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The main focus of my research is to clear up the inaccuracies and confusion that arise from the complicated web of brand names. This is whe...

20th Century Guitar Company Myths

The main focus of my research is to clear up the inaccuracies and confusion that arise from the complicated web of brand names. This is where I address common errors and unique facts (that often lead to confusion) that I've encountered.

Truths

Harmony and Gibson exchanged parts 

The exact terms of their relationship is unknown but we know that Harmony purchased a large quantity of P-13 pickups for their lapsteels and H-56 electric archtop models. Harmony later purchased wide range mini humbuckers for their thinline electric guitar models such as the Chris Isaak guitar.

As seen in my 2019 interview with a former Harmony employee, Gibson purchased surplus celluloid pickguard material from Harmony.

Kay built for Gretsch during the 1940s

Often chalked up to wartime shortages in manpower by modern communities, I do not know for sure. Kay did build some Gretsch branded guitars, such as the New Yorker, during this time period.

Harmony built for Fender during the late 1960s and 1970s

Fender did build their own acoustics such as the Kingman, Palomino, Newporter, and such models during the 1960s and early 70s. They distributed a more economical brand of instruments denoted with the F-#### numbering scheme that were built by Harmony. Such models included the Harmony Sovereign.


Falsehoods

Harmony date stamps do not mean [F]irst and [S]econd half of the year.

The DeMont Harmony Database is recognized as one of the best resources for information on Harmony guitars. Unfortunately Mr DeMont has passed and his website remains frozen in time. On the FAQ page there is a claim from a former Harmony employee that challenged existing knowledge on the date stamps.

The consensus today is that the stamps still stand for [F]all and [S]pring of the year of manufacture despite what the DeMont database quote suggested.

Evidence lies in short-run Christmas guitars with [F] date stamps where it makes more sense for them to have been built in the Fall rather than the First half of the year and to sit around until the holidays.

Some late 50s Harmony models have [FL] date stamps which indicate Fall.

Kay, Harmony, and Regal are not the same company and did not build guitars for each other*

Believe it or not I've seen people claim that Kay built guitars for Harmony or Harmony built guitars for Kay which is entirely incorrect. They are entirely separate companies.
  • Kay Musical Instrument Company (1890-1969) [1]
  • Harmony Company (1892-1975) [2]
  • Regal Musical Instrument Company (1896-1954) [3]

*Regal was purchased by Harmony in 1954 and they used it as a brand name for years afterwards. This often causes confusion. They never exchanged instruments while Regal was independent.

Kay, Harmony, Regal, and any Chicago manufacturer did not build for or sell guitars built by Gibson or Martin

  • Gibson built guitars for Spiegel that were branded Old Kraftsman. 
  • Kay also built guitars for Spiegel that were branded Old Kraftsman. 
But Kay did not build guitars for Gibson nor the other way around. Those instruments have the exact same brand name because Spiegel was in the market to sell instruments branded Old Kraftsman and it was unimportant as to who built them.

Sears-Roebuck often had their Silvertone guitar catalogs littered with Kay, Harmony, and Danelectro built instruments and they were not distinguished as such because it did not matter to the consumer. As long as Sears could provide the guitars that the people wanted, nobody cared who it came from.


St Louis Music Supply Co switched their "Custom Kraft" brand instruments from Harmony to Kay during the 1940s. Why? I'd bet that it was money. They were in the business of reselling merchandise and a better deal is a better deal.

(Brand Name 1) was not built by (Brand Name 2)

I've heard variations of this  (ex: "Old Kraftsman was built by Silvertone") which is a wrong conclusion drawn from some aspect of factual information. Kay did build guitars for Sears, which sold Silvertone, and Spiegel, which sold Old Kraftsman. 

Therefore the manufacturer of some Silvertone guitars did make some Old Kraftsman guitars. 

But brand names are not real companies, there was no Silvertone factory just like there was no Craftsman factory. The real companies create trademarks and resell or outsource products under that name

Think of Walmart's Mainstays brand and Target's Threshold brand; they do not have their own respective companies that build these products. I'd almost guarantee that the overseas factories that build these products are neighbors if not the same company.

An uncommon brand name does not make a guitar rare or more expensive*

*With the exception of Airline instruments which can command a higher price due to the high profile players who use them

I recently sold a Kay electric archtop branded Marwin for the Barth-Feinberg catalog at market price for such a Kay. I've had no luck in selling branded instruments for higher than their OEM branded counterparts are worth. Nobody pays more for an instrument with an obscure brand name unless it has a unique styling or feature.

Sources

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