What exactly is a harp guitar? It’s a new one on me, but its history and background is intriguing (see www.harpguitars.net/luthiers/hoyt/avc1.htm for details). Made by English luthier Stephen Sedgwick from a commission by US musician Brad Hoyt, the instrument is a souped-up version of a Brazilian folk guitar with five courses of paired strings, augmented by two extra side sets of five-string pairs. These unfretted auxiliary strings (referred to as the ‘bass harp’ and ‘treble harp’) are plucked with the fingers harp-style, hence the name of the instrument: Arpa Viola Caipira, literally ‘country harp guitar’.
This 30-string harp guitar has an exquisite, rich sound similar to a picked acoustic 12-string, but brighter and more resonant — the resemblance is heightened by the octave tuning of the lower string pairs. The fretted strings range from B2 to G5; the bass harp adds an extra low octave, while the sweet, zingy, zither-like treble harp duplicates the top string’s A#4 to G5 register.
I was impressed by the instrument’s musical and technical depth: seven velocity layers, up to 12 round robins per note and the provision of true legato slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs and string squeaks ensure that this 11.8GB sampled version is a faithful and expressive recreation of the real thing. Palm-muted and string choke performances add a tough, rocky attitude to the plangent (good word, that) sustained samples, and a tasty full effects rack is also on hand to energise and electrify the sound.
Those looking to program smooth, realistic legato melody lines will appreciate the Advanced Performance preset: this limits the five main strings’ polyphony to one note each, but if you want to play chordally with no restrictions, the EZ Player patch (formerly called ‘Tuned Percussion’) presents the instrument with full polyphony across an expanded pitch range.
For the hardened strummers out there, there’s the excellent ‘Strumulator’, which performs an utterly real-sounding chord strum at the press of a key. You can choose from a menu of common chord shapes, or create your own custom voicings. For automated rhythmic animation, use the sophisticated Auto-Strummer step sequencer to create driving acoustic guitar rhythm tracks, or try the ‘Uberpeggiator’, which can generate anything from flamenco-like grooves (complete with percussive knocks and body taps) to fabulous, hammered-dulcimer-like excursions.
The instrument’s timbre ranges from robust, steely harpsichord-like strikes to delicate plucks reminiscent of a spinet. It’s ideal for folksy 12-string-style arpeggios, and can even sound like a ukulele when you quietly strum a high-pitched seventh chord! Expanding the sonic menu into Twilight Zone territory is a bonus set of mad and beautiful atmospheres, soundscapes and ambiences derived from the natural guitar recordings.
Brad Hoyt’s Harp Guitar is designed for the full version of Native Instruments Kontakt 5.3.1 or later, and will not run on the free Kontakt Player. Dave Stewart