The Amateur Luthier

Cataloging my experiences and encounters repairing and restoring guitars

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The Capo A capodastro or capo tasto is a device that allows the "open" notes on a guitar (played without fretting) to be raised...

The Capo

A capodastro or capo tasto is a device that allows the "open" notes on a guitar (played without fretting) to be raised in pitch. They are commonly used in place of tuning an instrument higher because a capo is safer and runs a smaller chance of breaking a string or the instrument such that a guitar tuned to E standard can be capo'd on the 5th fret and be in A standard without any increase in tension. 

Guitar capos have a wide history of designs and uses but one that is often overlooked is the built-in capo. Pictured below is a 1920s Lyon and Healy built guitar with a capo that was installed into the guitar at the factory. It slides down a channel in the fretboard and is tightened with a thumb screw to set the instrument's pitch. I am unable to find any catalog scans or L&H patents for this design but it is the first one I've seen.
1928 Lyon and Healy Washburn
Image Credit: Reverb - DFW Guitars


1894 was the year that F. R. & R. Whelan patented their "Capo Tasto" for the guitar. It was a bulky device that slid along a short track spanning a single fret. It was secured to the headstock via an elastic band which would pull it back out of the way when not in use.

Inventor Czar Prince patented his capo in 1897 which also could only modify the pitch from a single fret. It was inlaid into the guitar behind a specific fret and activated by a lever which pushed a secondary fret upwards just behind the primary fret. It likely would've been praised for its ease of use and fluid movement in changing the tuning despite the intrusiveness of the device.

E. H. Winchell applied for a patent in 1901 for a capo that used threaded inserts in the guitar's fretboard to attach and remove the device. If you wanted it on the 3rd fret then you simply unscrewed it from the headstock, lined it up on the 3rd fret, and tightened the thumb screw to mount the capo. This allowed for infinite placements as long as you had the inserts installed in the board but would've taken more effort to change tuning.
In 1902 an E. R. Kappeler patented a device which ran on a rail inlaid into the fingerboard. It also included a loop which was intended for the player to insert their fretting hand's thumb into which could be used to move the capo while playing. The capo was locked into place by pushing the loop upwards towards the neck and unlocked by pulling the loop. This was intended to allow easy tuning changes on the fly
1922 brought a patent from A. C. Whiteman which used a telescoping tube that was mounted to the headstock as the rail in which the capo was mounted on. The capo could then be extended or retracted easily and could be pushed all the way back when not in use. Two adjustment screws on the capo allowed for use on radiused fretboards by bowing the portion contacting the fretboard. This design was likely the least obtrusive when playing as there was nothing wrapping around the neck to contact your hands. I presume it suffered from rattling as there was little to no downward pressure on the fretboard.
N. M. Johnston patented his capo in 1925 which also used the headstock for support. His capo was a metal bar which flared out at one end and had a channel cut out of the other end. A thumb screw sat in that channel and could be tightened or loosened to secure the capo at a specific fret.
1957 featured a design free from rails and headstock mountings. D. D. Raze patented a T-shaped capo that was pressed into pre-drilled holes in the fretboard and held in place by the friction of the hole. It was stored just behind the nut when not in use. This design may have suffered if the friction holding the capo in place was lessened by general wear and tear but it seems to be the most low-profile of the designs.

Modern Use

Integrated capos have disappeared from modern guitars entirely and are incredibly rare to find in antique guitars. The standalone capo was patented in 1850 by James Ashborn and improved upon alongside the integrated capo through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Hamilton Capo is a common piece with old guitars along with the elastic fabric capos that are even more common with budget instruments.
Modern capo units are removable which allows them to be attached to any number of guitars and they benefit from being cheap and reliable. The spring capo is probably the most common design out there right now. There just isn't a demand for a capo that is limited to a single guitar much less one that involves so much drilling and modification. Unfortunately they are a relic of a gone time but I believe they are worth remembering.

Modern, Inexpensive Spring Capo

Further Research

There is a great site called which features a brief timeline of the capo's design as well as other tips. It currently appears to be online but the Internet Archive Wayback Machine has a copy of it which can be viewed here:

Kay truss rods are not an exceptionally great design, they use the basic compression rod system that Gibson patented in the 1920s but Kay f...

Kay truss rods are not an exceptionally great design, they use the basic compression rod system that Gibson patented in the 1920s but Kay fell short in their execution. 

Gibson used a concave channel for the rod to follow in order for the compression to effectively counteract the forward bow in a guitar's neck. Kay used a nearly flat channel which makes the compression rod have a minor effect but its not always consistent down the neck. Often a Kay truss rod will bow the neck around the 3rd or 5th fret and leave the rest of it untouched. I opt to replace these rods with modern steel truss rods from LMII which perform miles above the original rods and are stronger.

The rod is a long carriage bolt that extends from the nut to just before the neck meets the body. It is held in place by two semi-circle washers with square holes cut in them. The adjustment nut is brass and sized for a 5/16" socket. It bears against a washer and the first semi-circle washer. Tightening the nut pulls the end of the rod towards the nut which bows it and is the basis of the functionality.

The washer at the nut is not attached to the rod but the washer at the far end is held in place by the resistance of the carriage bolt's square-neck against the square channel in the washer. This keeps the rod from turning freely when you try to tighten the adjustment nut.

My Kay truss rod turns freely, how do I fix this?

Using a pair of needle nose pliers, grab the brass adjustment nut (while it is attached to the rod) and give it a gentle wiggle. You should be able to push and pull the rod and have it move about an 1/8" overall. Pull the rod and give it a gentle twist to see if it moves. If the rod turns then the square neck of the bolt has not met the washer and I would recommend repeating the process. If the rod does not turn then you should be able to tighten the adjustment nut and your truss rod will work again.

The worst case scenario is that your rod is actually broken in which case you won't be able to fix it and it will need replacing. The best case scenario is that you prolong the life of this (admittedly poor) OEM truss rod and the minimal adjustment it provides.

TYPE-DD-11A .1 MFD. 75 V.D.C. Kay guitars typically have these red or yellow capacitors which were built by Delco Radio

.1 MFD.
75 V.D.C.
Kay guitars typically have these red or yellow capacitors which were built by Delco Radio

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


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


The DeArmond Rhythm Chief is probably known as one of the best sounding pickups for archtop guitars and originals can break the $1000 mark. 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 troublemakers 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

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. I've documented the pickups that I've worked on and included their wiring diagrams here so you can find a schematic that most closely matches what you are looking for.

Also as a resource for DeArmond pickups, I'd highly recommend

1962 Model 1000
Coil Reading: dead

1962 Model 1000
Coil Reading: 15.8k

19?? Model 1000
Coil Reading: 7.3k
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.

This schematic wasn't appearing to work so I rewired it according to the 1962 specs

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, Mexi...

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: About The Fretted Instrument Manufacturing Corporation was a New Je...

United "Elitone" headstock
Image Credit:


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]


  • 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


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:


Their high end models have an open-book headstock profile that resembles an exaggerated version of a Gibson headstock. 
Image Credit:
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:


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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.


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


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.


"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:

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.


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


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.


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


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].


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? 

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, 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


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:

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


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:


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.


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