As Jon Jones was regulating his hurdy gurdy back in 2001, he began toying with the idea of creating a mechanically-bowed instrument with a full-scale chromatic keyboard. He went on to build two working models before hooking up with Antiquity Music's founder Mitchell Manger to work on improving the design. After a few more revisions, a stunning pre-production Wheelharp was premiered at the Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim (CA) last week.
The Wheelharp is being made in two different flavors, one with a curved (radial) keyboard and the other with a flat (linear) keyboard. Each will be available in three different octave ranges – a 37-string, 3-octave version, a 4-octave unit with 49 strings (shown below), and a model that spans five octaves and has 61 strings. It has a beautiful Victorian period-look oak body with rosette appointments, a laminated maple pinblock and a cast aluminum pulley.
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At the press of a key, the instrument's patent-pending action moves the respective string toward a rotating, rosin-edged wheel spinning inside the barrel of the Wheelharp, where it's essentially bowed by the wheel. The mechanism is claimed capable of translating the player's subtle fingerings into a range of bowing intensities.
The left pedal activates and controls Wheelharp's full damper system, and the speed of the motor that turns the wheel is controlled via the right pedal. According to Antiquity Music, swells and decrescendos can be brought into play by the player varying the wheel speed and key depth.
There's an electromagnetic pickup system above the strings and a piezo pickup mounted to the soundboard. An optional microphone pickup system is available, too, and two 0.25-inch audio jack outputs allow for onward powered amplification. It runs on 110 - 120-volt AC power.
Jones has now entered into an agreement with the boutique vintage and antique musical instrument retailer, making Antiquity Music the exclusive manufacturer and distributor of the Wheelharp. Production is set to start in June and each unit will be hand-made to order.
Introductory pricing starts at US$9,900 for either a radial or linear 3-octave model, rising to $10,900 for the 4-octave version and finally topped off by the 5-octave Wheelharp at $11,900. There's also an optional ATA road case available for $1,450.
The short demonstration video below shows the Wheelharp in action.
Update June 5, 2013: Antiquity Music has now turned to Kickstarter to bring the Wheelharp to market.
Source: Antiquity Music