10/12/2014

c.1942 Harmony H917 Stella Parlor Guitar




This isn't your bog-standard Harmony-made Stella parlor. This one is fantastically interesting (to me) from a historical point of view. It's also extremely clean and crack-free for a guitar stamped with a Fall 42 date inside. The model is H917 and more info can be had at this link.

What makes this such a cool guitar is that the neck is actually old Oscar Schmidt stock from the New Jersey factory. By 1939 Harmony had acquired Oscar Schmidt's leftover parts and Stella, La Scala, and Sovereign brand names after OS went under. These guitars are apparently one way for Harmony to use up old stock during the transition years. The "Stella" name appears on Harmony builds after '39 but not often as directly as this... where the "Stella" name on this neck is quite honestly a "real Stella." The body, however, is pure Harmony output and is the standard shape for Harmony's 0-size 12-fretters from the late 30s right through the 70s.


This is an all-solid birch guitar (on the body) with a poplar neck and dyed maple fretboard and bridge. The binding is painted-on and the rosette is a pearlescent decal (I'm sure this is old-stock Oscar Schmidt as well since I've seen it used on any number of old OS parlors). Bracing is ladder-style and the guitar has a great, honky, bluesy sort of tone to it.

The work necessary (and all done) included a neck reset, fret level/dress, slight bridge shave and modding (I intonated the B slot by clipping and moving the fret saddle back for that string), light cleaning and setup. Neck sets are almost always a given on old Harmony (or OS) builds from anywhere around this time but it was a nice surprise to have essentially nothing else wrong with it. The paint and finish job looks like a new old-stock product that's perhaps a couple years old. I blame this fantastic condition on the fact that the guitar lived in its original case for so long.


The tuners are period but not from this guitar. They fit perfectly and have cool slotted shafts that accept the string-ends sort of like Kluson "safe-t-string" units but the original tuners had some sticky gears and broken buttons so I used these instead.

The nut is rosewood and this had a Hawaiian setup (raised nut) used, it seems, from day one. You can tell by faint marks on the board and behind the nut and (most obvious when it came in) some penciled-on fret numbering that I've since cleaned off.

This now plays spot-on as a regular "Spanish" style guitar with 1/16" treble and 3/32" bass action at the 12th fret. The scale length is 24 1/8" which makes this feel spry and quick with the set of 50w-11 strings I have on it.


Plastic dots... and cool old thin/low original brass frets. The neck profile on this guitar is kind of a huge old V shape. Unlike a 30s/40s big Harmony V, though, this original Oscar Schmidt V neck cut seems quite a bit more manageable to me. That's one thing I've always felt in favor of with old OS makes: those big necks are surprisingly inviting (and stable!). This one is dead straight.



Here you can see the adjustments I've made to the bridge (which is also set at a slight angle for intonation) so that it plays in tune while still using the cool old fret-saddle floating bridge. The tailpiece is the "Idento" style which lets you place your name in the rectangular slot where the ball-ends mount on a piece of cardstock.

Yes, the "antiqued" look of the tail is original.



It's a pretty slick looker, huh?








I added a new endpin and re-hung the tailpiece just slightly favoring the treble side for a good straight string path.


Yeah... original chip case... and in good practical shape, too!

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