11/29/2010

c.1947 Harmony H996 Monterey Archtop Guitar


Date stamp places this build at Fall 1947, while the model stamp is H996, a Harmony "Monterey" model with solid spruce top and solid maple back and sides. Fretboard and bridge are rosewood and the bridge is adjustable. Bound top, back, and fretboard in cream celluloid.

The short of it? This has one of those fast just-post-war Harmony necks, with just a slight bit of relief, is super lightweight, sports maple back and sides, good volume, projection, and a balanced warmer-than-expected tone and good sustain.

I like it!


Body shape is slightly wider and rounder in the upper bout than older 30s Harmony archtops which gives it more of a jumbo or dreadnought feel in the lap, but quite comfortable and easy to handle.


Everything on the guitar is original to it, but it's missing its end-pin. Tuners work just fine. Bone nut.


MOP dots in the board and side-dots on the neck binding.


Finish has age and weather crackle but still gleams and looks great.


Good adjustable bridge.


I glued up this tight hairline crack caused by the pickguard mounting screw. Pickguard is missing.




Good tight heel.






Sunburst is all over and looks great.


c.1930 Regal (beat) Octofone


This is a pretty beat-up old Regal Octofone, probably c.1930 (they made them into the 40s). I received it in trade for an old Japanese electric guitar I had converted into a 9-string guitar (ie, 3 plain bass wound strings, 6 treble strings, like 3/4 of a twelve string). At ANY rate, for further information about these peculiarities, which are essentially 8-string tenor guitars or early-style octave mandolins, check out this old post (click for link).


This one had obviously had some "work" done to it -- refinished, grimed-up top, loose braces, a newer bridge installed, sagging belly, and over time some tough strings gave the neck a little warp. I had previously set this instrument up for the customer who later traded it in, so when I got it back it was all set to go, but my work before included: fret dress, brace re-glues, recut of the newer bridge, installation of a period parts-bin tailpiece, and general setup. Its action is around 1/8" at the 12th fret, but because of the slight warp it's got more height than usual at the 5th to 10th frets.

Because of the scale length and lighter string gauges (do NOT use regular octave mandolin strings on these -- they're far too lightly built) it feels comfortable to play, though, and is a great chord-monster with a warm, sweet tone.


Tuners are period, but they've got "two left feet" meaning one set tunes up backwards from normal.


Someone installed a "12th fret" dot at the 13th fret... nice...


...and I'll bet you there were rhinestones in those divots around the soundhole at one point.


Decent ebony/bone bridge, but the previous fella who "worked" on it hadn't fit it right which meant the tone was lousy.






Strap buttons (newer) at end pin area and heel. I love the body shape on these guys -- fit nice in the lap and look practically medieval.



11/21/2010

c.1900 Viola Da Terra


A Portuguese-derived instrument, this type of "viola" it associated with the Azores Islands. This particular one probably dates c.1890s to c.1920s, and originally had wooden tuner pegs. There are a whole variety of different "violas" of these types -- ie, steel-strung, octave-tuned, guitar-shaped instruments coming out of Portugal -- and you can take a look at some others by clicking here. They're essentially related in sound and playing style to the Portuguese guitar (a cittern-like 12-string instrument with a mandolin-ish body shape), but feature a more guitar-oriented tuning (typically ADGBD like a guitar's "top five" with the E tuned down) and also a baroque guitar body shape.

The bridges on Portuguese instruments like these are terribly cool -- being in two parts with the larger part acting as string anchor and also a top-mounted brace, and the second part being the actual bridge where the strings transfer their energy into the top. This gives a tone somewhere between that of a tailpiece-load instrument and a guitar-load (ie, glued bridge) instrument -- warm and sweet but also punchy and strident.


My work on this fella included regluing the bridge, crafting of a new bone saddle, new nut, installation of 12 new friction tuners (uke style), and also regluing of some bracing and the center seam of the top.


It's come out really nice and plays fantastically, despite a slightly peculiarly back-bowed neck, though I do have to cut a new saddle that's --slightly -- taller on the lowest course.

Scale length is 21.5" and the strings are arranged 3-3-2-2-2 from bass to treble.


Rosewood fretboard, original frets.


Fun bridge(s) and inlaid marquetry on the lower bout. Top is bound with wood (maple?) binding and also purfled with b/w/b wood.


Cool twin-heart soundholes with inlaid rosette.


These instruments are both folky-looking and stately-looking at the same time. Very fun stuff.




I'm not sure what the back, side, and neck woods are, but there's a chance that they're cypress or something similar under that dark red stain.


These tuners look like a hassle but they're not all that bad. They're simple Grover uke tuners but get the job done without alteration to the instrument.





Simple eye-hook end pin. I may actually drill out a hole and put a wood one in at some point. My wifey's leaning towards my holding onto this instrument... and I can't complain! I've passed up a few Portuguese guitars that I loved and this thing has the best of both worlds --- a guitar-like body and neck with the sound of the guitarra -- and retunes easily from ADGBD to "guitar" ADGBE or "banjo" (or Keith Richards g-tuning) GDGBD quite easily.

c.1925 Oscar Schmidt O-size "Parlor" Guitar


Blues fiends, eat your hearts out. These old Oscar Schmidt (New Jersey) guitars are what old folk-blues fellas just love, especially since a smattering of 20s and 30s artists used them. This is their O-size concert-ish model, one of their typical mailorder line ones, bearing the dubious "American Conservatory" name, and made from solid birch throughout. Of course, like most of their entry/mid-grade models, is has some way-cool decalomania stuff going on with a faux-pearl rosette and funky backstrip.


This guitar was a mess when I got it -- no bridge, seams open, top braces all popping off, in need of a neck set, cracks in the fretboard, etc. -- and in addition to that the old owner had popped strings in the pin holes (sans bridge) and then used a dowel on the top as a "floating bridge" -- thus the old pin holes started wearing out and tearing up the top where the original bridge used to be.

At any rate, I did all the necessary work, cleaned it up, and set it up, and it has a beautiful warm, sweet, and direct tone, perfect for fingerstyle, blues, ragtime, you name it.



Cute little decal.


MOP dots on the ebonized board.


Sweet reflective decalomania "rosette."


I used a belly bridge rather than a pyramid type because of the totally worn-out and slightly damaged old bridge pin holes. This placed the new pin holes further back on an untouched part of the bridge plate and top, and also stiffened the top a little bit further. I chose rosewood rather than ebony because rosewood tends to impart a sweeter, warmer tone, and sometimes these old ladder-braced guitars can be quite honky of the bright part of the sound is enhanced.

And speaking of the top... it's nice and flat, no belly... which is nicely surprising!


It's cool how the sanded edges give this a "wood binding" look. And the sunburst finish, of course, looks fantastic. This guitar's a nice player, but the big old v-neck is a "must get used to" feature for many modern guitarists.





The guitar is also fortunately crack-free save a 1.5" hairline on the back, which is glued up.



Cool brass-plate & bakelite-buttoned tuners work fine.







...and an original MOP-inlaid end pin. Not bad!

This guitar sports a 25" scale which gives it a little bit more of a "modern" sound over the usual 24" scale guitars of the time, which sound mushier or too rich when flatpicked heavily.