The Amateur Luthier

Cataloging my experiences and encounters repairing and restoring guitars

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Image Credit:  Vintaxe - 1938 Chicago Musical Instrument Catalog This unit transforms any regular non-electric guitar, tenor guitar, ma...

Image Credit: Vintaxe - 1938 Chicago Musical Instrument Catalog
This unit transforms any regular non-electric guitar, tenor guitar, mandolin, violin, cello, or bass into an electrical instrument, which may be played through the Kay amplifier. The unit consists of a pick-up, volume control, cord and plug. Easily fitted to instrument; does not damage instrument in any way.
TYPE H Converts any flat top instrument by placing point of unit against the bridge and fastening unit to instrument top by two small screws. Suitable for flat top guitars or mandolin, or for violins, cellos and basses. Price. complete with cord and plug $22.50
TYPE S Converts any adjustable bridge tenor guitar or mandolin by replacing the regular bridge with the unit, eliminating original bridge. One bridge top piece reversible for Spanish or Hawaiian guitar and one optional top piece for mandolin are supplied with unit. Price. complete with cord and plug  $22.50

About

These units were designed to mount onto a guitar and be removable and interchangeable like the later DeArmond pickups.

They don't surface much in my research but an interesting footnote in the history of Kay Musical Instruments

1966 DeArmond Rhythm Chief Model 1100 Gold About The DeArmond Rhythm Chief is probably known as one of the best sounding pickups for ...

1966 DeArmond Rhythm Chief Model 1100 Gold

About

The DeArmond Rhythm Chief is probably known as one of the best sounding pickups for archtop guitars and have been sold even over $1000. The Rhythm Chief appeared in the 1950s and continued to be built, to my knowledge, until DeArmond shut down around 1985. The most recent Rhythm Chief I've encountered was a 1982 which had a similar, if not identical, schematic to the 1962 Model 1000 schematic I've listed below. 

Despite its popularity, information about the wiring is surprisingly sparse. I've been lucky enough to have the opportunity to repair a couple vintage DeArmond monkey-on-a-stick pickups. The usual candidates are the pickup lead wire which crumbles and shorts out (Mojotone sells a great replica wire) and the paper in oil capacitors which leak and fail. Less commonly the coil is actually damaged but I've had it happen.

A quirk that I documented was that the wiring schemes were constantly changing design, capacitors, and potentiometers. This makes it difficult to state that there is a definitive Rhythm Chief wiring schematic with such large variations. With that in mind, I've documented the pickups that I've worked on and have included the diagrams below for educational purposes. 

Also as a resource for DeArmond pickups, I'd highly recommend https://www.musicpickups.com/

1962 Model 1000
Coil Reading:




1962 Model 1000
Coil Reading:



19?? Model 1000
Coil Reading:
This model features unusual potentiometers with the pot code embossed on the phenolic board. I know for certain they were original to the pickup but I am unable to decipher the pot code. Following previous code standards, 360 should be the manufacturer code and 10070 should be a batch number. It has a similar style to the 1982 that I worked on so I assume its a later model, possibly '70s.



1967 Model 1100
Coil Reading: 14.42k

Damaged Gilb logo that I read as "Gill" Image Credit: Myself Image Credit: Myself Gilb guitars are built in Paracho, Mexic...

Damaged Gilb logo that I read as "Gill"
Image Credit: Myself
Image Credit: Myself
Gilb guitars are built in Paracho, Mexico and have been making instruments from the 60s up until the 2010s. They are likely still in business.

The one guitar that I owned was a solid maple construction with a Cocobolo fretboard

United "Elitone" headstock Image Credit:  JediStar.com About The Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Corporation was a New Je...

United "Elitone" headstock
Image Credit: JediStar.com

About

The Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Corporation was a New Jersey based manufacturer of musical instruments from November 1935 to April of 1939. They were located at 45 Corneilson Ave in Jersey City, New Jersey. The company's executives were John Carner, President, and Morris Brooks, Vice President. This company had a brief history and I cannot find any instruments that can be positively attributed back to them but they have a place in this timeline and so it is important to include them.

After FIMC ceased production in 1939, Carner formed another company:
The United Guitar Corporation. In 1942, their executives were Frank Solvino, secretary, and Frank Masiello, treasurer [1]. The United Guitar Corporation supposedly took over the manufacturing of the recently-defunct Oscar Schmidt Corporation in New Jersey [2]. I've seen this claim many times over during my research and while the timeline definitely lines up, I cannot find any evidence (such as an address change) to back it up.

The company's exact fate remains unknown but it is likely that they did not survive the surge in Japanese import instruments and the decline in demand for guitars that began in the late 60s and 70s.

1942 FTC Report [1]

Other Ties

United provided the bodies for D'Angelico's budget line of guitars.
When John D'Angelico finally caved into pressure to make "electric" guitars he chose not to make the bodies, but rather purchased laminate-top bodies from Forcillo's United company. John would then make the neck and complete the guitars - again using Franz pickups for the most part. [4]
There are also references to a company named "Code" (pronounced ko-day) that appear when people mention D'Angelico and United. I have yet to find any documentation of it's existence.
According to Hans Moust's excellent and highly recommended The Guild Guitar Book, in the early years Guild used craftsmen from Code Guitars in New Jersey to finish their instruments. Many references to United Guitars make reference to Code in the same breath. The connection has yet to be fully explained but it is worth mentioning here. [4]


Timeline

  • Oscar Schmidt Inc [1871-1939]
  • Fretted Instrument Mfg Co [1935-1939]
  • United Guitar Co [1939-?]
  • Code Guitars [?-?]

Additional Notes

  • Lardy's Ukulele Database is a fantastic resource for the ukulele models produced by United and other companies. I would highly recommend it for anybody researching a ukulele or similar instrument
  • There are also "United" guitars that were distributed in Canada by the United Conservatory of Music. They have no relation to the New Jersey company

Identification

United Guitar Co. is probably best known for their budget parlor guitars which could be stenciled with cowboy scenes in the 1950s or have geometric painted inlays. These instruments are often incorrectly attributed to the Chicago manufacturers like Regal, Harmony, and Kay due to their similar designs, styling, and the fact that the Chicago companies are much more well known. I have more experience with the low-tier acoustics so that is primarily what this guide will focus on. Hopefully it helps shed light on these instruments

Cowboy guitar with the "buckeye" stencil
Image Credit: Reverb - Lawman Guitars
The Fretted Instrument Mfg. Co. distributed faux-resonator guitars during the 1930s which are identified by silver paint on the top where a metal cone should be. Read my write up on their legal trouble here: https://www.stlamateurluthier.com/2019/11/1930s-fake-resonators-and-ftc.html

Headstock 

Their high end models have an open-book headstock profile that resembles an exaggerated version of a Gibson headstock. 
Image Credit: OldFrets.com
Their budget models often have a single point that very closely resembles the Kay headstock profile and likely leads to a lot of confusion about the two.
Image Credit: Reverb - Ian's Boutique
There is also this third design that has a "swoop" to it that gets longer as it reaches the bass side. It reminds me of the Greco headstock shapes from the 70s. It appears to be less common.
Image Credit: JediStar.com

Construction

  • Budget
    • Acoustics have wide Gibson-esque heels (even on the parlor guitars)
    • The necks are maple or poplar with painted (not dyed or ebonized) maple fretboards
    • The bodies are domestic woods like maple or birch
      • I've seen them as solid and laminate woods with no clear rhyme or reason
    • Brass frets are almost always the standard
    • Stamped metal tailpieces and painted wood bridges

Hardware

  • Budget
    • Nails instead of screws are used to mount the tuners and tailpieces
      • This is the best trait, in my opinion, to distinguish these guitars
    • Tuners are Waverly with the bell end plates

Markings

  • Budget
    • Sharp geometric shapes for the stenciled fretboard markers like circles and triangles
  • There is also a stamp that says USA and is surrounded by a shield outline
MADE IN U.S.A stamp
Image Credit: Reverb - Ian's Boutique
As seen in some of the headstock pictures above, some United guitars have a "Steel Reinforced Neck" stamp which is identical to the one appearing on equivalent Harmony guitars from the era. I entertained the idea that Harmony could've built this guitar but the construction lead me away from that conclusion. Nail-mounted hardware and a thick heel positively identify this guitar as being built by United and not Harmony. I cannot provide an explanation other than my theory that one company was copying another or ordered their silk screens through the same provider who just reused their assets.

Sources

About Image Credit [1] Town & Country Music Center was founded in Fenton, Missouri and was initially located at 36 Fenton P...

About

Image Credit [1]
Town & Country Music Center was founded in Fenton, Missouri and was initially located at 36 Fenton Plaza, Fenton, MO 63026. They rebranded to Tower Music in the '90s and are currently located at 360 Biltmore Drive in Fenton. The earliest business filing I can find is dated 1965 but their website claims "Full-service music store since 1947".

St Charles Branch 

Image Credit [1]
There also existed a branch of the business at 2001 Golfway Street, St Charles, MO 63301. It was founded at an unknown date but existed in March of 1980 and was closed sometime before 1987.

Sources

"Melofonic" Branded Faux-Resonator Image Credit:  Ebay - Clark's Music The Complaint During the boom of American-built...

"Melofonic" Branded Faux-Resonator
Image Credit: Ebay - Clark's Music

The Complaint

During the boom of American-built guitars sold through mail order catalogs and department stores, there was a desire to build more guitars as cheap as possible. Shortcuts were taken which sometimes resulted in deceptive marketing practices such as the very common "faux-flame" that was painted onto of thousands of budget guitars.
112  FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION DECISIONS  Complaint 85 F. T. C.  IN THE MATTER OF JOHN CARNER, AS OFFICER OF FRETTED INSTRUMENT MANUFACTURING CORPORATION, ETC., ET AL. • COMPLAINT, FINDINGS, AND ORDER IN REGARD TO THE ALLEGED VIOLATION OF SEC. 6 OF AN ACT OF CONGRESS APPROVED SEPT. 26, 1914  Docket 4444. Complaint, Jan. 7. 1941-Deciaion, July 9, 1942  Where four officers of a corporation and its successor, engaged in the manu-facture and interstate sale and distribution of stringed musical instruments such as guitars and mandolins, which depended upon the wood for their resonance or amplification—Simulated the cone amplifying device with which amplifying or resonating types of guitars and mandolins are equipped, and which produces a sound from 50 to 85 percent louder than that of an instrument made entirely from wood, through affixing to the top of the body portion of their guitars and mandolins a polished perforated metal disk or plate (and, at one time, through painting the interior of their instruments with aluminum paint which, when seen through the perforations in the disk, had the appearance of the amplifying eine), result of which was to give their instruments a metallic ring, but not to increase the volume or resonance of the tone, as does the cone; With the result that the average person, on viewing the instrument, could not distinguish between a genuine resonating or simplifying one and one of their said products decorated with a polished perforated metal disk or plate; and with consequence that a number of dealer-customers, by means of advertisements in musical magazines of general circulation, represented that their products were so equipped: Held. That such acts and practices, under the circumstances set forth, were all to the prejudice and injury of the public, and constituted unfair and deceptive acts and practices in commerce.
Excerpt from the complaint [1]

The Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Corporation (1935-April 1939) and United Guitar Company (June 1939-?) were targets of a 1941 complaint that that claimed both New Jersey manufacturers were involved in the production and distribution of fake resonator guitars [1]. 
FINDINGS AS TO THE FACTS  PARAGRAPH 1. Respondent, Fretted Instrument Manufacturing  Corporation, is a corporation organized under the laws of the State  of New Jersey, with its office and principal place of business in New- ark, N. J.  Respondent, United Guitar Corporation, is a corporation organ- ized under the laws of the State of New Jersey, with its office and  principal place of business in Jersey City, N. J.  Respondent, John Carner, is lin individual, and is president of  respondent corporations.  Respondent, Morris Brooks, is an individual, and. is vice president  and treasurer of respondent, Fretted Instrument Manufacturing.  Corporation.  Respondent, Frank Solvino, is an individual, and is secretary of  respondent, United Guitar Corporation.  Respondent, Frank Masiello, is an individual, and is treasurer of  United Guitar Corporation.  Respondents, John earner and Morris Brooks, directed and con- trolled the policies of respondent, Fretted Instrument Manufactur- ing Corporation, and respondents, John Cartier, Frank Solvino, and  Frank Masiello, directed and controlled and now direct and control  the policies of respondent, United Guitar Corporation. The indi-
Persons involved from both companies [1]

A resonator, for those who don't know, is a guitar that has a circular hole cut into the top of the instrument to fit a metal cone, which acts like a speaker, and a metal cover to protect the thin cone from damage. There are also a number of structural changes inside the guitar to support this construction but I won't dive too far into those. The popular resonator guitars from the era were the National guitars which were build with all metal bodies and are associated with swamp blues. The FTC report claims that a "true" resonator results is "50 to 80 percent" louder than a regular flat top guitar.

Cutaway Schematic of a True Resonator
Image Credit: Instructables.com


These guitars did not contain metal cones but instead had the metal cover bolted onto a solid wood top with a silver circle painted underneath it to give the illusion of a cone.  The silver paint would only be visible through thin slots in the metal cover making it unapparent to the uninformed consumer that the instrument is simply an imitation. To further the FTC's case against these manufacturers, they had also engaged in advertising claiming that the instruments were indeed true resonating guitars. The complaint outlined that the "purchasing public" would have no way of differentiating between these fake instruments and the true ones.

A number of dealers to whom respondents have sold their products have, by means of advertisements placed in musical magazines of general circulation, represented directly or indirectly that respondents' products are equipped with a resonating or amplifying device. Typi-cal of such advertisements are the following: No. 248. The Guitar which has created an all-time sales record. It has outsold all other guitars and continued a "best seller." Nickel-plated "Resonator" orna-ment adds resonance to its deep tone and richness to its appearance. Nickel-plated "Resonator" ornament adds resonance to the tone of this Man-dolin and "pep" to its appearance. Nickel-plated "Resonator" ornament adds resonance to its deep tone. The melofonic tone disk built on the top of the Guitar is heavily nickel-plated and polished, and produces a tone of greater volume and remarkable quality. The melofonic Mandolin you see pictured at the right has a sparkling tone of tremendous power • • lc The nickel-plated tone cover helps to produce a brilliant tone. The melofonic tone disk built on the top of the Guitar is heavily nickel-plated and polished and produces a tone of greater volume and remarkable quality. A personal memorandum book carried by one of the salesmen of respondent, Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Corporation, concern-ing one of its guitars, contained among others, the following entry : New metal 9" resonator top only • • • imitation of amplifying guitar.
Incriminating evidence of intentional false advertising [1]

Any knowledgeable player would be able to strum one of these instruments and immediately know that something was amiss but the layperson might not have such experience. A player would note the lack of distinct "twang" in the tone and the volume that a resonator might have while a consumer might not know the difference.

PAR. 4. Respondent, Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Corpora-tion, about the year 1936, equipped its musical instruments with a genuine cone amplifying device, pursuant to a license granted it by the Schireson Company for the use of its patent; but because of threatened infringement litigation, ceased using the device in the early part of 1987. Respondents, for the purpose of increasing their sales, simulated the genuine amplifying device described in paragraph 8 hereof by affixing to the top of the body portion of their guitars and mandolins a polished, perforated metal disc or plate, and at one time, to further simulate said device, painted the interior of the body of their instruments with aluminum paint., which when seen through the perforations in the disc, had the appearance of the amplifying
Findings [1]

It later goes on to say that Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Co started using the real resonator design from the Schireson Brothers in 1936 but ceased using it in 1937 due to threats of infringement. The manufacturers, not wanting to lose out on sales, continued to build lookalike instruments without the trademarked cone and sell them as if they were authentic instruments. The report says that "This latter practice was discontinued about the time the complaint herein was issued and has not been resumed."

Both companies were ordered to cease and desist such practices and file a report after 60 days outlining how they complied with the order. The Fretted Instrument Mfg Co was already defunct by that point and it appears the United Guitar Co ceased production of such instruments.

Sources



Image Credit:  Popular Science 1945 About The Electromuse corporation was in business from the 1940s through the 1950s; exact dates a...

Image Credit: Popular Science 1945

About

The Electromuse corporation was in business from the 1940s through the 1950s; exact dates are unknown as I have not yet been able to track down their business filings. The company has very little footprint on the internet and so not much is known about them. They were based in Chicago, Illinois and in 1945 their office was at 63 E. Adams Street. In 1947 they were located at 622 W. Kenzie Street [4].

They manufactured lap steels out of pine and their own pickups to put in them. Their amplifiers were built by the Valco corporation [5].

Eye-Beam Pickup

The "Eye-Beam Electromuse String Pickup" is toted as being the first commercially available electromagnetic pickup on the market but I cannot find anything to back up that claim though it is definitely an early contender. The pickup received it's name because of the I-beam shaped magnet that the coil is wrapped around but I think they look like toasters.
Original box for a Model IBP-R string pickup
Image Credit: Worthpoint from Ebay
Ralphie B, from the Music Electronics Forum deconstructed one of these pickups to rewind it and his posts are an incredible source of information on the lapsteel implementation and construction. His pickup had died due to rust and corrosion which I don't doubt has killed many of these pickups before the pickup "world" learned about properly sealing off the coil.

Ralphie says that the volume potentiometer is 20k Ohms while the tone pot is 150k Ohms and has a .05uF capacitor. His potentiometers are Allen-Bradley branded but I've also seen another Eye-Beam pickup with old Centralab Milwaukee potentiometers on the website of Denny Turner [3]. He did not mention the gauge of wire used on this pickup but did note that "As found, this Eye-Beam was wound with few turns of thin wire".

The pickup looks like a double-rail humbucker- but it isn't. The magnet is alnico, cast into an I-Beam shape about 1" wide; its jagged ends infer the piece was snapped from a longer bar. The i-beam is magnetized "across the bar" (one flange is North, the other South) and the coil is wound "along the bar", between the flanges. (I believe some would call this orientation "wrong", with most of the magnetic flux travelling parallel to the strings.) [1]
The Eye-Beam pickup is slightly weird- basically a blade pickup turned sideways. The core is a piece of steel I-channel (AKA H-channel), magnetized across the bar so one flange is North and the other flange is South; the two "toaster slots" in the cover align with the flanges. [2]
Lapsteel harness
Image Credit: Reverb - Rollingdam
Soundhole 'DeArmond'-style
Image Credit: Reverb - Play It Again Music
I cannot confirm whether these came before DeArmond pickups or after but there are definitely features that are similar. The soundhole mounted Eye-Beam pickups have a unique three-point mounting mechanism and include thumbwheels on either side of the pickup to adjust volume and tone, much like a DeArmond.

Sources

Vibraphone serial badge Image Credit:  Reverb - King Louie Music About Jen-Co Musical Products (JMP) was an Illinois-based manufactu...

Vibraphone serial badge
Image Credit: Reverb - King Louie Music

About

Jen-Co Musical Products (JMP) was an Illinois-based manufacturer of musical instruments located in Decatur (just west of Springfield). The company is often mispelled as Jenco Musical Products. The company was founded by owner G. C. Jenkins shortly after the first World War and his son, James B. Jenkins, later became owner. They were located at 1014 East Olive St. in Decatur, IL and their factory occupied 44,000 square feet and had 25 employees in 1959. They were the world's largest producer of mallet-played musical instruments in '59 with glockenspiels being their biggest seller. At the time they had 3,500 dealers in the US and Canada [1]. The company folded sometime prior to 1976 [2].

Guitars

In 1958, they launched their line of solid body guitars under the name of Decar (which I suspect came from the town's name, Decatur). These guitars were built in-house by Jen-Co [1]. Older pot codes may exist depending on when they bought their supply of potentiometers but the line officially launched in '58.

Their guitars follow a similar single cutaway style similar to the Harmony Stratotone or Kay K125 but definitely were not made by either of those manufacturers. This body style is often referred to as the "peanut" shape because of its resemblance to a legume.

Image Credit: Reverb - SS11211
The tuners appear to be generic imports from Japan. Definitely not the Waverly or Kluson tuners that the Chicago manufacturers were known for using. The bridges appear to be custom built as well and resemble nothing else that was being mass produced from that era. The bodies have Formica veneers on the front and back with a faux-wood finish. The pickguards are also apparently Formica. There also does not appear to be a truss rod in any of the guitars so that doesn't bode well for the playability of the instrument.

These guitars can be seen with DeArmond "hershey bar" pickups (common on Harmony instruments) or Kay "pancake" pickups. I've not heard of Kay selling their pickups to other builders so this is curious. The potentiometers are Stackpole.

I stumbled across a Reverb listing for a NOS pickguard for a Harmony H-16 Bobkat and the description mentioned that he got this as a samp...


I stumbled across a Reverb listing for a NOS pickguard for a Harmony H-16 Bobkat and the description mentioned that he got this as a sample from his time at the Harmony factory so I reached out to him.

This is my email interview with Kenneth B. who was an employee at the Harmony Musical Instruments factory from 1966-1975 and was gracious enough to entertain my questions.


October 1st, 2019

Do you play any instruments?
Yes. Believe it or not, I am a sax player. 

How did you find out about the job and how old were you?
I was 24 years of age when I walked through the back door looking for a job since I just graduated from DePaul University of Chicago. It was difficult finding work since I was eligible for the draft and the Vietnam crisis was in full swing. For whatever reason, Harmony was willing to take a chance on me. I was drafted within a year, but returned to continue my job functions at The Harmony Co. after serving 2 years in the military. 

What was your role at Harmony?
I was an assistant to the Vice President of Purchasing and Manufacturing. My main function was Purchasing.

Do you still work with instruments?
No, I am retired. I still play gigs on saxophone though.

What were some of your favorite experiences?
Working with the people at the Company. I found it to be one happy family. Also, I enjoyed meeting and working with the vendors from whom I purchase supplies.

What were some of your least favorite experiences?
The closing of the Company. I attended one of the days of the auction of completed musical instruments, machinery, parts, veneer, etc,, 
 
What was your opinion of the Kay Musical Instrument company?
Kay was our largest competitor. I saw the music industry as a friendly industry since companies would help each other when possible. I even got a request, which we fulfilled, from the Gibson Company for some celluloid the need for pick guards. Just a side note, we did not want to see Kay go out of business because the effect would mean more instruments arriving in this Country from overseas.

I hope I have answered the above questions to your satisfaction. You can ask more questions, but you must remember that it has been over 40 years since I left the Company so I may not have all the answers to your questions.


October 14th, 2019

How long have you been playing the saxophone? What kind of music do you play? Do you have a band?
Playing sax for about 65 years. Play some jazz and R n'R. The band I was part of, just broke up. That's show business.

What did your role entail? What was a typical day like?
My role entailed purchasing items to keep a manufacturing plant afloat, from lumber to toilet paper. I was also involved in testing new vendor items such as an adhesive or sandpaper, new type of coating, etc.
A typical day would be reviewing manufacturing orders against inventory of parts and raw materials.

Did you manage ordering parts, wood, or pickups from suppliers? 
Yes.

I believe I've heard that Kluson had their own catalogs for their tuners but I have only ever seen one on the internet, did they have like a catalog for purchasing their machines?
They did have a catalog. 

The I believe I've heard that Kluson had their own catalogs for their tuners but I have only ever seen one on the internet, did they have like a catalog for purchasing their machines?
Yes. The only parts I purchased from Kluson were banjo parts such as the 5th string tuner plus nuts and bolts which attached the ring which held the head to the banjo shell.

When did Harmony switch away from using Brazilian Rosewood and to Indian Rosewood?
I really can't say.

Did you interact with any of the businesses who purchased Harmony guitars for their own distribution?
Not really. That was handled by the Sales Department.

If so, was there a separate stage in production where guitars were custom branded?
I would not say that there was a separate stage since certain types of guitar went through the same stages. A work order would call out the differences on the instruments and those differences would take place in the same areas of the regular Harmony lines.

Was there an attitude shift into the 70s as more import guitars were pouring in from Japan? I believe that Harmony Opus guitars were some of their last attempts to compete. 
It was a line to compete against the higher priced guitars in the field. Here is a piece of trivia, I came up with the "Opus" name for the new line of guitars.

I plan to pick up on the rest of your questions hopefully later this week. Need to run
now. The Chicago Blackhawks are on the air.


October 18th, 2019

At the auction, did it appear to be mostly businesses or hobbyists that were buying up parts? I can only imagine what happened to all that stock of wood and guitars
Mainly business men.

Did Harmony build some of their own tuning machines and tailpieces in house?
Harmony did not build their own tuning machines. As far as tailpieces go Harmony had dies for a couple and purchased others from the outside.

That surprised me about Gibson looking for pickguard material, did you know why they couldn't keep up with demand?
The supplier could have been backlogged and lead times were long if they were out of stock, which I think was the case that I recall.

Do you have any memorabilia, documents, photos, or catalogs from your time at Harmony? One of my hobbies is digitizing items from daily life that most people overlook because I think it provides great insight into the past.
The only catalog I had is long gone. I have no photos. However, at a Barnes & Nobles I saw in a book containing many guitar manufacturers, a photo of a giant Harmony guitar, largest in the world at that time, exhibited at the NAMM show. Besides from a couple of Christmas gifts from the company, in our house we have an Opus style guitar, a Harmony electric guitar, Roy Smeck model, and a prototype 12 string guitar, only 2 of this model were made, as one of the choices for Fender's "F" series. There was another prototype made which Fender chose for their line. Unfortunately, the one we have does not have the Fender name screened on the headpiece since it was not a production item, only a prototype. At that time, we most likely did not have the artwork for the Fender logo from which to produce a silkscreen.

I thought of another highlight which I should have mentioned earlier which is astounding, I think. Harmony was producing about 2500 banjos per year. When the movie "Deliverance" which contained the song "Dueling Banjos" was released, it created a craze for banjos. We had one heck of a time trying to get enough parts to build banjos. Harmony went from building 2500 per year to 2500 per week near the end of the run. It was hectic, but it was fun. What a ride!


October 28th, 2019

Dueling Banjos is actually what inspired me to try and pick up the banjo, I didn't stick to it as well as I could've haha. That is astounding that banjos picked up to that degree especially so late in Harmony's lifespan. Have you heard of the newest iteration of the Harmony brand? Hand built guitars from Kalamazoo, MI that resemble some of the classics from back in the day. Here is their website, https://www.harmony.co/. Have you also heard of Baxendale conversions? Their business model consists of obtaining old Harmony and Kay guitars, converting them to X-bracing, rebuilding them, and selling them as a "greener" alternative to purchasing a new instrument. Plus you get the authenticity of having an instrument built from old wood which people seem to prize.
Thanks for bringing the above to my attention. Since I am not a guitar player nor any longer in the industry I do not keep up or hear much of the news on the Harmony name. However I did check a little bit of the Harmony website and it was quite obvious that these were not "original" Harmony's nor are exact duplicates. The pickups were a dead giveaway. Their warranty is for 2 years. The "real" Harmony company warranted their instruments for a lifetime. They were very confident about the quality of their instruments.


I thought it was pretty great that you came up with the Opus name, how did you pitch that? Were they looking for a name for a new line of instruments?
The president (Mandel Kapland) at one of our staff meetings requested that we summit names for this new line of guitars. I handed a list of names and the name Opus was chosen. He jumped on that one almost immediately.


How and why did Harmony get a hold of Gibson pickups like the wide-range humbucker and the P-13 for some of the semi-hollow models? Especially since most Harmony instruments used DeArmond as their pickup supplier.
Sorry, but that was before my time. I have no idea. 


Do you understand the meaning of the stamps inside Harmony instruments? I know there is always a model stamp like 1234H5678 where H5678 is the model and 1234 is something unrelated like a batch number.
You hit the nail on the head with this one: model number followed by the work order number. In this way the instrument could be traced all the way back to its final assembly, date, lot, etc. 

 Then there is F-67 which means the instrument was built in Fall of 1967 if I recall correctly. I've also seen letters follow the number too but I can't figure out what they mean. So like F-67 AB or something or that nature, I might have a picture somewhere of what I'm talking about.
Where did you see this type of number? I know there was a number inside the "back" of the instrument. I don't recall what the designation "F-67" means but the letters, such a the "AB", which would be at the end on the inside back are the initials  of the person who did the final inspection of the instrument.


Have you had any contact with any former employees since the company shut down?
Yes. Unfortunately, I lost contact with Mr. Edward Wozniak who was the chief designer and you could also say chief engineer for many years at the Harmony Company. As a matter-of-fact, he is pictured with the large Harmony guitar I have mentioned, in one of the guitar history type books I saw at a "Barnes and Nobles" book store. He knew more about the Harmony instruments than anyone in the company. I tried to keep in touch with a couple of others whom I have seen periodically.  

PS. I have enjoyed sharing these Harmony experiences with you and glad to hear someone is still interested in what was the largest musical stringed manufacturer in the world. Hope you get plenty of enjoyment out of your Harmony "Rocket".  I will see what I can do about getting photos of the 2 Harmony instruments I presently own along with a photo of a mounting plate with 2 mounted DeArmond pickups from the H.N. Rowe Company.


October 30th, 2019

Regarding tuners, I've seen this style of tuning machine on many, many instruments from Kay and Harmony. They aren't Klusons and you mentioned that Harmony didn't make them in house, do you know where they came from? The only other tuner manufacturer from that era that I know of is Waverly out of New York
Waverly was the manufacturer that sold most of the tuners used by the Harmony Company.

Here is another bit of trivia. when Regal was going out of business, Harmony bought the Regal name. If I remember correctly, the acoustics that we briefly made for Fender used the Regal name.

Image Credit:  Live Auctioneers I found this interesting box in an online auction for a Harmony Patrician being sold in Florida and figu...

Image Credit: Live Auctioneers
I found this interesting box in an online auction for a Harmony Patrician being sold in Florida and figured I'd document it since there appears to be no other reference to it on the internet.

Timi's Studio
Tortoise Shell Originals
Tetuan 200
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Genuine Tortoise Shell
Made In Puerto Rico by Timi's

Image Credit: Live Auctioneers

That was enough information for me to begin my search into trying to find the origins of the business. The Articles of Incorporation for the business through Puerto Rico's website refers to the business as "Timi's Tortoise Shell Originals." 

Image Credit: Puerto Rico - Registry of Corporations and Entities
The business appeared to be owned by John and Margaret Timiriasieff and was established in 1954 and continued operation until 1973 when CITES banned the trade of tortoise shell and the business likely folded. A third founding employee, Julio T. Rodriguez, is also mentioned as owning a single share. 

The business received notices about failure to renew in the 1990s but it took until 2014 for the name to be revoked.

Image Credit: Puerto Rico - Registry of Corporations and Entities
The business name was revoked in 2014.

Mr and Mrs Timiriasieff both passed in the 1990s according to public records. 










Image Credit: Mine Background The 1930s were the era of elegant, art deco inspired guitars and the rise of stenciling as a finishing ...

Image Credit: Mine

Background

The 1930s were the era of elegant, art deco inspired guitars and the rise of stenciling as a finishing technique. Thousands of instruments were styled with lacquer as a cheaper alternative to more complicated carving and higher quality or figured woods. This led into the trend in the 40s and 50s of cowboy stenciled guitars which, if you're interested, I would highly recommend this site: http://www.cowboyguitars.net/

These instruments mainly appear in the Continental Music catalogs from the era but they likely exist for a number of Kay distributors

Construction

These rare Kay guitars are most easily identifiable by their unique lyre soundhole shape which some folks may refer to as a harp shape (if they are unfamiliar with lyres). It is cut out of the laminated wood top and is more of a stylistic decision than one motivated by tone. The top is separated into sections by a painted diamond which features a sunburst on the outside and a faux-flame tiger stripe on the inside. The top is ladder braced and so a structural problem will be the sinking of the top around the soundhole when strung up to tension. 

Two variants of this instrument's headstock exist.
  1. Gibson-esque "open book" headstock
  2. Harmony-esque "rounded point" headstock 

When Were They Built?

Image Credit: [Wright 170]
The great book, Guitar Stories: The Histories of Cool Guitars. Vol. 2, lists them as being built from 1937-1938.

Two scans from a 1939 Continental Music Catalog show the No.2091 (with the open book headstock) and a sister model, the No.5400 (with the rounded headstock). The No.5400 has the lyre soundhole but does not have the extensive stenciling. 



The open book headstock profile with the Kay DeLuxe label is a design used by Kay in the 1930s and is gone by '44. The yellow and red label disappeared by the end of the 1930s

Image Credit: Mine

By 1942, the open book headstock vanishes from the lower end models (the K-60 and K-62 still sport it) and the rounded headstock profile takes over.

These Kay guitars lack the lyre soundhole design but have similar stenciling and thus are still representative of the design choices of the factory.
Image Credit: VintAxe - 1942 Continental Music Catalog

The rounded point headstock shape began, at the latest, in 1938 and continued throughout the 1940s. The blue shield logo can be found in a variety of instruments from the 1940s and is one of the traits to look for when dating an instrument to that era.
Image Credit: VintageGuitar.com

Conclusion

Models: 2091, 5400
Years built: [1937-1939]


The open book headstock profile and/or  mustard yellow/red label denotes an earlier build of the lyre soundhole series of Kay guitars. The rounded headstock profile and/or a blue label denotes a later build shifting into the 1940s.

Sources

Wright, Michael. Guitar Stories: The Histories of Cool Guitars. Vol. 2, Vintage Guitar Books, 2000.



Image Credit:  Reverb - Rock n Roll Vintage Masterson guitars were built by Ernest Leroy Masterson (1915-2006) out of Nappanee, Indiana...

Image Credit: Reverb - Rock n Roll Vintage
Masterson guitars were built by Ernest Leroy Masterson (1915-2006) out of Nappanee, Indiana in the 70s [2]. His main job was as a spray painter for kitchen cabinets while employed at Coppes Inc but he also taught guitar and built instruments for extra income [1][3]. 

Image Credit: Reverb - Rock n Roll Vintage

Estate Auction Finds

I stumbled across a 2017 auction in Nappanee, Indiana from the estate of a Mr Robert R Hall through Schrader Real Estate Auctions. These instruments were in his collection and were auctioned off for unknown prices. I found a pdf of a flier advertising this auction where they list the instruments that are for sale in no particular order. 

Masterson (Nappanee) Indian 6 string electric guitar 
• Electric Wood guitar 6 string
• Encore 6 string child’s Acoustic guitar
• Wood 6 string Acoustic guitar, no brand
• Blueridge 6 string guitar with case
• Electric wood guitar with case
• Rival Hondo Electric 6 string guitar with case
Standard Masterson (Nappanee) 6 string Electric guitar 
• Hondo 2 Electric guitar with case
Masterson (Nappanee) Base guitar with case (Blue) 

Schrader Auction Flier [4]

  • The light blue Fender P-bass copy is the only bass guitar in the flier and is mentioned by color so we can confirm it is a Masterson build.
  • The middle instrument is a Hondo II semi-hollow Gibson copy which can be distinguished by the headstock and tailpiece and matches the flier's mention of a Hondo II.
  • The naturally finished Gibson Les Paul copy has a brand but is unreadable. Possibly a Masterson build

Image Credit: Schrader Real Estate Auctions

There are now two more instruments:

  • A Fender Stratocaster copy in natural. It has a brand but it is unreadable.
  • A homebuilt body with a Stratocaster-styled neck.
The Stratocaster copy looks most like something that Ernest Masterson would build since his body designs closely followed contemporary instruments.

Image Credit: Schrader Real Estate Auctions

Next we have three acoustics and an electric guitar.

  • The leftmost instrument is the Blueridge acoustic as it looks professionally built and like a typical generic acoustic.
  • The second from left appears to be a homebuilt instrument but looks too sloppy to have been built by Masterson. 
  • The second from the right is a Japanese guitar which I can identify by the "steel reinforced neck" sticker where the truss rod cover should be and matches the flier for an "Encore childs guitar"
  • The guitar on the far right is an Electra which were made for St Louis Music out of Japan. I can recognize the headstock logo and the body shape.
  • Image Credit: Schrader Real Estate Auctions

Finally the flier mentioned a "Rival Hondo" and there was a picture of a Gibson ES-335 copy, I dug and discovered the Hondo "Revival" line of instruments including that instrument so I won't include the photo here. Not a Masterson build.

Other Examples

On the internet, I've seen a few references to his instruments and that he used to teach guitar lessons [3]. All the information has been from locals of the town which implies that he didn't ship his instruments out across the US but that he kept them local.


Sources


First I started with a blank of Indian Rosewood which had came from a beam that I bought, ripped into bridge blanks, and waxed the ends t...

First I started with a blank of Indian Rosewood which had came from a beam that I bought, ripped into bridge blanks, and waxed the ends to prevent splitting. I took the original, fragile, ebonized wood bridge and traced an outline onto the block with a pencil. Then I used a knife to score along the lines to help make them more visible. 

I took the bridge to my bandsaw to rough cut along the marked lines and start on removing the material for the gap underneath the bridge. I also cut and sanded the bridge to the desired thickness of just a hair under 1/4". At this point I also marked the points on the bottom of the bridge where my screw posts are to be located. Then I placed the bridge upside down on my drill press and drilled both holes through the bridge stopping just short of going through the bridge as I don't want them to be visible through the top

Then I began to round off some of the corners, remove most of the wood for the bottom gap, and start to shape the bottom of the bridge to the top of my guitar. I shape the bridge to the guitar by placing a sheet of 80 or 120 grit sandpaper on the top, holding it in place, and running the bridge back and forth across it lengthwise. That removes just the right amount of material so the bridge fits perfectly on the top which helps transfer energy and resists side to side moving. I also run the bridge on my belt sander to start tapering the long edges towards the top like an isosceles trapezoid. 

Then I separated the pieces of the bridge by running it through my bandsaw. Notice the screw holes are perfectly aligned because I drilled before cutting the bridge. I've also begun to rough out the compensation for the strings and tapering the bridge even stronger towards the top to form a point

I've oiled the wood and begun to polish it to a shine starting with 220 grit and ending with 3000 grit dry sandpaper. While still in the rough grits, I lightly dampen the wood with water to raise the grain and sand it off to help achieve a super smooth finish. Then I begin adding oil by rubbing it on then off while continuing to sand. Rosewood takes oil very well and can be polished to a point where it looks shiny.

I use Dr Ducks Axe Wax for this purpose and general maintenance of my guitar fretboards

Here is the bridge sat atop my Harmony Rocket. I used the thumb wheels from the old bridge and some screw posts that I had lying around. Harmony anchored their posts into the top half of the bridge which I don't much like so I reversed it and anchored my posts into the base of the bridge, as is more common. This Indian Rosewood is pretty dark so I think it will match the Brazilian Rosewood fretboard quite well while also being a large structural improvement over the brittle, ebonized bridge.