Archive for the 'Mass-produced archtops' Category


March 2, 2010

Nicolai Foss

Many, many guitarists have done their first strumming on some cheapo Harmony guitar. According to the Wiki on Harmony, “The company hit a peak in 1964-1965, selling 350,000 instruments, but low-end foreign competition led to the company’s demise 10 years later. Between 1945 and 1975, the Chicago firm had mass produced about ten million guitars.” Apparently, many people still harbor nostalgic feelings for the craptops of yesteryear, and here is a fancy website belonging to an Asian operation , “The Original Harmony Guitar Company, Inc.” (It is not transparent how old this producer is, but this indicates that it may be three decades old or more).

The company produces a series of replicas of the good old Harmony guitars, as well as a new series that does bear any particular resemblance to the vintage models (and some look quite decent, e.g., this one). The pricing policy is essentially the same as the old company, i.e., very low priced guitars.

Ah, and while we are at Harmony, here is “The Harmony Database.” Very informative! It was, for example, new to me that Harmony had produced for Gretsch.

Jordan Officer and His Kelvinator (?)

August 31, 2009

Nicolai Foss

In an earlier post, I wondered whether any serious contemporary jazz player regularly used one of the cheapo US-produced archtops of the post-war period.

Here is Jordan Officer delivering a nice version of “Playboy Chimes” (Bob Wills?) on what would seem to be a blonde, single-pick-up Kay Barney Kessel with the “Kelvinator” headstock (I wasn’t aware that the Barney Kessel model was made with a single pick-up; hence, I am a bit uncertain re whether this is really the model Officer is playing).

More Officer here, this time with a solid-body. Officer is best known for his work with the Susan Arioli Band; here is the YouTube selection.

Strange …

August 22, 2009

Nicolai Foss

About 20 years ago, I was the unhappy owner of a Harmony H1310, their top of the line instrument, and apparently a self-believed competitor to Gibson’s cheaper archtops (like the L50). Well, no Harmony has ever — at least in my experience — been able to hold a candle to any Gibson archtop. Indeed, my 1310 was a truly bad guitar with very high action (“good for slide guitar”), lacking intonation, and crappy finish.

Surprisingly, Harmony archtops are sometimes sold at relatively high prices, particularly in Europe (I have seen some fetch as much as 1000 Euros). Perhaps this is the reason why some (Korea-based?) producers have spotted a potential opportunity by producing replicas of the H954 Broadway; see here. Elderly offers it at 599 USD.

Pretty Craptops

October 22, 2007

Nicolai Foss

The inexpensive, mainly postwar, archtops that were produced for the US mass-market and distributed by Sears and similar outlets are often routinely dismissed by archtop collectors and players. To be sure very few Kays and Stewarts and probably no Harmonys can compete against even the low-end Epis and Gibsons of the same period.

Still, it is necessary to recognize that some low-end producers were better than others, and that some low-end guitars may represent a lot of value for money. Here is a case in point, a very pretty SS Stewart. This unmarked guitar (but with similar binding to the Stewart’s) is also a good-looking specimen.

Höfner Site

June 8, 2007

Nicolai Foss

Do you like those old German boxes? Check out Steve Russell’s site.

German Archtops on German Ebay

April 18, 2007

Nicolai Foss

Do you lust for a Höfner, Egmond, Framus, Hoyer, Musima, or some “uralte Meister-Jazzgitarre,” then German ebay is for you! Type in “jazz Gitarre” or “Jazzgitarre” (or the specific producer you are looking for (doh!)). Here is the rather rare Höfner 461s with the dancing seals, and here is a nice looking Hoyer with an Ideal floating pickup.

German Archtops

March 28, 2007

Nicolai Foss

Here is a great German site (in English though) about German archtops, i.e., info about very interesting archtops, notably Lang and some of the Hoyer and Höfner ones, that may have been competitive with the best US archtops of the time, as well as less interesting ones (many of the Framus guitar and most of the Commie Musima ones). Check out the cool pics with one guitar more crazy than next. Zebra stripes, toilet-seat MOP, chrome pickguards, strange soundholes, etc. (check this — is this where Jimmy D’Aquisto got the idea for the Solo’s soundholes?).

What the Vintage Guitar Info Guy says on his Höfner page applies to most German archtops:

I can only tip my hat in awe to any company confused enough to build its guitars with beautiful flamed maple laminates, attach its guitar pickguards with common finishing nails, and load its istruments with enough carefully inlaid mother of toilet-seat to furnish the lobby of a Miami Beach hotel.

Archtops at Fat Dawg’s Subway Guitars

March 23, 2007

Nicolai Foss

Yesterday I blogged on those old Harmonies and Kays (and Silvertones, Sherwoods, Regals, Armstrongs, etc. etc.) and why they aren’t (if indeed they aren’t) used more by professionals. Well, perhaps it is both a quality and an aesthetic issue — i.e., these guitars are frankly often both crappy and ugly.

BUT … check out Fat Dawg’s Subway Guitars. It is pretty amazing what the Fat Dawg can do to these old archtops. That Harmony L4-C is just beautiful! And what about the Sherwood? Incredible what a good polish, a quality pick-up, new tailpiece and tuners, etc. can do to an old time, cheapo archtop.

Harmony, Kay, etc. Bleg

March 22, 2007

Nicolai Foss

Do you, dear readers, know of any contemporary serious players (in jazz) who regularly use old Harmony, Kay, etc. archtops, in other words, the mass-distributed inexpensive archtops of the 1940s to 1960s, for their professional gigging?

I ask because I have had the opportunity to try out particularly Kays that may be able to compete tonally and in terms of volume with the best Gibsons and Epiphones from the same period. Of course, these are likely outliers in the quality distribution. Clearly, the average Epi or Gibson archtop is much superior to the average Harmony or Kay. But the point is that these outliers exist — and may represent superior value (such as this one?)

Here is info on Kay guitars. And here is a Harmony page. Here is one more.