The electric harp that I have been performing on since the mid-80ís is a one-of-a kind instrument that was created out of desire and necessity. Soon after moving to NYC, Fred Frith and Tom Cora invited me to join Skeleton Crew. We wanted to include the harp in my instrument arsenal, adding to accordion, drums, voice and keyboards. Tom and I decided that making a small portable electric harp would be perfect for the band. Tom soon made a prototype with the help of his friend, visual artist Julian Jackson.
This first version of the harp nested on my Korg CX3 organ fitting neatly into a homemade wooden encasement that attached to my keyboard with a C-clamp. Very primitive. No fancy woods, no fancy pickups, but from the beginning, there was something about this electric harp that was compelling. I played this Frankenstein harp for over a year before further research was completed and we moved forward to make a more refined instrument.
Prototype in hand, Tom and I went to visit luthier Ken Parker at his home in Connecticut. Ken was thrilled to take on this unusual project and finished the new harp in one burning twelve hour session. This was a completely new instrument. We upgraded all the materials, the instrument could now be played free standing inserted into modified drum hardware and we added the whammy bar. After several months, I returned to Ken to work on subtle changes to the actual body of the instrument adjusting the shape and weight of the harp.
Sound artist Douglas Henderson contributed to design features on the next version of the harp. He had built several guitars for himself as well as a beautiful double neck guitar for Elliott Sharp. His great design ideas, including new placement of the pickups and the surprisingly profound change of adding ebony to the whammy bar end of the harp, created an infinitely better sounding instrument.
Initially he made changes to the existing harp that Ken had built and in 2003, Douglas created a brand new instrument.† He continued to refine his design responding to my needs as a player and contributing his expertise in construction, electronics, and materials. He fabricated all of the components for the harp, the metal casings to house wires as well as the brass bridges, the modified guitar tuning hardware and the modified metal drum stand. His upgrades were efficient and elegant. His keen attention to detail sent the harp into a new realm. This is the electric harp that I use today. The instrument continues to surprise and inspire me in its freshness and astounding capabilities as a sound making device.