2/01/2016

1920s Harmony-made Decalcomania Hawaiian Parlor Guitar




This pretty old parlor is one in a long line of decal-bedecked Harmony-made flattops intended, from the factory, for Hawaiian (raised-string, lap-slide style) play. I usually convert these over to "Spanish" style, but a 1/32" or so warp in the neck convinced me to simply restore it to factory-original as a Hawaiian. That included replacing a split original bridge with a vintage straight-saddle one, a neck reset, and some seam repairs as well as a new tall bone nut and replacement tuners.

The tone is, as it should be, delicious and wide-open. I often think that these guitars sound "in their element" when played as they were meant to be (Hawaiian style) as the bar-and-fingerpicks method really brings out a ton of volume, punch, and sustain despite the small body size.


The top is solid spruce and ladder-braced. It's very, very lightly-built and so while I have this in open E tuning (EBEG#BE) the strings are relatively light for its 24 1/8" (short) scale length. I have it strung 50w, 36w, 26w, 18w, 16, 12 for even tension around the same as a set of 11s at those pitches.


I put a big old bone nut on there for stability. The tuners are replacements (50s units) but they more-or-less look the part of the 20s tuners that're no longer with the guitar.

Note that there's a small "line" just below the nut on the fretboard. That was for the factory-installed metal nut extender that's so, so common to find on these.


The neck is poplar and the fretboard is stained maple. The frets are brass. Stained maple boards tend to get a little mealy, brittle, and also tend to get hairline cracks up and down their length. This is mostly due to the "ebonizing" stain. The dots look like clay or celluloid.


Nice purfling, huh? This guitar is bound on the top, back, and soundhole edges. Originally all that purfling would've been bright yellows, oranges, browns, and greens. It's mostly muted, now, but still looks handsome.


The bridge is a replacement from my parts-bin (probably off a Regal) but it is period. I used one that was just a hair larger than the original one to cover up a bit of a messy old reglue job in the past and also reinforce the top area. The wood pins and endpin, however, are all original.


The cool island-scene decals are, of course, the highlight of the instrument.



The back and sides are solid birch. Note that there are no cracks on the guitar's body save some very small tiny hairline cracks right at the widest part of the lower bout's edges. They're over kerfing and so pose no structural concern.



The neck has been reset both with glue and a couple extra internally-installed bolt/screws.


The side decals are awesome, too!





8 comments:

charlie said...

I'm always amazed at the workmanship of these pre 1930's Harmony/Supertone 'peanut' shaped small guitars. From my experience they never diaappoint. I've had about 6 of them restored and set up 'spanish' style and given them to my young grandchildren as their first guitar. Some of those 'kids' now in their 20's and 30's with more than a few guitars and they still value their first guitar as the one to play lounging around in a group with family or friends.

Jake Wildwood said...

Yeah, the light build always sounds good and makes a great fingerpicker. They're very simple inside but they were doing things like thicknessing and cutting the braces just so to make them sound great. Regal instruments are similarly-excellent in that regard, too.

Anonymous said...


I used to have a Supertone-branded version of this guitar, only it was all birch. Great tone just like you say and you gotta love those classy Hawaiian-scene decals.


PS I believe there's a 'c' in decalcomania.

charlie said...

The history of decalcomania on guitars is an interesting one. The process was developed in Europe in the 18th century for ceramic decoration and arrived in the US about 1865. The music industry embraced it in the 1890's, initially for piano decoration and then stringed instruments. The main manufacturer in the US was the Meyerchord company in Chicago from 1894 .

I was told that these Supertone/Harmony decals of the 1920's (such as this one and the Bradley Kincaid Houn' Dog Guitar were not the usual water slide decals but were done onto a thin paper like rice paper and applied to the guitar after it was lacquered. Then lacquered over again, paper and all. Thus the cracking and slightly raised surface. Most other decals were waterslide directly onto the raw wood, then lacquered over.

Jake Wildwood said...

That's fascinating. I concur that the Harmony ones crack like nuts -- makes sense to me.

charlie said...

And of course Anonymous is correct, the term is decalcomania that was shorted to 'decal' in the US. These days Decalcomania often is attributed to Oscar Schmidt decal decorated guitars, but it was the original term for decals (if that sentence makes sense).

These days "stencil guitars" encompasses decal, screen printed and stencil decorated instruments. Decals can be quite detailed and are easy to spot, if you look at screen printed decoration you can see little squares where the ink/paint has pressed between the silk, and it wasn't used on guitars until the early 1930's that I can tell. Stencil decoration is identified by slight (or sometimes a great deal) of overspray around the edges of the stencil. Popular on guitars in the 1930-40's. Not sure what the stencils were made from but I'd suspect sheet metal. Would love it if anyone knew more on that.

Art 'Dreco said...

These old birch supertones are great players. Perfect for ab traveling guitar. This none sounds fantastic played with a bar--which is harder than it looks!

Jake Wildwood said...

I remember a while back someone told me it was "decalcomania" before -- but I promptly forgot again after a couple of local guitar friends say "decalomania" -- thanks for reminding me, guys! I actually went back and started correcting stuff in the backlog a few days ago. I think part of it is that my mind wishes it were "decal-o-mania." :)