Sunday, June 15, 2014
If you collect guitars or you are a player, you have probably dreamed of stopping off at a yard sale and finding your holy grail model(whatever that may be) sitting there with a $15 price tag hanging off of it. The reality is, instead of finding a 50's Tele or an unaccounted for Bigsby, you would be more likely to come across this model. A 1966 Stella small bodied acoustic guitar. This is the classic yard sale find. A student/beginners model that could have been sitting in a closet for years because little Johnny never took an interest in it after mom and dad bought it for him for Christmas one year.
These guitars come with a painted on headstock logo indicating that it is a Stella, but these guitars were made by the Harmony company and produced from 1963-1970. They must have been made by the thousands as you can find them anytime you want floating around ebay. The cool thing about these guitars is that you have a chance to buy it for about the same price that it was selling for back in the sixties. Back then, you would have to shell out around $30 for one of these. I own a few of these because they make great projects for the hobbyist luthier and I've paid between $25-$50 for them all. You will see them listed for as much as $150 on ebay. It's a capitalist society we live in - if you can get someone to shell that out then more power to you. The fact is I would never pay that sight unseen. There is always something wrong with these guitars, which as i said is why I have a few because they are fun to work on. If you mess things up you're not out a whole lot for the learning experience. With that said, if i were to find one of these in perfect playing condition, i would have no problem shelling out $100-$150 for one. These guitars are a blast to noodle around with.
These Harmony's come from a time in this country when the words "mass produced" didn't mean cheap. This guitar is built like a tank even though its production numbers were probably some of the highest for any guitar ever made. Until Japan caught up, Harmony was outproducing every other guitar company by a mile and student models like this were its bread and butter. Nice, chunky "steel reinforced" neck and stocky body make it a comfortable ride. Painted on graphics and cheap appointments and hardware allow for affordability.
I pulled this out of the case after it had been hidden away for some time with the intent of having to do extensive work on it. Turns out it played quite well. I just cleaned her up, polished the frets, shimmed the bridge a bit and off we went. I have a lot of fun playing these clanky, small bodied guitars. She won't be going back in hiding for the foreseeable future. This guitar can be strummed or fingerpicked, both to good effect. They are far from perfect and I love that. As i have said many times in this blog, I love how these guitars force you to play a different way. I like being in this very small club of people who do not need perfect action, intonation and playability in order to get off on a guitar. I can't tell you how many people I've come across who can't get out of their comfort zone and would be turned off by a guitar like this. Their loss!!
I happen to love the unrefined, boxey, ladder braced tone of these guitars. The tone is a bit more cranky than their predecessors, not as mellow. Perhaps the models from the 30's and 40's have just had more time to mellow out. If you can find one of these guitars on the cheap, i would highly recommend having one around.
I'm not some "Made In The USA" freak. I don't have American flags hanging everywhere and cheesy Lee Greenwood tunes blastin' from the radio. Nonetheless, I love the products from the 50's and 60's and feel that in terms of style they have never been matched. How cool was it that at one time in this country we had three major guitar manufacturers open for business in Chicago and not to far to the northeast in Detroit you could see an Impala coming off the line.