Harp guitar , made by a Malaysia guitar maker , what is that ?

15Feb10

This is a story which is worth quoting  .

A story of how young Edward Hiew ( now 39 years old ) , a Guitar player , went to Canada to study how to make a Guitar and on his return set up a business to make and sell how own made Guitar .

So far Hiew has produced about 80 guitars for clients from Australia, Canada, Singapore and East Malaysia, consisting of musicians, collectors and hobbyists.

In this article Stephen Hiew has just spent 6 months making a Harp Guitar , which I understand is not a common guitar . More about this in the main article .

Here is an example of a person who is prepared to spent money and time to retrain himself. How many of us are prepared to invest in retraining ourselves ? This story also shows that there are many ways to make money rather than the traditional ways .

This story is copied from the NST of Feb 14 2010. More details here :

Sabahan Roger Wang has a new toy, thanks to rising guitar maker Edward Hiew, writes AREF OMAR


Edward Hiew the maker of the Harp Guitar . Roger Wang is testing it .

IT looks strange at first glance, like a mutant guitar on steroids. But the contrasting combination of sharp and curved surfaces entices the curious mind to give it a little strum.

The instrument resonates in a wash of mellifluous tone and timbre that is well balanced between the warm low end and the crisp highs.

A whimsical creation of sight and sound, it is a harp guitar that local luthier Edward Hiew made for solo acoustic guitarist Roger Wang.

“I call this harp guitar the Black Bird and I designed it to have a traditional feel with a modern touch in mind,” says Hiew with glee during an interview at his guitar store in Laman Rimbunan, Kepong.

And what exactly is a harp guitar?

“It’s basically a six-stringed guitar with some open strings, in this case six sub-bass strings, giving the guitarist the ability to play notes one whole octave lower than the regular guitars.

“These sub-bass strings are not fretted and can be plucked individually,” says Hiew, who took six months to hand-build the unique instrument from scratch.

Although the harp guitar is a rare sight these days, it’s been around for two centuries, and has been played by several contemporary musicians including Pat Metheny, Don Alder, John Doan and even Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.

But what makes the Black Bird extra special for Hiew is that it represents his first foray into making a harp guitar.

“I’ve been making custom guitars for the last seven years and Roger is very comfortable with his own Maton acoustic.

“So when I met him, he was only interested in a harp guitar and I took up the challenge,” says Hiew.

Apparently Wang had wanted a harp guitar to expand his sound and playing style after seeing Stephen Bennett play one back in 2000 during a Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention in Nashville.

“His conditions were that it be a good sounding instrument with a very compact body for easy transport during gigs and to have a similar neck profile to his Maton,” says the 39-year-old luthier.

After getting Wang to test out a rough mockup of the guitar for size purposes, Hiew went to work on his masterpiece, using local Meranti wood for the back and sides, Spruce for the top and Ebony for the fingerboard.

He had to make sure the top was solid and able to support the tension and pressure from the strings properly.

Keeping the bass from overshadowing the treble for a balanced tone and a big sound was another challenge.

Finally the harp guitar was fitted with an internal active piezo pickup system for sound amplification.

For the icing on the cake, Hiew made a Chinese character inlay of the Sabahan guitarist’s surname Wang on the fretboard of the wooden instrument.

“It was a good learning experience and I’m sure I can do a better one,” says Hiew, who plans to make another harp guitar soon for his own collection to be displayed in his store.

As for Wang, known as a fingerstyle one-man-band a la Tommy Emmanuel, the RM12,000 harp guitar lets him juggle bass, melody, rhythm, harmony and percussive parts simultaneously with ease.

The sounds of the Black Bird can be heard on Wang’s latest project, the Love’s Tapestry album, produced by audiophile label Pop Pop Music.

Hiew, who also plays the acoustic guitar, recalls growing up in Kepong surrounded by guitarists.

“My father played the bass guitar and my uncles used to play the acoustic and sing together, so I was kind of influenced by them.

“I remember the first song I learnt to play was Evergreen by Cliff Richard at age 12. It became a hobby and I played in church,” he says.

But never in his wildest dreams did he envision himself building a guitar of his own until 2003.

Before that Hiew had studied audio engineering at Ocean Institute of Audio Technology and worked in a multimedia company producing educational software.

“I wanted to open up a store selling guitars but, besides playing, I didn’t know anything about the instrument.

“So I thought if I were to know how to build a guitar I would be able to better convince people to buy them,” he says.

Hiew then went on a two month hands-on guitar making course at Timeless Instruments in the rural prairie village of Tugaske in Saskatchewan, Canada where he studied under master luthier David Freeman.

“Each of us had to build our own guitar from scratch and it was the best moment of my life.

“Although it was winter and really cold outside, we very comfortable with the heating inside and every morning I’d have coffee, listen to the lectures and then work on my guitar,” he says.

Feeling inspired, he decided to make his own guitars rather than sell other peoples’ once he returned and formed his own company, Freeman Guitars Crafter (www.freemanguitars.com) after his teacher.

So far, Hiew has produced about 80 guitars for clients from Australia, Canada, Singapore and East Malaysia, consisting of musicians, collectors and hobbyists.

The various custom handmade guitar types, from dreadnaughts to classical orchestra models, start at a cost of RM4,500.

Aside from providing guitar repair and maintenance services, he also conducts courses in guitar making.

Although he has no plans to produce electric guitars yet, Hiew reckons he’ll work on making higher-end acoustic guitars and intends to have his very own signature product to display overseas at places like the National Association of Music Merchants Show in the US.

“My teacher David Freeman and I still keep in touch. He came to visit me a couple years back and I still ask him for advice.

“In fact he has plans to hold a class in Africa for community work sometime next year and has asked me to join him,” says Hiew.

Someone once said that mastering all the aspects of guitar making is a lifelong pursuit.

“I sincerely think that I’ve found my calling. I can see myself growing old by making guitars and teaching,” he says.



One Response to “Harp guitar , made by a Malaysia guitar maker , what is that ?”

  1. 1 Chris Borger

    nice to see good work going on in the Harp Guitar business


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