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Harmony Guitar Restorations

Updated: Jun 18, 2019

Harmony,much less known than the other big American brands,was possibly more influential than any in establishing the guitar as the preeminent popular instrument of the 20th Century.

Founded by Wilhelm Schulz in 1892 they made guitars,flat top,gut,archtop and tenor,violins,ukes,mandolins,banjos drums etc all according to the fads and fashions of the time.

Harmony Factory c1900's

The guitars followed European construction and differed from most Martins,Gibsons etc in being ladder-braced throughout production.Made of native woods,largely birch with "ebonised" maple frequently for fingerboards and bridge they were lightly built and rapidly assembled to meet the catalogue sales market of the time.They were badged for many retailers.....Silvertone was the Sears house brand and so successful that Sear bought Harmony in 1916 and owned it until 1941.Stella is another famous badge Harmonies carried,usually the cheapest models.

Blues legend Blind Willie McTell with a Harmony built Stella

For rural communities,catalogue buying was the only way and Harmony along with others met the demand.They were,as Harmony expert Ron Rothman titled his recent book on the brand,The Peoples Guitar.They sold to keen players who could only dream of a Gibson or Martin and were used to make some of the most legendary blues of the pre-war era as well as in bluegrass and cowboy music.

Depression era players with the classic pre-war parlour sized guitar.

Post war Harmony continued to churn out estimate is around 10 million before US production ceased around 1975.

They were also one of the main builders of "Cowboy Guitars",small,simple instruments with vivid stencils of western scenes on their tops. Aimed at young people trying to emulate the Singing Cowboys of the time they were of marginal utility as instruments and probably ended more budding singing cowboy careers than they enabled but they are nowdays very popular(and overpriced) as nostalgic folksy collectibles.

A wall of nostalgic folksy collectibles.I'd take this over a Picasso on my walls any day! Note the Ukes and "The Yodelling Cowboy"

With the explosion of folk and rock in the 60's Harmony added an upmarket range,the Sovereigns,using more traditional woods but still ladder braced.Nicely crafted,these were used by significant players like Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page,particularly in the studio.They also began to introduce electric models but we are staying unplugged here!

Pete Townshend with Harmony Sovereign...he had a 12 string as well.Pinless bridge on this one.The Sovereigns all had large bridges,perhaps to compensate somewhat for the ladder bracing

Eventually, like many US makers the influx of Japanese, and particularly fatal for Harmony,Korean,guitars aimed at the beginners market saw the Chicago factory close its doors around 1975 .By then the basic,ladder braced,flat fingerboard Harmonies were out of step with what popular music had become.Though some imports still carried the Harmony name,essentially a whole distinctive acoustic sound,particularly suited to rootsy blues and Americana,vanished from the marketplace.

And getting it back is difficult...they have become rare in playable condition even in the US...time has not been kind to these old USA Harmonies though the higher quality and original cost has helped the Sovereigns survive a bit better.

The birch guitars vanished rapidly after the 70's,no longer near what even beginners expected and unfashionable in how they sounded to most professional players.The light,hide glue/birch construction and ladder bracing saw them belly and twist,already poor neck angles got even worse with time and they went under beds,into damp basements,into landfill,into the fire and into dust.....yet the survivors are now becoming sought out by a small coterie of specialist players.They are the antithesis of the modern Taylor/Takamine piezo sound.... a niche instrument for sure but valued by some players,either because they are perfect for their genre or because they represent musical history in playable form...

The wide,flat fingerboard and small brass frets are suited to picking blues though again its most suited to old school players.Probably all need a neck reset if its not been done already and most of the narrow pinless bridges used for a while have cracked or shot off into the unknown.....

Here is a brief look at the restoration of two,one a late production Sears the other a c72 Harmony.....

c72 Harmony,"Faux Spruce" top,birch ply,"Grand Auditorium" Model H6340 as restored

This Harmony needed a new nut,neck reset and bridge reglue. The finish had not been fully scraped from the top before the bridge was glued down so it had probably never been secure.

Very little surface area and not a lot of glue...the black gunk is the residue from a previous effort to secure can just see the scribed lines I scraped inside to make a secure joint.note also the bridge is not "ebonised" underneath...looks more like birch than maple too.

The action hardly permitted cowboy chords but the guitar had left the factory like that....a reset allows full action adjustment.

This joint is not badly shaped but again the finish has not been fully scraped and glue(removed here) was not even but in blobs.You can see the hole where the "steel reinforced neck" bar ends.Birch neck,maple fingerboard,possibly "baked",and stained on the fretted side.

The bridge is one of the later adjustable types which Harmony seem to have adopted from Gibson just as Gibson learned from their mistake and abandoned them.I've left it alone for now with its original heavy Nylon saddle though they can be fitted with fixed inserts.

The nut was missing so a new one was made from bone and that was about it apart from a cleaning and freeing up of the strip tuners.

The classic "Steel Reinforced Neck" print with tiny "Made In USA" underneath.

Finally the very narrow,low brass frets were polished would be interesting to hear it with modern mediums but they are part of its particular sound.The fingerboard on this was unfinished with inlaid pearloid dots.I restained it slightly as much to clean it up as anything.

The next one we look at was built for Sears,former owners of Harmony.Towards the end they had dropped the Silvertone label and were using a weird little round,metallised badge often called "the space dot"

Look closely.It apparently forms a stylised SR for Sears Roebuck.

It was missing from this when I got it,though a dark circle on the headstock showed its former location.

More seriously, the pinless bridge and the tuners were absent,both just leaving footprints.Even without the bridge it was obviously going to need a reset.Further examination showed two loose braces,in front and behind of the soundhole,and two small cracks in the thin solid birch top where they no longer supported it.These were easily reglued and then I began to make a new bridge from cherrywood,nice and tight grained.

I made this a bit larger all round than the footprint of the missing bridge "ebonised" it and then fitted it.The neck reset could now be measured and with the neck reglued the next step was a bone nut and new tuners,cheap but solid open gear types in the same style as the originals but singles.

New old-school tuners.This shows a common style of Harmony markings on an alternatively branded guitar.Again,proudly Made in USA.

A Silvertone decal was added to the headstock as I couldn't track down a dot logo....

slightly blurry can still see the dots footprint clearly though!

It was now on the home straight....intonation could be set and a slot cut for the saddle then a nice thick bone saddle made and installed.

New pin bridge with bone saddle and recycled Ebony/abalone pins.

There is loads of room for action adjustment and as this guitar was by now spoken for and intended for largely slide use with a vintage converter at the nut I kept the action med/high and the saddle sloping very very slightly down towards the bass side just to keep the strings a bit plays nicely as is,slightly louder and fuller than its Harmony cousin and the wide,flat neck is great for bluesy picking.

This has the classic painted on position markers,small brass frets and a thin finish over over an stained or baked maple board.

Gibson LP Custom eat your heart out....or not.This gives a good idea of the frets fitted to these.

So it was done.I strung both with 10's,you could probably use 11's but the ladder bracing combined with nearly 50yrs does incline to light strings. It would be interesting to try some old school monels or flats on these!

Done.....very happy with this!

Here is one in original condition for comparison...

not the pinless bridge,space dot and how closely the replacement tuners match these originals!

Just do note if you are looking at buying a Harmony that the Korean models closely resemble their US ancestors at times...the first giveaway is under the Harmony logo on the headstock...a tiny "Since 1892".....that indicates a Korean build and won't sound like an original. It is also indicated on the label inside if it is still in there.

..this is a very blurry grab....but look closely under the Harmony logo you can see tiny reads "Since 1892"

So there we are,two neat examples of Americana restored to play and sound better than the day they left the factory.....

This guitar was sold "off the plans",€170

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Thank you. Minor point- Silvertone wasn't a Sears name until 1940. Prior to that they used Supertone. I am uncertain as to when that name started.

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