Harlow reso guitar from Monroe maple

We heard recently from Dan Simon, a resonator guitarist in west central Michigan, who wanted to let us know about a very special instrument built by Frank Harlow.

Frank operates Harlow Resonator Guitars not far from Dayton, OH and has recently completed a guitar made almost entirely from wood harvested from Bill Monroe’s property in Kentucky. The body and neck were made from this “Monroe maple,” with poplar from Bill’s homeplace used for the full sound wells. Only the ebony fingerboard and peghead overlay are not from this stock.

Harlow tells us that the wood came to him by happenstance…

“I have a friend, Brian England, who builds mandolins and lives about 35 miles from Monroe’s place in KY. They had given him some wood to make a mandolin, and after he made it he asked if I would be interested in building a dobro. He sent me some of the wood, and it is so hard that you can’t drive a nail in it!

I especially like that it has the natural brown that you rarely find in maple these days.”

So he built the guitar, and dubbed his creation Jerusalem Ridge, the name he has inlaid on the peghead. I asked Frank whether he would sell this special piece of bluegrass music history.

“I haven’t really considered offering it for sale. I just built it, and I really haven’t thought much about what I will do with it.

I had tried to reach the folks at the Bill Monroe Festival in Rosine to let them use it for advertisement, but I was never able to reach anyone until after the 2010 festival had started. So I guess I’ll keep the guitar and enjoy it myself.

It will peel the paint off the walls!”

Harlow has been making resos for the past 24 years, but has kept a low profile, preferring to build at his own pace. He doesn’t exhibit at festivals or trade shows, depending instead on referrals from his customers to keep the business going.

Starting as a bluegrass and Gospel guitar and singer, Frank said that he actually got into building on a dare.

“I drove a semi for GM, and didn’t have any hobbies other than music. One day a buddy of mine dared me that I couldn’t build a dobro, and I took him up on it. I just work on them when I want to, whittling them out by hand from scratch.

I have a few on hand now, but generally build to order.”

The Harlow guitars sell in the $3950 – $4650 range, and are offered in half and full sound well models. In this video, Frank shows off one of his hybrid soundboard instruments.

More details at www.harlowresonatorguitars.com.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.