1930s Harmony-made S.S. Stewart Archtop Guitar

Harmony-made S.S. Stewart-brand guitars (sold by retailer/catalog-house B&J at the time) can be commonly seen from the late 1930s through the early 1950s, but it's rarer to find the earlier ones. Judging by the build, size, and hardware, this is probably a 30s model and it's a nice one at that. I'm pretty sure the top on this one is carved as opposed to pressed, though I can't say that without a doubt.

The evidence in favor of that opinion is that the segmented f-holes are longer and thinner like on that 1940 Silvertone Royal which I'm sure was carved, the top doesn't have the "pressed" style edges which have a slope that terminates abruptly about 1/2" to 3/4" inboard (instead, most carved-top guitars have an arch near the binding that slopes gently into the flat area of the top on the edges), the braces are thinner and lighter as I've seen on other carved-top Harmony products (and in direct opposition to the stiffer, heavier braces found on pressed-top Harmony archtops), and the sound is velvet on the lower mids and creamy on the top end, which is in marked contrast to the usual sting and bite of a pressed-top guitar (compare clips with that 1940 Royal, 1939 pressed-top Supertone I worked on in the last post, and this guitar).

All that said, it is possible that it was pressed and just happens to sound a lot more thick than the average Harmony, but I think it's more likely that it was carved. The upgraded trim is also indicative of a nicer guitar, too.

As far as specs go, this is pretty typical for a period Harmony but has a narrower lower bout (15 1/2") and a slimmer (front-to-back), C-shaped neck profile with a 1 23/32" nut width. The scale is normal (25 1/8") and the guitar is original except for its tuners -- which are 60s units that were on it when it came in.

I worked on this for a consignor and it'd already had a neck reset and refret before it got to me, but my work included a fret level/dress, compensation of the saddle/bridge topper, a reglue to a separated back seam, and general setup work. It's playing spot-on with 3/32" EA and 1/16" DGBE action at the 12th fret and I've strung it with 52w, 40w, 30w, 22w, 16, 12 strings. The necks on these are unreinforced and to keep them true (it's straight) one needs to not over-string them.

The bone nut appears to be original -- or at least quite old. The headstock veneer is grey pearloid with S.S. Stewart stenciled in gold (and quite faded).

The refret and neck reset were done at a professional level and it made my job easier when it came time to do the fret level/dress. There's plenty of meat left on these frets and the board has a light (14") radius to it.

The board and bridge are both Brazilian rosewood. Pearl dots are in the face.

Clearly, the bridge has plenty of height above the top. Note the curious Harmony-style "reverse function" adjustment wheels. Usually the wheels adjust up under the saddle/topper as opposed to at the bridge base, but Harmony almost always flopped that around.

This guitar is crack-free save for a tiny repaired hairline at the treble waist on the side (and a very tiny one on the rear near the heel), but it does have plenty of lovely, honest, use-wear. The bass lower-bout and the treble waist show a lot of worn-through finish that's faded just-so and the back of the neck was played right down to the wood. It's a great feel and look!

While the top is solid spruce, the back and sides appear to be solid birch.

The neck seems to be dark-stained maple as opposed to the more-normal (for Harmony) poplar. Note the curious drill-holes that were filled long-ago below the heel. Beats me!

The original, hard case comes with the guitar -- and has plenty of duct-tape patching to it!

1 comment:

guitarhunter said...

Hi jake...Beautiful job on this guitar! I purchased it around 1996 from the estate of a longtime Boston swing band guitarist who often played big dances at the old Boston Garden. He had an L-5 too but supposedly preferred this one...or at least he played it more as you can see from the wear. You can tell he always played it sitting down from all the leg wear to the finish on the treble side. When I got it the first few frets were worn completely through and the neck had moved a bit. Those holes in the back were from a repair he tried to do with a matchbook and a couple of nails. I took it to the legendary and reclusive Cambridge repairman John Brehm and he reset the neck and refretted it...he liked this one enough to work on it even though it was a Harmony! I think the matchbook is still in the case pocket...