We will start with the caracteristic guitar of Ben Haper, his symbol : the Weissenborn. This model of guitar is an acoustic lap-slide, so it is played put on the knees...Ben owns a couple of Weissenborn, he has different models. The name Weissenborn comes from his inventor Hermann Weissenborn, german luthier born in 1825 and died in 1937 in Los Angeles. After emigrating to the United States and more exactly to New York around 1902, he became luthier in the area of Los Angeles around 1910, where he built numerous guitars under his own name but also under other nicknames, like Maui. Today his guitars are really in great demand by all the sliders of the planet. He started by the design of ukeleles and flat-tops and then concentrated on his own models of hawaian guitars.
With 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.
Ben Harper : " He built his guitars with Koa (a Hawaiian species of timber). This wood generates a special sound wich stays in the air for a long time. The sound of a Weissenborn doesn't disperse around you; it penetrates through you. Every slide guitarist would like possess one. It doesn't ring like the other acoustic guitars. By hearing it, you can say that it is neither a Strat nor a Les Paul, the sound is different, I hope. It's an electrified sound, but different. I worked hard to obtain a sound like that with a slide guitar, but it's such an accomplishment. I just begin to feel that I manage to do something at this point, that I really control what I do."
There are different models ofWeissenborn. I will just show you the main models (for more models look at this website : swer).
Ben Harper (about
the Style 2 and 4): "The traditional Weissenborn's probably about
1920-1930 anywhere between there. It's around the time when he stopped
making 'em.I keep this one with me a lot. This is really the first
one I played. You can see where my arm rests... it's gettin' sweatin'
away here. And I'm tearin' up the fingerboard ya know... startin'
to dig a hole in it. This is the one that I've really grown with and
do the most recording with. "Welcome to the Cruel World",
"Give a Man a Home" were recorded with this one and "God
Fearing Man" was recorded with this one and "Ground on Down"...
a lot of recordings were done with this one.The neck is hollow all
the way up from the body, this is all hollow... all the way up and
down the back and the top.
Ben Harper (about
the Koa Style 4): " The Kona's probably about 5-10 years earlier
than traditional Weissenborn.He built Kona with a hollow neck halfway
and halfway with a standard neck. So if you wanted to, you could lower
the nut. You could lower that down and you could play regular guitar
with chords 'cause it has frets. You could chord it up the neck and
still have somewhat of a hollow neck sound. Now since it's not all
the way hollow he deepened the body. As you can see this one's much
deeper than the traditional Weissenborn, to sorta make up for the
resonance loss from the half-hollow neck. And it's quite a different
sound, so Weissenborn made some different models and he experimented
a lot. His bridge is longer and wider. He had this bridge probably
from the start. So this bridge dates this particular guitar.It has
a different finish as well, you can see traditional Weissenborn's
quite shiny, this one's quite dull, it's called a "satin"
Ben Harper (about the Teardrop) : "This one's a teardrop shaped Weissenborn, or a pear-shaped Weissenborn with a hollow neck. There are very few of these. Very few, I know of 3, including this one here."