Hillman Guitar No. 1
Harmony Monterey Sunburst
Archtop Acoustic Guitar
This was my first guitar. Actually it was my Dad's guitar. I believe he bought it at Ray Hamerton Music in Winnipeg in the early '50s. Hamerton's used to send out an annual catalogue of their musical instruments and supplies and I remember spending many hours poring over this Even though my Mom and Dad had regular jam sessions throughout the '50s, he never really played it much, preferring to play the trumpet while my Mom played piano. I started taking piano lessons while in Grade V or VI but the whole process was largely one of drudgery. But I remember that I used open the fibre case that housed the shiny archtop and marvel at its beauty - the shape, the smell and the feel of it. I had been committed to the discipline of piano lesson, however -- and often fell under the wrath of my frustrated piano teacher when I showed up without having practiced the assigned lessons.
THEN Elvis appeared on the scene. And Dad came home excited one day after hearing a song on the car radio that featured one of the few riffs he knew on guitar. The song turned out to be Johnny Cash's I Walk The Line, with the whole song made up around Luther Perkin's guitar runs between C, F and G. That was it. Boring scales and kiddie tunes on the piano didn't stand a chance when pitted against the exciting sounds of this new thing called rock 'n' roll - and especially the guitar sounds coming out of Memphis on Sun records. I was totally captivated. Countless hours were spent roaming the radio dial to pick up each week's new rockabilly and R&B barrage of hits that emanated from the Southland.
My Uncle Don, had played guitar with my Mom and their brother, Bill, in the family band -- The Campbell-Christie Orchestra -- back in the '30s. They were just young kids but they joined forces with a couple of neighbor buddies and played quite a number of dances at halls and barn around the area (guitar, piano, autoharp, trumpet, fiddle, accordian, etc.) When Uncle Don saw that I was more than a little obsessed with the instrument, he showed me a few more chords and how to play a few folk songs.
I soon found that mastering this instrument was no easy task. It was hard to tune and the strings were so high above the fretboard that I could barely press them down. My fingers soon became raw and blistered and often bled, but I persisted.
It was around this time that I got my first record player and LPs for Christmas. Previous to this all we had to play records on was a 78 rpm turntable plugged into our huge floor model Westinghouse radio. The first 78s I had bought for this old machine were a package of 50 Top Hits of the Day (by imitators) with three hits per side, and then a flood of REAL records: Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys, Fats Domino, Jack Scott, Johnny Cash, Little Richard, etc. But now with my new RCA multi-speed portable record player I could at last buy LPs and those cool 45s. I could also slow the records down to half speed so that I could figure out what Scotty Moore, Carl Perkins, Luther Perkins, Duane Eddy, Les Bennetts (Lonnie Donegan's skiffle group), Chet Atkins, et al, were actually doing on those great records.
With a little prompting from her grandson with the bleeding fingers, my Grandmother soon realized how important it was that her young boy should have an electric guitar: Enter the Sears black-with-gold fleck, Les Paul-shaped, Silvertone electric guitar. (Ironically made by Harmony)
CAUGHT IN OUR SITE FROM VARIOUS
HARMONY TRIBUTE PAGES ON THE WEB
Main Reference: Rothman's Guitars Unofficial Harmony Guitar Homepage
The Harmony Company was founded by Wilhelm Schultz in 1892. Thus began the most successful American-made stringed instrument producer ever. By 1923, Harmony stated annual sales of 250,000 units. In 1930, annual sales were reported to be 500,000 units sold. The amount of instruments being produced by Harmony made up the largest percentage of stringed instruments being manufactured in the U.S. at that time, and Harmony made them all: guitars - archtops, flat-tops, electric Spanish, Hawaiian bodies, ukeleles, banjos, mandolins, violins and more. They continued to turn in impressive annual sales figures right up till the company was dissolved in approximately 1974. These are among the most popular inexpensive guitars ever built. Harmony stressed value while at the same time providing a player with a dependable, enjoyable instrument.
In 1916, the Sears, Roebuck Company purchased Harmony and appointed Jay Kraus as
vice-president. The following year Jay succeeded founder Wilhelm Schultz as president. Mr. Kraus remained president till 1968 when he died of a heart attack. Carles Rubovits, who had been with Harmony since 1935, took over as president, remaining in that position till the dissolution of the company. harmony instruments carried several brand names, Airline, Fender, Kay and Regal are a few of the more notable which Harmony bought rights to in the late thirties or early forties, but Silvertone offered by Sears is probably the most common.
Later in the 70's the Harmony name was sold to be used on oriental guitars.
A Promotional Quote from a Harmony Website
I use Harmony Guitars professionally. They give me a definite edge in developing my own unique sound. They have great electronics and their tone stands out from the "cookie cutter" crowd and the multitudes of copies. The DeArmond designed, Rowe Industries built pickups have "the" sound that everyone's been chasing for years! I often get asked by other professional players,'Why on Earth do you play a Harmony?' To that there is but one answer:
They sound good!
HARMONY ARCHTOP GUITARS
PRE 1945 ARCHTOP GUITARS
Harmony Archtops have always been favorites. These fine guitars were a standard offering in the Harmony lineup. Back in the earlier part of the 20th Century, Harmony offered two types of archtops, the violin type archtop with "f hole" design and an archtop that had a flat top style soundhole. They were constructed from hardwoods, with either mahogany or spruce tops depending on the model. Harmony offered these prewar models: Valencia, Patrician, De Luxe, Cremona, Auditorium, and Clipper models. Models such as the Cremona and the Patrician had several different models within the model name so the offering was extensive. Many of these guitars went overseas with the troops during WW2 and Korea. As these guitars were both inexpensive and extremely tough, many a Harmony was passed through the ranks of multitudes of our servicemen.
Harmony Archtop guitars are starting to get up there in age. Wood, especially the thin wood used in guitars, dries out quickly. Dry thin wood tends to crack easily. Do not store your guitar near a heat source. It is a good plan to put a humidifier in its case. A water soaked sponge in a small plastic container with several small holes punched in the lid will do just fine. Replenish the water once a month. This will greatly reduce the risk of cracking.
Harmony Archtops have always been favorites. These fine guitars were a standard offering in the Harmony lineup.
Post WW2 Harmony archtop guitars are very popular. The Monterey, Master & Archtone were very popular, inexpensive models. Archtop guitars were more popular than their flat top cousins for many years.
The Monterey H1325 (16 1/2 " X 41") had celluloid bound edges with an elevated ovalled fingerboard. The Monterey also had a "Slim line" neck with their "TORQUE-LOK" adjustable reinforcing rod. All these guitars had bone nuts, adjustable bridge and shell or celluloid pickguards.
Harmony Archtop guitars tend to sound pretty good, but are not as loud as a modern dreadnought design flat top guitar. It is not only a matter of volume, but a matter of what tones actually "cut through". Modern flat top acoustic guitars are primarily designed for "flat picking". They have a resonant bottom end and a bright top end. Archtop guitars cannot keep up with them for this purpose, but, if you know why archtop guitars are designed the way they are, you can optimize your instrument by using your guitar as it was designed.
In the early days of radio, the hertz spectrum reproduction was very limited, lots of mids, very little low or high end. These guitars were designed to rule the middle ground, and they do. When playing a heavy rhythm style, they have no equal in the midrange department. To optimize the low and high end, use a good bright phospher bronze string. For better volume, use a heavy gauge string. The heavier the string, the better tone the string has. For lead guitar, these guitars like 11-52, for rhythm try 12-56 gauge strings.
Over the years the Harmony style of making guitars evolved just like the rest of the manufacturers. The pre-war guitars, through the 40s, had clubbier necks. Earlier ones were v-ed. Some of the archtops had a bigger paddle like headstock similar to the evolution of Gretch guitars, although even into the early 70s the higher end archtops did sport a larger headstock. Into the 50s the graphics changed as well. Even the colour of the logo seemed to change as time went on. During the guitar boom of the 60s, the guitars got simpler and more mass-produced. They were making an average of 1000 instruments per day during this period!The number of "f" hole guitars made by Harmony would lend you to believe that there was a great calling for these jazz guitars. The different models, by the late 60s, were as diverse as the kinds of people there were to play them. Their top of the line H1310 cutaway with arched spruce top and "pearlette" block inlays was as good as it got, for the better player. At the cost of $125 in 1970, this guitar was the still a bargain price compared to the Gibsons they tried to rival. If this was out of your budget, for as little as $42.50 you could get an H1215/13 Harmony "Archtone." Still listed as all hardwood construction, these shaded brown mahogany or reddish mahogany were grained to resemble spruce. Even as early as 1962, these budget priced guitars had multilayers of painted binding and fingerboards that were grained to resemble rosewood.
Budget-priced and fun to play, Harmony archtops made their way into the attics and under the beds of the North American household. Pushed there by the demand for flat tops during the guitar boom of the late 60s, these Archtops faded into the woodwork. The more serious Jazz player was looking for better quality and the everyday player just wasn't playing this style of guitar. Most makers of guitars just didn't see the demand for these guitars. Today, with the rebirth of the jazz guitar and number of guitar makers making top quality archtops, maybe these Harmony Archtops will come out of the woodwork. They may never come close to rivaling the quality of the guitars being made by today's 2nd generation contemporary luthiers, however. Just as they didn't try to rival the craftsmanship of the first generation D'Angelico and D'Aquisto, Harmony served their customers with a more affordable option. Still available at a fraction of the cost, they are just something fun to play and affordable to collect.
The number of baby boomers who started guitar lessons on a Harmony student guitar was great. They were affordable and quite playable. The student guitars made by the Harmony Guitar Co. of Chicago were readily available to the masses. Most music stores carried them along with a whole assortment of mail order catalogues. Sears, who owned the Harmony Company, made these guitars available to their customers under the Silvertone Label. Many a beginner started with a sunburst Stella by Harmony. Harmony bought the Stella name in 1939 and continued to make them as a low-end student guitar. Using the Stella registered trademark, they marketed these student guitars for the masses.
"Perfection," was Harmony's goal, through out its history. Its claim to have sold "more stringed instruments than all other makers in America Combined - and thus creating thousands of friends for Harmony all over the world," held true. They found their way into more North American homes than any other guitar company. They made themselves available to the masses so the student had an affordable option. They are still available today as one of the more affordable American Vintage Guitars.
REFERENCE LINKS ON THE WEB
Unofficial Harmony Guitar Page
Gibson Musical Instruments
Harmony Guitar Page
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All Original Material Copyrighted 2001 Bill Hillman
BILL & SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO WebMaster: Bill Hillman