1960s Harmony First Impressions

On July 11, 2010, in Repairs, by Magnolia Guitar

1960s Harmony H162

I received a 1960s Harmony flat-top in the mail today, much to the wife’s chagrin. There’s a lot more work to be done than I originally thought, but the outlook is still pretty good and it’ll make a great project.

In the mid-1960s, Harmony was the largest stringed instrument manufacturer in the US. Similar models to this H162 were also sold under other names like Stella or Silvertone, the Sears brand. I was happy to finally own one after seeing Justin Townes Earle perform some radio station promos with one.

When I opened the box and began examining the instrument, I thought that the overall quality of the all solid mahogany back and sides was pretty good. Sure, it has 50-years of wear on it, but the grain was good. I found a small knot in the waist, but whoever built it had enough sense to place it on the treble-side so you never see it. The amount of glue squeeze-out on the inside is atrocious!

Even before I strummed it I thought, “Why did someone put electric strings on this?” But upon further inspection, I think I might know why. They were avoiding having to work on the neck.

There’s a slight amount of neck relief. Nothing too crazy that normally I would straighten out. The problem, however, is that while these Harmonys have a “Steel Reinforced Neck,” they are not adjustable. I thought that someone might have used light electric strings to decrease the tension on the neck. While that might have be the case, I’m sure it was by accident. Because when I saw that the previous owner brought the action down at the saddle to where the break angle was nearly flat, I checked the neck again.

Yessir, this here guitar needs a neck reset.

Sometimes what you see in this situation is a repair tech, after bringing the saddle all the way down to nothing, might decide to sand down the height of the actual bridge. What you’re left with then is a guitar that needs a neck reset AND a new bridge. But luckily, the bridge seems in tact, so at least I’ve got that on my side.

Once I have the neck reset taken care of, I’ll have to decide if I want to level and crown the existing frets. There’s still a lot of life left in them, but some advice is that you should always do a refret after a neck reset. I’ll also make a new nut and saddle.

Finally, although only a cosmetic issue, the plastic pickguard has shrunk and should be replaced. This isn’t uncommon. I’ll consider that at the end. Also one of the tuning peg shafts is bent. It’s still usable, just quirky-looking. I may just leave it and chalk it up to “character.” This is gonna be fun!

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