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“Hollow Be Thy Name: Bear Creek's Bill Hardin and the allure of the Weissenborn-style guitar”

Featured in Issue 8:
Fretboard Journal Winter 2007: Weissenborn and Hawaiian Lap Steel Guitars

“Bill Hardin has a healthy respect for the original Weissenborn design, but he's also found ways to improve on it ... with a combination of great sound, gorgeous woods, and excellent craftsmanship.”
Acoustic Guitar Magazine

Artists

BOB BROZMAN


Bob Brozman

“Bear Creek makes both solid- and hollow-neck Hawaiian guitars in the manner of the old Kona and Weissenborn models from 1915-1930.

The BEAR CREEK KONA, a faithful reproduction of the original Kona models made by Weissenborn, gives me a new voice in slide guitars. Unlike the hollowneck Weissenborns, the Kona guitars were made with a relatively deep body, and with a solid neck, which joins the body at the 7th fret, sort of an “emergency” Spanish neck. Also the dimensions of the top are smaller, but when joined with the deep body, a cubic air space similar to that of the Weissenborn is created.

The original Kona models were made by Weissenborn for a teaching studio in California in the 1920s, and are quite rare today, since many did not survive due to inconsistent craftsmanship. Bill has worked very hard to retain the exact sound and spirit of the originals, but with luthier quality workmanship. (If you really want rough braces, glue drips, and sanding marks like the old ones, I’m sure you can work it out with Bill!)

As with all Bear Creek instruments, Bill’s choice of woods and his high level of craftsmanship shines through on the Kona. Mine simply glows with honey-hued koa wood, with Bill’s handmade “rope” bindings providing visual ‘zing’ and contrast.

I tune my Kona Rocket (short scale model at 23″) very high, with light strings, effectively open G tuned up to C. The carefully-radiused braces give the top a spring-like quality, which dramatically increases the speed of response (how fast the notes leave the guitar) and boosts the treble frequencies. This makes this the perfect guitar for tender, delicate Hawaiian songs, or the high lonesome sound of Charley Patton’s slide-blues playing! The Kona is available in a choice of standard or short scale length, fretted Spanish or non-fretted Hawaiian.

This guitar is an indispensable part of my road gear …I’ll never part with mine, so it’s a good thing you can have one made for you!

THE BEAR-TONE 7-STRING BARITONE HAWAIIAN GUITAR: Bill Hardin has done it once again! I used to only take one Bear Creek on the road, but now I have to bring two!

Bill and I sat down together and drew up this design based on ideas and calculations I had made about having a giant bass-producing instrument, yet one that would retain all the treble of the little Kona Rocket. The resulting giant 7-string baritone hollowneck, The Bear Tone, has a 27″ scale, and is made from highly figured Hawaiian Koa from the Big Island of Hawaii. It has traditional Rope binding, a high gloss lacquer finish, and awesome volume.

This instrument, which I tune in a range of keys from open G up to Bb, with a low bass string tuned to the tonic, has proven to be a great duet instrument, with all of the treble melodic possibilities of a normal-sized Hawaiian guitar, but with extra orchestral range in the bass. Recorded examples of this guitar can be heard on OCEAN BLUES and NANKURU NAISA. It is like having an orchestra on your lap.

I am proud to have had the opportunity to participate with Bill in the design of this huge and profound Hawaiian guitar. All of my dreams came true when I finally got to play it! This 7-string behemoth covers the full range of music, with clear high harmonics, rich 3-dimensional midrange, enormous piano-like bass and a huge dynamic range-from the softest “baby” touch to the “angry growl” available when you lean into your strokes. After several minutes of playing this profound instrument, a normal Weissenborn seems a little toy-like. Plus this guitar makes my couch look smaller!

I feel inspired and look forward to creating a lot of exciting new music for slide guitar with this very special instrument.”

Bob Brozman