c.1930 Harmony Airplane Bridge Tenor Guitar

Cool looks (airplane bridge!!!), big punchy, breathy tone, fast player, 15-fret neck join, 22 3/4" scale -- what tenor guitar player wouldn't like this?

With so much lower bout below the bridge and deep sides, this thing has plenty of air to push, yet sits like a tenor banjo in the lap.

After looking around for a long time for another Harmony similar to this one (click here) that I worked on for a customer previously, a good fellow I trade instruments back and forth with in California came up with this guitar, which happens to be the upscale model of the same overall design. We did an old-fashioned swaperoo and I picked this tenor up and have been enjoying it all day since I finished work on it late last night.

Ohhh, right. Provenance...! I'm pretty sure this is a model H1651, the "Roy Smeck" tenor guitar from around c.1930. These Harmony models are seemingly loosely based on the body outlines of a very awkwardly-proportioned and short-lived Martin tenor model, which used a 1-size body with a long neck and high fret join, though of course with the Harmony alterations typical for the time... additional style, ladder bracing, and lightweight to the point of almost structurally dangerous build.

This guitar had seen a LOT of tough times as well as some hokey repair work (it has a bolted neck now! hah).

New repairs included a reglue of a hairline that covered most of the treble side, fret dress, bridge shave, new bone saddle & vintage pins, new end pin, and refinishing of the top. After polishing out it's hard to tell that it's a new finish as it fits right in... save that all that hand polishing means it's very thin and baby-bottom smooth to the touch.

The top had been sanded (very poorly) down to almost bare finish, and with the original pickguard long removed and some rather ugly patch jobs (for pickup knob holes) on the top in evidence, I needed to do something... so I sanded it down (nicely) and sprayed it with some vintage-tone (read: yellowy) nitrocellulose.

Typical Harmony tenor-instrument (high grade) headstock shape. Bone nut. Rosewood fretboard and headstock veneer. Tuners are friction types but I'm very tempted to put some Waverly planets in there and re-use the old buttons.

MOP markers, fella got a fret dress, too.

This neck joins at the 15th fret which gives a huge range before having to play over the body. I have it tuned an octave below mandolin with some pretty light steel and a plain A string, which gives it a very springy mandolin quality... but due to the super light build and bracing, the tone and volume is huge. It has a warm, full-bass, punchy and woody/breathy tonality which is equally suited to fast picking on leads, punchy backing chop chords, and fingerpicking.

New bone saddle, older celluloid pegs. I've shaved the bridge to counter the (usual) Harmony up-bow to the belly of the guitar, and because of the close string slots to the saddle, I've used some extra-long "ball end extenders" on the string ends to keep the wrappings on the string ends from riding over the saddle.

Very understated elegance similar to period Washburns. This guitar's got a solid spruce (bearclaw figure) top and solid mahogany (with curly back) back and sides, with 'hog neck and rosewood bridge/fretboard.


Nice, simple 3-line backstrip.

Ivoroid knobs.

As a 1-size guitar, this fits nicely in my typical "parlor" (13" wide) case that I drag various guitars around in.

Oh right, how do you like that? Someone had a pickup installed earlier, so I took advantage of the jack hole to install a K&K Big Twin... note the crazy bandage muck that was left in the finish from someone's "band-aid" repair... yikes.


Anonymous said...

These airplane bridge instruments by Harmony were issued to commemorate the Lindbergh crossing and probably date from the latter half of 1927, the year the crossing was completed.

Antebellum Instruments said...

While what you say is accurate for the first batch of the airplane-bridge instruments, records show that this model was only made in 1931, and catalogs clearly show airplane-bridge instruments throughout the mid '30s.