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FLYING DREAM by Fred Carlson

39-string acoustic Harp-Sympitar with MIDI capability

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An amazing instrument from luthier, Fred Carlson.

Fred Carlson, co-founder of Beyond the Trees, has been hand-building original and traditional guitars and other stringed instruments for over 30 years. If you like beautiful, unusual instruments and you’re not familiar with Fred’s work, you’re in for a treat. A unique combination of discipline, skill, whimsy and innovation, along with an intuition finely honed by years of experimenting, makes Fred’s work stand apart from that of other luthiers.

Rather than viewing the guitar as a collection of separate components, i.e. body, neck, bridge etc., each of Fred’s instruments is conceived of, from the design stage on, as a coherent piece of sculpture. This attention to how details combine to make the whole is carried through in the sculpting of the instrument’s voice as well.

An important focus for Fred is that of insuring that the unusual design features add to, rather than detract from, the instrument’s function. In the end, all these factors- tone, playability, visual and tactile effect- are intertwined in the creation one of Fred’s guitars.

In Fred Carson’s own words:

“The Flying Dream represents a new phase in my life; unlike anything I’ve done before, I know it will forever change my work in important ways. I say “unlike anything I’ve done before”, and that’s true in a sense, but of course like all my work it’s influenced by everything I’ve done previously. Specifically, the Flying Dream contains major elements of two previous, commissioned works: the Harpouditar and the first Harp-Sympitar, Oracle.

“The Flying Dream has a total of 39-strings, which are grouped in four separate components making up the whole. She (and here I realize I need to accept and honor my impulse to refer to this instrument as something that seems alive to me, and has a female aspect, a “she” rather than an “it”) has:

  • six “main” strings, running guitar-like over a fretted fingerboard/neck;
  • six sub-bass “harp” strings running over a bass-side body extension in a fashion similar to the old Dyer-style or Knutsen harp guitars of the early 1900s;
  • twelve “sympathetic” resonating strings (as on my Sympitars) that run inside the neck and body of the instrument;
  • fifteen treble “harp” strings running diagonally across the lower bout of the instrument, below the ebony bridge that anchors the main and sub-bass strings.

“Both sets of harp strings utilize “sharping levers”, as are found on some folk harps. The sharping lever is a little brass cam that has two positions. In one position a little brass arm is locked into contact with the string, essentially fretting the string and raising its pitch. The other position moves the arm out of contact with the string, and the pitch of the open string is heard. Most commonly the sharping lever (on a harp) is placed at what would be the first fret, so flipping the cam raises the pitch a half step. I have one sharping lever on each of the Flying Dreams’ harp strings, each set to raise the pitch of that string a half step. I find the sharping levers really marvelous for quick key changes on the treble harp strings, and for easily varying the bass notes. There is some audible difference in the tone of the string with the sharping lever “on” or “off”. This is more noticeable with the heavy bass strings, and is probably due to the fact that the sharping lever doesn’t provide as solid a resting place for the string as the nut or post does. But any loss of tone is slight, and is more than made up for by the increased ease of key change, and opening up of harmonic potential.”

For even more detail on the construction of the ‘Flying Dream’ go to this page.

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Finally, here is a video of one of the sister instruments to the ‘Flying Dream’, the ‘Oracle’, being played by Jeff Titus accompanied by Gregg Miner on guzheng: