Category Archives: microtonal

Playing between the lines

In microtonal music, the spaces between the notes in our traditional 12-tone western music scale are explored to create new harmonies and voicings. You can think of them, like American composer Charles Ives did, as the notes in the cracks between the piano keys.

I’ve been wanting to really dig into microtonal music in some upcoming posts to Parts Unknown, but after a quick Google search to read up on the subject, I came upon this picture of a 62 tone guitar neck, courtesy of the Microtonal Guitar Gallery:

It’s like a map to another world, or the guitar equivalent of alien crop circles. I’ve been too hypnotized by it to look much further.

More to come, if I can tear myself away from it. Stay tuned!

Learn more: Microtonal | Microtonal Guitar Gallery | Micortonal Guitar Conversion FAQ | Wikipedia: Microtonal music


Arpeggiones and sympathetic strings

A couple years ago, I was sitting at my desk at work when a co-worker called from the next office over. “Turn on your radio,” he said, “they’re talking about some sort of rare stringed instrument. Sounds like something you’d want to listen to.”

Sure enough, our local classical music station, WSCL, was doing a special program on an instrument called the arpeggione (are-peh-JOE-nay) – a six-stringed, fretted instrument tuned to the same scheme as a guitar, but played with a bow. According to the all-too-brief Wikipedia entry on the instrument, only one piece of music was written specifically for the arpeggione – a sonata with piano accompaniment by Franz Schubert that wasn’t published until the instrument had long gone the way of the dodo.

“Ooooh,” I said. “I want one.” Which is what we always say in situations like these, right?

Soon after, I did a search to see if there were any instrument manufacturers who happened to be cranking out arpeggiones like mad (or, at least, taking special orders). Not that I could afford one, of course… but I love to daydream.

That’s how I found Fred Carlson and his marvelous instruments, at Beyond the Trees. Fred specializes in instruments that have sympathetic strings – strings that aren’t plucked or bowed directly, but sound out when the instrument is played. Commissioned by guitarist Erik Hinds, Fred built an instrument of the same species, but much further evolved.

Dubbed the H’arpeggione, it has eighteen strings; twelve sympathetic strings inside the neck and over the body, and six ‘playable’ strings. The neck has frets “between” the lowest seven semitones, which allows for microtonal playing. And, it’s drop-dead gorgeous.

While you’re daydreaming, be sure to look at Fred’s other creations – including my favorite, the Jomama – a papier-mache fretless banjo covered with ‘creature faces.’

If you’re inspired enough to want to commission an instrument from Fred, I wish you the best of luck. As he puts it: “I am currently not taking new commissions, except where the project is extremely compelling to me, and in line with my creative direction.”

It looks like you’ll have some convincing to do…