c.1936 Harmony-made Vagabond Jumbo Tailpiece Guitar

When I bought this guitar I knew there were structural issues that weren't among my favorite repairs to do, but I had to have it for the shop because it's so cool. The stamp inside the soundhole reads "S-36" which is Harmony's code for Spring/Summer 1936. The model -- offhand I have no idea what model this one is. What is apparent, is that it's dreadnought sized (15" lower bout and feels big), sports a tailpiece setup on a flat top, and has a 14-fret neck join. All of these details make a great, big-sounding and loud country blues or old-time guitar and to top it off, the decals are first-rate cool as well.

So, the work? A bunch of top brace reglues including replacing the under-fretboard ladder and installing reinforcement braces to either side of the soundhole. The top has/had deformed around the soundhole due to many years of storage with loose braces and up-to-pitch strings so it has a collapsed look around the edges, but post-work it's good and stable.

Other work, let's see... one hairline crack repair to the rear. Neck reset and a bit of touch-up around the neck join edges (apparently the heel shape wasn't cut quite nice at the factory). Along with the reset I also installed a bolt through the heel and neck block for further stability. I was worried about the neck pocket cut's glue slipping at the bottom edge if this got hot in a car or something so I wanted to reinforce it further.

What else...? Fret level, dress, setup... and a new rosewood bridge to replace the (too low) original mystery wood bridge.

The finished product is a fun, rollicking, booming, loud guitar that'll cut for work in any folkie band and will certainly get looks on the singer-songwriter circuit. The minstrel scene on the lower bout is just too cool.

And an FYI here... Harmony sold a whole line of "Vagabond" instruments -- tenor banjos, mandolins, guitars, tenor guitars, and I think even a few ukes -- all dressed up in this fashion. A lot of the earlier ones had real binding and faux-tortoise fretboards but on this one all the trim is painted-on.

Original nut, original tuners have been lubed and work great. Strings are 50w-11 and the scale length is 25" for good tension.

Stenciled fret markers.

The "pickguard" is painted-on, but how cool!

Just a note here as well: body is all solid birch while the fretboard is a mystery-hardwood dyed dark. The neck looks like poplar.

All the hardware except for this rosewood bridge is original.

Functional tailpiece.

Note some chip at the 12th fret. The board was unfortunately very soft and even rocking the fret out gently chipped it. This is sadly pretty usual for dyed hardwood fretboards as the ebonizer in the dye eventually softens the top layer of the wood. Nothing to worry about as far as playing and stability -- it's just a nuisance for repair.

The "eggshell" finish is in pretty good shape. It's slightly faded from sunlight here and there but overall nice and bright.

Here's my strap-button/neck-bolt apparatus. It tightens up with a nut on the inside. I only do this in rare circumstances and not ever on fancy instruments. For this fella, it makes all the difference.

Here you can see some of the deformation around the soundhole. A lot of these old, super-lightweight ladder-braced guitars get this. It's a symptom of a loose above-soundhole brace and years of bad storage.

It even has the original chip case!


Chris said...

I have one of these. Great sound for slide guitar. The aged birch helps. Of course it isn't the easiest thing to play up the fret board without the slide, but there is enough playability there to enjoy the experience. Paid $125 a year ago and it was a great purchase. Many hours spent playing it to this point. It seems to have been stored properly except for of course humidification. I picked it up in the case not long after I purchased it and it fell out of the bottom of the case (defective latch) and split the top and the back. Given my minimal cost, I just got some wood glue in the cracks and put a flat weight on it overnight and was back playing a day later. The glue has held up. Yours is the only other guitar I have seen with the tailpiece, which I think should be highly sought after because of the minimal stress put on the top over the years. I don't have the sound hole warping seen with your guitar. I don't think mine was played all that much because there aren't enough signs of wear to warrant being played for 80 years. Glad to have found this article and be able to feel even better about the purchase I made.

revfish said...

I have one of these given to me by my Grandmother's cousin who played it in a square dance band. Until today, I had no idea it was made by Harmony because there is no indication on the guitar of a manufacturer. Years ago, I threw away the case. Much of the original bracing, etc has come off. It sits in my office on top of my book cases. I haven't put string on it in years because of severe cracking but I keep it because it was my first guitar. I received it for Christmas around 1960. The only marking inside the sound hole is a faint number that looks like it is 180. NIce to know the origin of my mystery guitar.