Both Knutsen and Weissenborn (as well as the Schireson
brothers) built Kona style guitars almost exclusively to a Mr.
Charles S. DeLano starting around 1915.
himself out as an "instructor of Hawaiian steel guitar"
and most likely sold many guitars to his students, after 1923,
the Konas were built exclusively by Weissenborn.
is impossible to determine just when Weissenborn began to experiment
with his own designs in crafting Hawaiian steel guitars, there
are some noteworthy differences though between his and Knutsen's
Most of the
Knutsens have spruce tops, all have lateral or diagonal bracing
on the back, also due to his eccentric building skills many of
his guitars used some crude solutions such as: wide number of
screws, brackets, wing nuts, sheared-off tuning machine plates,
odd-shaped nuts and dressmaker's seam tape rather than wood strips
to reinforce ribs and butt fitted back plates. H. Weissenborn's
guitars however, used mainly koa tops, he used X bracing exclusively
and also adopted 4 different models or "styles" as he
would advertise them, creating a growing scale of ornamentation
from basic to fancy.
Hawaiian steel guitars worth mentioning are the Schireson brand:
Lyric, Mai-Kai and Hilo, mostly made by Oscar Schmidt. Also the
Brinks (Brink was a Michigan violinmaker who appeared to have
experimented), Greenfields and according to preeminent Weissenborn
researcher Ben Elder ("after the Weissenborns and Knutsens,
the next best vintage acoustic steel I've played") the Mastertone
Special, an absurdly cheap looking model made by Gibson from about
1939-42. Of course none of these instruments compare sound, feel
or look wise to a Knutsen/Weissenborn Hawaiian.
players like David Lindley, Ben Harper Bob Brozman and Jerry Douglas
today the Weissenborn guitar - more than 70 years since the last
one was manufactured - is enjoying resurgence. It is now used
for virtually any musical style. From country to rock, Hawaiian
to blues and now Brazilian music as well! The downside to the
Weissenborn's renaissance and its renovated demand (specially
among collectors) is that prices have gone sky high. Luckily many
wonderful luthiers and guitar makers have come up with their versions
of the expensive originals.
I have been hypnotized by this instrument's sound from the very
first day I heard it. It has the sound I only heard previously
in my dreams and it allows me to come up with very unusual ideas
for my compositions.
will find quotes from Weissenborn players, pictures of the different
original models and some links to their contemporary builders.
have been playing and recording with these profound instruments
since the 1970's, when I found my first one for $50.00. Hermann
Weissenborn was a mad genius, and though his instruments seem a
little crudely made, he was actually experimenting very intentionally
in his search for sound. These instruments have magical qualities
of sound, both bass and treble, with amazing sustain AND great speed
of response. This is due to several factors, not the least of which
are dimensional-- i.e. the depth and tapering of the back-to-top
distance, also the slight curvature in all directions of the top
and back. These instruments are unbeatable for Hawaiian, blues,
Indian, and almost ANY style of music. Weissenborn also made the
deeper bodied solid neck Kona guitars, which are also very good,
especially for bottleneck slide playing, but I prefer Weissenborns
for most applications."
a 'Weisenbourne' is like playing an entire band. There's all the
bass you'll ever need, a rhythm guitar and a slide guitar lead.
A compact, self-contained home entertainment unit!"
used to play bottleneck on Dobros and Nationals, but when I started
playing lap slide, the Weissenborn was the logical next step. It
is the greatest sounding acoustic instrument ever made. I play it
for that reason. It has the depth of a cello and the edge of a Strat.
You have to be as accurate as the cellist for the intonation. You
can't play a little too high or too low or else you're out of tune.
The hollow neck Weissenborn can't be fretted, and the strings are
high off the neck. Since it doesn't have the metal resonator, it
doesn't have that metallic tone. Its belly, back and side are entirely
made of Koa wood, which is a wood only of the Hawaiian Islands.
It is now an endangered wood, so you cannot cut the Koa tree. I'm
drawn to its resonating sound. It is very expressive. I stick with
the Weissenborn, it says something new to me everyday. Every time
I pick it up it sings something new. The Weissenborn is the sound
that is in me. Nothing else can channel the spirit of my music."
cool about the Weissenborn is that you can play it in a variety
of different styles of music. It isn't really genre-specific as
long as you give it room for the sound to come through the track."
can't give you a very good quote, but I like them (Weissenborns)
for the natural woody tone. My style 2 thin body Weissenborn is
a very rich sounding guitar. The Kona
is the cornerstone of my small collection - a clear, warm, natural
(and quiet) sound. But with good mics or the right amplification
system, you can use that sound in almost any setting."
Weissenborn slide guitar has the gift of human vocal quality; a
richness that captures both sweetness and edge. Under capable hands,
it will give your music a life that speaks of emotions and colors,
experiences and journeys - this is what happens to me every time
I play a Weissenborn, whether in a studio or just in my living room.
Truthfully, I can't think of any other way of expressing how much
I love to put a slide bar to a Weissenborn."
Asher is the founder, owner and master builder behind Asher Guitars.
He makes beautiful koa copies of the Style #1 and style #4 Weissenborns.
He also makes the Electro Hawaiian models Ben Harper uses in his
live performances. These electric lap steels made with flamed figured
koa with herringbone binding include two Asher custom lap steel
pickups. These guitars through through a Marshal cabinet scream
with marginal feedback.
Bill Hardin makes these impressive Weissenborn and Kona copies.
Hawaiian lap steel virtuoso Bob Brozman favors these high quality
guitars, which are at the top of the price range. This is a very
nice site, worth checking out.
fine builder of both acoustic and electric lap steels from Australia.
Ben Harper commissioned the interesting SK8Lap from him, that's
right, a skateboard lap steel!
by German builder Andreas Cuntz. Solid construction and excelent
choice of woods for these guitars.
born builder now residing in Tasmania. His Hawaiian guitars combine
the acoustics of the Weissenborn and resonator guitars with carbon
fiber braces. The neck inlays have an impressive and innovative
is a wonderful and experienced luthier. His guitars are made of
fine Hawaiian Koa wood and they sound fantastic! You can customize
your order any way you please. He has made guitars for David Lindley
and Ben Harper, in fact, he used to repair guitars at the instrument
shop of Ben's grandfather, Charles Chase. I have a style
and it's a rich, warm sounding instrument, you can hear it on "Mississipi
guitars are at the top of the price range, but they truly are worth
the investment. He is a great guy to discuss the history of these
wacky and innovative blend of a square neck Weissenborn and a Gibson
Flying V, she calls it a Flying Veissenborn. Cool.
luthier Emmanuel Romont makes many fine instruments including beautiful
copies of the Weissenborn style #2 and #4.
builder. Don Rooke of The Henrys (a true Weissenborn virtuoso) uses
these. The Hawaiian King model is a mesmerizing instrument.
makes several types of guitars. His Acousteel model looks impressive
with it's innovative design.
a copy of the Hilo than a Weissenborn. This is also a nice, inexpensive
guitar for the beginner.
luthier Manfred Pietrzok makes these fine instruments. One is a
neat mixture between a Dobro and a Weissenborn. Good site for European
players to order from.
was a partner of the K&S Guitar Co. He's a very experienced
luthier and his site always has fine second hand instruments for
Mermer is a true guitar craftsman. His instruments combine solid
construction, excellent choice of woods, beautiful finish and innovative
design. I highly recommend his site. He is very well informed about
the history of these instruments too. Check out this beautiful Baritone
he came up with. He says he tunes it to open B (B-F#-B-D#-F#-B)!!
fine builder who makes his guitars entirely from yellow cedar (Alaskan
Cypress) with a Mexican wood used for the trim work, fingerboards
and bridges. He makes his guitars in two categories: the Weissenborn
and the Knutsen.
Dotson makes an interesting hybrid guitar blending the Weissenborn's
shape with the extra volume of the resonators. He calls it the Weissonator.
builder of Hawaiian steel guitars based in Italy. These guitars
offer solid craftsmanship, great variety of woods and beautiful
finish. Most of them are copies of the style #4 with rope binding.
Weissenborns I know of made in New Zealand. These instruments have
a Mahogany body and Rosewood fingerboard. He has some interesting
Custom options. Paddy uses nice Gotoh tuners and will place frets
on the guitar if asked.
link is for ordering the different steel bars and capos available.
Paul Beard is a Dobro builder and you can order these products directly
from his site.
luthier. There's not a lot of information on his site just a couple
of pictures of his Weissenborn copy.
are very nice, inexpensive guitars. I recommend these for players
that are interested in lap steel playing and don't want to spend
too much. I have a style #3 and it's a great sounding guitar. They
have David Lindley as an endorsee.
Luthier who builds many different instruments. His Deluxe Series
Weissenborns may be ordered in a variety of quality woods such as:
Blackwood, Maple, Bubinga, Zebrano, Wenge and Paduk. Any of these
with a ebony fingerboard and bridge.
maker Tony Graziano makes this beautiful Weissenborn style guitar
shown here in Koa wood with Holly binding, a Rosewood finger board
and a Koa bridge.
to find out more about lap steel guitars? Go to the most comprehensive
page in the World Wide Web: