2/09/2015

1940s Harmony-made SS Stewart Archtop Mandolin




Harmony made a lot of SS Stewart-branded products through the 30s and 40s and this is one of them. It's about as bare-bones as it gets for an archtop mandolin from their lineup and it's solid birch throughout (poplar neck, though, probably). After work (neck reset, new rosewood bridge, fret level/dress, cleaning) it makes a good student or knockabout instrument with perfect playability and a decent sound. It's certainly not going to kick any doors down on the tone/volume side but it does have a more authentic and pleasant tone than your average Asian-import mandolin and records easily.

It's also got a great vibe in the looks department.


The top looks like spruce at a glance and the back and sides look like maple at a glance but they're both "faux-grained" with paint. The sunburst effect is real enough, however.

This mando is crack-free, though it does show general use-wear. Everything is original on the instrument except for a missing pickguard/bracket and the replacement bridge.


The SS Stewart stencil is pretty nice and the original bone nut was easily re-used.


The board is dyed maple with pearl dots and original brass frets. The frets needed some small amount of tinkering before I leveled/dressed them but they're all in good order. Note my addition of white side dots.


This came to me with a really funky bridge. I've replaced it with a rosewood one that I've cut and finished to a quality level appropriate to the instrument (so it doesn't stand out). It's compensated.


The tail works just fine and has some muting material stuffed under it to cancel out string-afterlength overtones.








After a bit of lube the tuners work well.


For whatever foolish reason, Harmony chose to install the necks on these with a tenon joint. It'd already been "reset" once and had come apart over time. I decided to shore up the design flaw of a tenon joint built this way by also installing this Fender-style neck screw into the joint while I reglued it. The strap button and washer on the outside serve to hide the modification.


This has a set of 32w-9 strings on it but the 14" scale could easily handle a set of 10s as well. I just didn't have an extra set on hand. I wouldn't want to put a regular bluegrass/11s set on it, though, as the neck is unreinforced.




I also added a strap button at the tail.

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