c.1940 Harmony-made Stadium Ideal Carved-top Guitar

High-end Harmony guitars from "the best years" are really hard to come by. I was so lucky to find this one that I'm still pinching myself. The date stamp inside appears to read "S-40" which plops it right down at 1940, just pre-war and with Harmony at the top of their game. The only other comparable Harmony products I've worked on were this Armstrong and this Armstrong.

Like those two, this is just as good a guitar as most Gibson carved-top instruments from the same time in terms of tone and build quality but the styling is definitely way more Chicago.

It was in really good shape right out of the shipping box and the only work I did on it included a fret level/dress, cleaning, slight bridge reprofiling (and installation of replacement vintage adjuster wheels), setup, and tuner lube.

This guitar has tons of stuff going for it. The most obvious is the 16"-wide solid-spruce carved-top construction (rather than pressed) with a steep profile sort of like an Epiphone. The bracing is simple tonebar style and is closer together than Gibsons. Combined with a long 25 1/4" scale I'd expect this to sort of bark and punch with a lot of midrange like an Epiphone but what it actually does is punch with a lot of warmth (well, archtop warmth!) and sweet jazzy cut like a Gibson. It's velvety.

Did I also mention the guitar is 100% crack free?

I've tried it with both roundwounds and flatwounds and I like it both ways but your string choice will of course relate to the type of music you're playing. Because this one has a lot more complexity than usual the guitar is useful for just about any genre you'd like to put it in, save pure bluegrass.

The headstock veneer is way-cool celluloid. Note also that the hardware was originally gold-plated! Original bone nut, too.

The bound rosewood fretboard has twin lines inlaid down the center and abalone/celluloid diamond inlays. The neck had just a tiny bit of relief (1/64") when I first got it but the fret level/dressing took care of that. It's currently strung up with 52w-11s which is what I tend to suggest on these old Chicago builds. The only reinforcement in the one-piece slightly-flamed maple neck is a steel rod under the board.

Nice, good-quality (Grover? Kluson?) tailpiece. It was originally gold-plated but has worn off and tarnished here and there. The bridge is rosewood and adjustable.

The multi-ply firestripe pickguard has "Stadium" engraved into it. Very cool!

Also check out the nice herringbone top purfling. Originally that stuff was yellow, green, and black but the green has faded over time.

The red-brown sunburst is just so darn gorgeous! Original finish, of course, with some usewear throughout but overall in really good shape.

Flamed maple back with center-stripe. My guess is that the back is laminate or pressed but I'm not entirely sure. I didn't lift the binding to check.

The original, high-quality gold-plated Grover tuners work just great.

Note that the neck profile on this is slim and quick but with a decidedly Chicago feel to it. It's a little flatter on the back than a round Gibson but plays quickly throughout. Action is setup at 1/16" on the treble and a little under 3/32" on the bass at the 12th fret (spot on).

Nice celluloid heel cap. The neck set is perfect and ready to go.

The finish on the one-piece maple neck wore off to reveal a small knot here near the 5th fret where the finish would have covered it to begin with. Still, the wood in the neck is nice stuff and has flame here and there throughout its length.

I like inlaid end-strips, especually when they have their original pearl-inlaid buttons!

This comes with the original case, though it's pretty much a dust cover at this point.


Anonymous said...


Antebellum Instruments said...

Hey, no need to scream. As I recall there was a redbox stamp like the carved top stamps but it was pretty faded. I've had my hands on Harmony products of both types and, to be honest, the stamp isn't on all of their carved top products -- a good instance is on the (obviously) carved Armstrong guitars that're Harmony-made and style-numbered... no mark on those.

davidalbertrathbone said...

Hey Jake,
maximum kudos for an awesome website, which remains a great permanent resource for amateur luthiers worldwide. I'm moved to make this post because I believe Stadium guitars were made by Kay, not Harmony, on the basis of a Stadium "King" I've just bought off eBay (for $675), which is identical to an antebellum Kay archtop currently on sale on eBay for a cool six grand -- except for the headstock design (although headstock shape and tuners are the same), the quality of the timbers, and the original vintage pick-up. The unusual bridge and tailpiece are identical, as are the shape, size, binding and many other details. Here's links to the two eBay listings.

The six grand Kay:

And the $675 Stadium King:

Cheers from Downunder,
DaveR, Melbourne, Australia.

Jake Wildwood said...

Yup, those two are definitely Kays, however -- the Stadium in this post is a Harmony. Aside from scale and fretboard style, note the distinctly different heel shapes and the more "squared" cut to the Kay bodies in the shoulders and waist. Besides, this one had a Harmony model stamp # in it, though the # was useless for model ID since it wasn't a Harmony-catalog instrument.