ORACLE: 24-STRING HARP-SYMPITAR

completed January, 2002


Oracle is a 24-string Harp-Sympitar, commissioned by (San Jose area) software writer and guitarist Jeff Titus. Jeff's inspiration was a combination of the harp-guitar work of the late Michael Hedges, and Alex de Grassi's use of the
18-string Sympitar. Jeff intended the instrument to be a loving tribute and dedication to Michael Hedges. The spiral and arrows inlay motif used on the back of the instrument and as an inlay at the 12th fret of the fingerboard, is the property of the Michael Hedges Estate, and is used with permission.
Oracle was built to be primarily acoustic, but is fully amplifiable and midi-capable; each set of strings has a separate pickup system with separate output jack. It has 6 main, fretted strings; 6 sub-bass harp strings on a bass-side body extension with separate peghead; and 12 internal sympathetic resonating strings. As with my 18-string Sympitar, the internal sympathetics run inside the neck, inside the body and go over an East Indian style "jiwari" bridge, that gives them a little buzz: that Indian drone sound. The spiral and arrows inlay (done in fine maple purfling line) on the rosewood back delineates a magnetically closed access door, useful for replacing or adjusting sympathetic strings, internal electronics and for repair access.

Oracles' unique shape is a rethinking of the old Dyer style harp guitars, such as Hedges played. In designing it, we wanted to create a much more ergonomic instrument, something relatively easy and comfortable to play, as well as a sculpture with a flow, balance and intriguing movement to the lines. And of course we wanted a balance of sound where the sub-bass would be warm, full and project well but not overwhelm the main strings.

The tuning is variable: open tunings work spectacularly with the internal sympathetic strings and the massive sympathetic response from the sub-basses. We initially set it up in standard tuning on the main strings, using Elixer Custom Lights; with a sub-bass tuning of: (lowest to highest) E G A B C D with phosphor bronze strings at .077", .064", .060", .056", .056", .054" respectively (the sub-bass string lengths start at around 32" for the low E, and get progressively shorter). The low E and G sub-bass are acoustic bass strings with 1/4" ball ends; at the bridge these have larger holes and pins made from ebony endpins. This was done to allow for the potential use of very heavy-gauge acoustic bass strings available only with the larger ball ends, in case one wanted to lower the range of the sub-basses significantly. The 12 internal sympathetic strings can be tuned chromatically, but give the strongest effect when to tuned to the specific mode or key being played in, doubling up notes where one wants a greater response. For more on sympathetics see the Sympitar page.


Oracle is a great example of how building a unique custom instrument for someone always takes me to places I would never have imagined going on my own. Although I often find myself wanting to influence a project with my own tastes and vision as much as possible, when I let go of my desire for control and work to try and find a place where my client's vision and mine can thrive together, magic happens. I always learn so much from these kinds of projects; it feels like such a gift I'm being given, even if sometimes in the thick of struggling to get something to work I lose sight of that perspective.

After a couple of days playing the finished instrument, Jeff felt that it begged for open tunings, in which it sounds so beautiful that he now doesn't anticipate playing it in standard at all.

 Oracle's materials are:

top- Sitka spruce
back/sides- E.Indian rosewood
neck, binding, soundhole inlay- black walnut; neck reinforcing- custom made epoxy graphite tube
purfling- maple
fingerboard- ebony
bridge, bridge-pins- ebony
head veneer (both heads)- western big-leaf maple burl
sub-bass string-nuts- ebony violin endpins with bone inserts
main and sympathetic tuners- Schaller nylon-housing 12-string tuners (for weight reduction; they're lighter than the metal bodied ones)
sub-bass tuners- Schaller mini guitar, metal housing (they're more reliable for the heavy gauge strings than the nylon Schallers, but lighter and smaller than any bass tuner)
main string pickups- RMC Acoustic Gold hexaphonic, midi-capable
sub-bass pickups- RMC Bass Excellence, arranged hexaphonically, midi-capable
sympathetic string pickup- custom piezo by Rick Turner
finish- waterbourne polymer (lacquer-like) on top; natural drying oil on back/sides/neck/heads
case- custom by Mark Leaf Case Co.

 Oracle's dimensions are:

vibrating string (scale) length:
main-25 and 11/32 inches
sub-bass (harp)- longest (lowest in pitch) is approx. 32 inches; lengths decrease to approx. 28 and 1/2 inches for the shortest (highest in pitch)
fingerboard:
width at nut- 1 and 3/4 inches
width at 12th fret- 2 and 5/32 inches
string separation (distance between 1st and 6th strings) at saddle- 2 and 7/32 inches
body:
length (excluding pegheads)- 31 inches
width (widest point perpendicular to centerline) of lower bout- 16 and 1/8 inches
depth at butt- 5 and 1/4 inches
depth at 14th fret- 4 and 1/2 inches
depth at bass head joint- 2 inches

 

GO TO:

ORACLE PHOTOS--ORACLE CONSTRUCTION--GALLERY CONTENTS--SYMPITAR--HOME

 

For a more in-depth look at Oracle, check out the website Jeff Titus has devoted to all aspects of his Harp-Sympitar.
For more information and inspiration on harp-guitars old and new, visit the amazing and wonderful harpguitars.net.