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This nyckelharpa was made by an unknown maker, probably Northern Uppland, Sweden, about 1790. It is a silverbasharpa model, body and neck/pegbox are made from one piece of plain fir, attached arched table of similar fir in one piece, pegs, keys, keybox, bridge and tailpiece of unfigured birch, and transparent yellow varnish. There is a handwritten label:

Anno 1790

A Scandinavian bowed “fiddle” with wooden keys and tangents fitted into a keybox similar to that of the hurdy-gurdy. The instrument, with a central flat bridge, commonly has melody, bourdon (drone) and sympathetic strings that pass along the side of, or through holes in the bridge. However, some early nyckelharpan were built without sympathetic strings. The instrument can be held from a neck strap or in the lap with the keys facing down for gravity return, is bowed toward the player’s body, and played sitting, standing or walking about. Tension on the bow hair is regulated by the player’s thumb or fingers in many individual variations of gripping the bow

An early extant nyckelharpa is dated 1526, and such instruments are depicted in Danish and Swedish church iconography of the 14th and 15th centuries. While there is also evidence that it existed in Germany in the 16th century, the history of the nyckelharpa has unbroken documentation in Sweden from the 17th century to the present day.

Characteristic of its type, this silverbasharpa (silver-drone keyed fiddle) is constructed with two rows of keys, two melody and two bass strings that are bowed, and nine sympathetic strings. Such a silverbasharpa model was preferred by players until the introduction

of the kromatisk nyckelharpa in 1925. It is believed that an organ builder, Per Olof Gullbergson, first converted a kontrabasharpa into a silverbasharpa around 1838. An organist, Matts Wesslén, is then credited for making this instrument chromatic by adding a second row of keys. This information suggests this silverbasharpa bears a false date, or that it was rebuilt to its present form after 1838. The body and neck of this example are fashioned from a single piece of fir and the attached table is carved from similar fir in one piece. The square sound post passes through a hole in the back and is held in place by an interior wedge.

Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1790
place made
Physical Description
fir (overall material)
birch (overall material)
gut (strings material)
copper (strings material)
steel (strings material)
overall: 6 3/8 in x 34 in x 9 7/8 in; 16.1925 cm x 86.36 cm x 25.0825 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Musical Instruments
Music & Musical Instruments
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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