3/25/2017

1920s Harmony-made Maui Maid Parlor Guitar





This guitar has an interesting story, though as a guitar from the 1920s it's not that particularly interesting in itself. A customer of mine bought this a long time ago on eBay, hoping that it was a koa-wood Oscar Schmidt guitar rather than what it actually is -- an all-birch, down-on-its-luck, Harmony-made, mass-market Hawaiian (played with raised strings, in the lap, with a slide) guitar. It was in rough enough shape that it was almost not worth fixing. The label, denoting it as a "Maui Maid," however, is almost worth the entrance fee.

I took it in trade from him last year and I've done little bits to it here and there ever since. I finally got around to resetting the neck and regluing the (massive) original bridge, and that paved the way for getting the rest done -- multitudes of crack repairs, brace reglues, awful seam issues needing solutions, and all that sort of "fun" stuff. The guitar is built way too light for steel strings and when you check the bracing out it becomes obvious why it'd had so many failures (structurally) during its life.

It's built like a big ukulele -- a hardwood top with only two braces -- one directly above the soundhole and one directly below. A wide, softwood, bridge plate/brace is the only other top reinforcement aside from the bridge itself. So, after doing the work, I treated it like a big ukulele and strung it with nylon -- which suits the uncompensated original saddle and wide nut, anyhow. As a classical guitar it has about the same volume and a similar response pattern to a Goya G-10 -- which is, to say, quite nice for a small box.

I have no idea what to do with it, really, but I felt that I needed to do justice by this guitar -- so it will probably hang somewhere on our walls as our #3 small-body nylon/gut-strung guitar. It plays perfectly with 3/32" action at the 12th fret (I had to jack it up with a shim under the original saddle, actually) and has a straight neck. The nut is a hair under 1 7/8" and it has a short, 24" scale length,


The guitar is mostly original, though the bridge pins, tuners, and nut are replacements. The body is entirely made from solid birch and has celluloid binding at the top, back, and soundhole edges. The neck is poplar and has a rosewood fretboard. Due to the very thin neckblock and build style, I'd guess that Harmony made this in the early 20s at the latest. By the 1930s this same general guitar style was bulked-up in bracing and blocking.



A rosewood fretboard on a period Harmony is actually very weird. Even nice Harmony products usually used some sort of "ebonized" maple or pearwood.


I actually added a second brace in the upper bout, under the fretboard extension, for neck-block reinforcement. The block itself had a blown-out wall about 1/2" down from the top so that helped shore it up. During the neck reset I also bolted the neck internally in addition to a regular knock-back and reglue as the joint was iffy.


The rosette was tricky to get back in -- the binding had shrunk so I had to fill in the edges around it to get it to sit correctly.


It was tempting to string this up with steel and use it as a Hawaiian guitar (as-intended when built), but I think the guitar feels more rewarding as a "Spanish" instrument and I know its top will not destroy itself with nylon.


The disturbed areas of finish on the top have nothing to do with me -- this had a bad old bridge reglue in the past. I've never seen this type of bridge on a Harmony before, by the way, so it may be a period replacement. It is, however, ebonized maple (that's fading), which is something Harmony did regularly back then.






Broken kerfing and moving-about seams on the lower bout rear meant a cruddy-but-functional repair to this area and the mirror-image of it on the other side. It's a bit wavy but holds just fine. I did not want to spend the time to get this whole thing in a jig to patch this area beautifully.






The extra-cheesy tuners are ones from my parts-bin. I figured they suited the faded celluloid binding and neglected looks of this Ol' Maid.



Here's what I mean by wavy!

3 comments:

Nicholas Ratnieks said...

"A customer of mine bought this a long time ago on eBay, hoping that it was a koa-wood Oscar Schmidt guitar rather than what it actually is"

A little like buying a wrecked Model T Ford thinking it's a spiffy Lincoln! Stella guitars have different dot marker patterns I believe on most models. This arrangement is found on guitars by many makers from Chicago but I have not seen it on those made by Stella- although it is just possible some had three arranged this way.

Jake Wildwood said...

I think the pics were not very good and he was going via the Maui Maid brand which was sometimes used on OS...?

Jake Wildwood said...

Correction: apparently Maui Maid was used on a Weissenborn or two -- the retailer that's missing on the label on this Harmony is Christophe's out of San Fran.