“I am the world’s greatest podharp player,” says Berkeley Grimball.
This, as it turns out, is almost certain to be true. Gulfport musician Grimball is also the inventor of the podharp.
Grimball moved to Florida in 2019. While he was settling in, a pod from a queen palm tree fell in his front yard, drawing him to explore the unique shape and texture of the material.
Grimball thought, “I wonder if these have any sonic potential?”
Two years later, poised outside of SumitrA in Gulfport, melodically plucking and tapping his 21-stringed, five-foot-tall podharp, Grimball has his answer.
He freestyles a melodic tune, inviting passersby to stop and listen.
“You can kind of make an instrument out of almost anything, it just may not have a great sound or a great kind of musicality to it,” he said. “But what was really wonderful about this was how resonant these pods are.”
Combining elements of traditional stringed instruments and percussion, Grimball modeled his poharp after a West African harp, the Kora. The seed pod is the body of the instrument; fishing line and classical guitar strings supply the sound.
“I’m most amazed and proud that it really sounds like an instrument,” he said.
Grimball’s podharp is tuned to the F-major scale, the same scale as a Kora, and his personal favorite. He says it took four hours to tune the podharp for the first time.
“The beauty of it is, when you’ve got the strings alternating, the scale goes one side to the other. Every three strings together are a harmonized chord of the key,” Grimball said, plucking away. “All the chords are sort of right there at your disposal. I mean, it’s really fun. You can just easily pluck three strings that are one after another on either side, and you’ve got a chord.”
The podharp cost approximately $50 for materials and took a week to build, he said.
If you’re looking to build your own, Grimball says the pod must be symmetrical, with an adequate width and curve.
“You can’t just go to any old tree and pick up one and make a pod[harp] because it’s really kind of a certain criteria that it needs to meet to work as an instrument,” Grimball said. “I had to invent the instrument and teach myself how to play it, too. So, it’s quite a learning curve.”
Grimball also constructed a 14-string podharp and, for his next project, he hopes to create an instrument similar to a cello that can be bowed.
Find Grimball playing his podharp on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside SumitrA, 2838 Beach Blvd. S.