10/13/2012

c.1936 Harmony "The Vagabond" 000 Guitar




This all-solid birch, 000-size, pin bridge guitar was made by Harmony in 1936. It even has the Harmony S-36 date stamp inside. The "Vagabond" name was one of their catalog sales pitches at the time for a line of instruments which were (for the most part) lower-end, but had these cool Renaissance-faire decals plastered all over them.

This particular instrument has a great, big, old-timey tone that really suits fingerpicking and old-time flatpicking and the (odd for flattop Harmony guits of the time) 14-fret neck gives players a bit more room to work with.

I got this guitar through Mike & Kathy Larkin, who are going to be December's featured act at our shop's concert series. When they brought it in, the bridge needed replacing, the frets needed leveling and dressing, there were a number of seams needing regluing, and it needed general cleaning and setup, too.


This has a 15 1/2" lower bout with a wide upper bout, too, and while it's generally 000 size, it feels more like a dreadnought when you're playing it. The top bracing is ladder style, and one or two needed some small regluing, but despite its size the light bracing means that fairly light gauges should be used. I have extra lights on this at the moment, though 50w-11 would probably be what I'd use on it max. The tops tend to deflect on these after that and they really don't need much drive, anyway, since they're so responsive.


I like how the sunburst was carried up to the headstock, too. Note the original wood nut: it has some "extra" slots but the original 6 were still there, so I just reused it. Looks like someone tried this as a tenor for a while.


The board appears to be dyed birch or maple. The fret markers are stenciled-on but very cool. This is a 25" scale instrument.


The "binding" and pickguard are also just painted-on, but they do give the guitar a pop-out look. I love how the bass lower-bout's top edge faux-binding has been worn-off from the player's picking arm.


The decal is in great shape, with bright colors and clear definition.





The original bridge was a dyed-maple sort, but it was half-missing and cracked-up. I made this very simple rosewood one to replace it. Rather than shaping the wings, I left them deep to provide more support to the top. In addition, I also installed an additional bridge plate to stiffen this area of the top and give better mounting to the strings. I used a vintage brass fret saddle and older plastic pins to complete the retro look.

FYI, most old ladder-braced guitars have a wide bridge plate that extends from one side of the top to the other and sort of acts as extra bracing. When I installed my extra bridge plate over it I used a length of quartersawn cedar and spread it about 2/3 the width of the top. If I can or have reason to do so (ie, had to glue in a new bridge anyway), I tend to reinforce the bridge-plate area on old ladder-braced Harmony products since they're so often subject to bellying from the light bracing when even light (54w to 12) strings are used.


Date stamp.




Lubed the tuners and they work just fine.


So, the neck angle was just fine on this guitar and seemed sturdy enough, but for extra insurance I bolted the neck as well since it wasn't necessary to do a neck reset. The strap button on the heel conceals the bolt's head and makes a useful hanger, too. I make sure to first smooth off a round area so the button sits flat, though.


And here's the inside.




No cracks throughout, good 3/32" (at the 12th) action, and an original wood endpin. Can't ask too much more out of a fun old big-body thumper.

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