c.1930 Harmony "RCAF" Parlor Guitar

Update: Thanks Sean! I've updated the post RE the decals -- they're Royal Canadian Air Force, not RAF, decals!

Update 2: The fella I got this from bumped me over some text images from the shop he purchased the guitar from. Here's the guitar's back story:

This is a nicely-made, spruce-over-birch size 2 ("parlor" size) guitar made by Harmony around 1925-1930. I've worked on a lot of this model over time in its widely-varying versions and my experience has been that they make excellent fingerpickers so long as the owner treats them well. They're built with extemely light ladder bracing and unreinforced necks, so extra-light (47w to 10) strings are what I suggest for them. It would hold up under 11s (50w to 11) though you increase the risk of top deformation over time with a set of them tuned to standard (E to E) tuning.

As it is, when I set these up, I string them up and let them sit a couple days, then do a full setup. This is because the top bells up into a light dome shape (think Gibson-y looking) after tension settles in and then I can do an accurate setup.

No doubt, if you're looking for that early blues or folky-fingerpicking sound with a sweet-sounding but clear bottom end, this is the sort of guitar you want! They also record really, really easy due to the balanced sound from top to bottom.

Work on this fellow included a neck reset, new rosewood bridge, saddle and pins, a fret level/dress, seam repairs to the back/sides, drop-filling of some stable hairline cracks on the back, cleaning, and full setup. It plays great with that 1 3/4" nut, flat-fretboard, and low-action feel. It's riding at 3/32" on the bass and 1/16" at the treble at the 12th fret -- spot on.

The cream pearloid-covered headstock and fretboard look great! That's also an original bone nut.

Nice black celluloid dots. Due to the way the board and celluloid changed with weather over time, the 12th fret is almost flush behind the fret (body side) while it's taller on the playing side (neck side). All the frets have been leveled and dressed, though, so it plays well up and down the board.

So, there are a couple things this guitar has going for it in the looks department compared to a typical version of this model. First, the matching pickguard is inlaid into the top rather than simply glued into it. This means it's flush with the top and this looks/feel very cool. Next, the top and soundhole edges are both bound with white celluloid binding and have multicolored (green/blue/orange/red/tan) half-herringbone purfling. This stuff looks great!

And finally...

...the guitar sports Ryoal Canadian Air Force decals! One is below the bridge while the other is on the upper bout.

Check out the new rosewood bridge with its bone saddle and ebony pins. You can see the outline of two different previous bridges, though, at the bridge wings.

This RCAF decal has some checking but has the RAF motto on it "per ardua ad astra" -- "through struggle to the stars." Yes, they did the Roman thing, and the V on the decal = a U in modern script.

Per Sean's comment: "I'm not a military historian but I believe that both of those decals are RCAF not RAF. The RCAF played a huge role in training air crews from all over the Commonwealth during the war."

Though many instruments were played by military staff during the war, so few have evidence of their "participation" in it!


While the top is solid spruce, the back and sides are solid birch. I'm also pretty sure that neck is poplar.

These are new Stewart MacDonald repro tuners ($40 value) as the original sets weren't much use. These look just like the originals (and are "worn" to appear like them, too) but function with much tighter specs.

Note the slight "crown" profile to the headstock's top. Typical Harmony!

The neck is now set quite well and should be good to go for the future, barring someone leaving this in the trunk of their car on a hot day!

Recent plastic endpin.

So, there are two hairline cracks on the back that someone attempted to fix with tape in the past. I've removed most of the tape's guck (some is now integral to the finish, of course), and drop-filled the cracks. Since they run over braces, they've remained very stable over time and continue to be stable.

The only other crack on the guitar is a "pickguard crack" along the pickguard's left (bass-side) edge. That's filled and cleated and couldn't show up in the pictures since it's smaller and under the pickguard's edge.


Sean said...

I'm not a military historian but I believe that both of those decals are RCAF not RAF. The RCAF played a huge role in training air crews from all over the Commonwealth during the war.

Antebellum Instruments said...

Hi Sean -- you're totally right. I missed the C in my haste. Will update the post. I figured the owner was probably Canadian since it's an American guitar!

Dustin Christensen said...

curious how much you're looking to get for this? been looking for a little parlor



Antebellum Instruments said...

Hi Dustin -- pricing is on the inventory page link at the top of the page. Thanks for the interest!


jimrecht said...

beautiful guitar, and great blog entry!