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During the Renaissance the guitar was a very different instrument from the modern, familiar six-stringed guitar. Guitars had four pairs of strings, and were used primarily to accompany singing. Throughout the Baroque period, the guitar developed alongside the other stringed instruments, notably the lute, until it reached the form we know today.

In 1773 a harp maker named Naderman in Paris built a harp guitar with six standard fretted strings and six bass strings. Others were built by Edward Light of London from about 1798 - he developed a harp-lute guitar which had an extra peghead with four bass strings attached.

Toward the end of the 17th century, so-called "bass guitars" were produced, with a variable number of additional bass strings - anything from four to nine extra strings were added, to enhance the range of the instrument. These became known as "lauten-guitarre" (lute-like guitars), or lutars.

Most harp guitars seem to be made in the United States these days, and despite their relative rarity, there are many exponents of this fine instrument. One such exponent is Michael Hedges, who sounds more like a trio than one man when playing one. Pat Metheny has also recorded on his Gibson harp guitar and has also played a multinecked model with 42 strings, built by Linda Manzer. Timothy Donahue plays an electric fretless harp guitar, and Pierre Bensusan is currently experimenting with one.

The wide variation between instruments, and the lack of formal standards and methods, mean that anyone taking up the harp guitar must approach it from an experimental point of view. Michael Hedges, mastered it in a manner which has intrigued and excited many of his listeners, picking out deep, thrumming bass notes to counter his energetic playing, and he had woven this unique instrument into his own style.

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