1959 Harmony H1215T Archtop Tenor Guitar

This is a consignor's Harmony tenor (date-stamped inside to 1959) and it arrived here in pretty decent shape. The frets were very worn and the bridge needed to both be compensated and modified for more adjustability, but the fundamentals of the instrument were good. It has a nice, creamy sort of tone with just the right amount of snap. I wouldn't want to be using this primarily for lead work but as a "backing box" it sure sounds nice.

It's got a 22 3/4" scale length, 16" lower bout, and its body is all solid birch while the neck is poplar and both the bridge and fretboard are dyed maple or pearwood. Work included leveling/dressing the frets, bridge and nut adjustments, and addition of a countersunk screw in the neck (more on that later in the post). I also added side dots and replacement tuners... though I used repro Kluson-style ones to keep the 50s vibe going.

Despite the faux-grain top and the faux-binding (painted stripes), these are cool-looking guits and pretty collectable. This model is in quite a bit of demand these days as I'm always getting askers on already-sold ones I've worked on in the past.

It helps that so many uke and mandolin players want to "double" on these instruments, too.

Original bone nut and cute Harmony stenciled logo.

These original brass frets were quite pitted but they leveled out just fine. I have this strung with 32w, 22w, 16, 12 strings for DGBE (Chicago) style tuning at the moment. On the 22 3/4" scale's extra sustain and bite this makes a good "tight" chordal tuning. The neck has a very minor (1/64") bit of upwards relief on the treble side when tuned to pitch. This is pretty standard relief for most guitars and I don't notice at all. Action is quick and spot-on at 1/16" at the 12th fret.

Also note all the finger-wear on the board! Well-played.

I did a bit of light fitting of this original bridge and also cut it for compensated slots. This compensation works great for two plain, two wound strings -- suitable for CGDA standard or DGBE tunings and also octave mandolin GDAE as long as the A string is plain (like a 17 or 18).

There's a 3-4" hairline crack at the back waist area that's been filled and is stable. It goes right over kerfing, mostly, so there's no worry.

So... the neck was stable in its joint when this came in, but I don't trust Harmony products that I haven't reinforced in some way (either with a total neck reset or otherwise). So... I countersunk a Fender-style neck screw inside the heel and into the neck block for future "safety." You can see the satin "circle" of finish where I did this. It's not obvious unless you're looking for it.

Except for the tuners, all the hardware is original, right down to this endpin.

...and check this out! This is a nicer, old-style molded-top hard case with aluminum edging. It works just fine and looks the part, too.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I really dig your site and appreciate your expertise, but can't imagine how you could drill a hole and drive a screw through the neck heel of this guitar as a "preventative measure?" The necks are easy enough to pop off and do a neck reset if needed, if it didn't need it, why drill holes in it?
Thanks, Mike

Jake Wildwood said...

I understand your reservations about it, but I've worked on so many of these old Harmony guitars that I absolutely know the joint will pop loose over time and require a neck reset down the road. The likely buyer of a guitar like this isn't going to baby it like a more expensive instrument and I understand that so I want to make things as practical for use as they can be.

What would happen if I didn't do this is that the next owner wouldn't catch the slight separation as it starts, the fretboard extension would ramp up, and it would become unplayable. If he/she didn't deal with it, the board would start separating from the neck and extension, and it would look like all the rest of these do. Without adding support it's unknown how long the neck will be playable before issues: years? Months? Decades? I know for certain with that guy in there that nothing will be required of this joint to stay stable for a very, very long time.

The bottom line here is: this is not my guitar. Would the current owner want to put in $200+ worth of work for me to do the suite of neck reset, fret level/dress, bridge fitting and adjusting, new tuners, and setup and then sell at a loss? Doubtful.

Guitars like this are worth their intrinsic value as playable, interesting instruments but not so much as a collector's item. Harmony prices keep going up but the lower-end stuff is still basically keeping pace with the average price of alternative new instruments.

I do a lot of conversions, these days, of Chicago-made necks to double-bolt (internal adjustment) necks in addition to traditional neck resets because so many of the neck pockets are just so poorly made and they need to be shimmed-up like crazy. I have had zero issues down the road with that type of bolted-neck reset job on old Chicago instruments but I've had several traditionally-reset necks move over time in ways I hadn't anticipated. We're talking about several over the course of many, many, many hundreds of instruments... but I know why they did it and there are always reasons behind what I do.

I hope that makes things a little more understandable.