Harmony H-162, Made in Chicago, USA in the late 1960’s
I finally put the second Harmony H-162 back together. I got two late 1960’s Harmony H-162 acoustic guitars about 2-3 years ago and it has taken forever to actually find the time to re-set the necks on them. The first one I put together back in November and that one was sold straight away. This one is reserved for a friend of mine but if he decides to get one of my Levin guitars instead then I will put it up for sale. They are really nice these Harmony guitars, wide neck, strong tone and great wood. Harmony used the same wood supplier as Martin back in the day. These were called folk guitars which is a grand concert size, the exact same size as a Martin 000. The Harmony H-162 was produced in Chicago from 1940-1971, this one is most likely from the late 1960’s looking at the headstock. Even though it was an inexpensive guitar at the time they were built with all solid woods, back and sides of selected quality mahogany with a resonant spruce top. It’s a surprisingly well sounding guitar for being a mass produced ladder braced guitar, way better sounding than any Gibson B-15 or B-25 I’ve heard and it cost a third. The neck is pretty wide which makes it extremely comfortable for finger picking. Considering the price of a late 1960’s Martin 000-18, or even a Gibson B-25, the Harmony H-162 is a bargain for a USA made all solid wood vintage guitar.
The Harmony H-162 was missing machine heads, nut and saddle so I cut new ones in bone and added machine heads and some ebony bridge pins.
Harmony H-162, Made in Chicago, USA in the late 1960’s
Two years ago I came across a couple of Harmony guitars, two late 1960’s Harmony H-162 acoustic guitars and a late 1950’s Harmony Monterey H1325 archtop guitar. I sold the archtop pretty much straight away since I got two Levin archtops at the same time. Both of the Harmony H-162 were in desperate need of a neck reset and were unplayable so they got packed away for the first year and a half and then in April I got around to remove the necks and now last week I finally managed to reset the first of the two. This Harmony H-162 feels a lot like my 1965 Goya T-16, but of course ladder braced instead of X-braced. These were called folk guitars which is a grand concert size, the exact same size as a Martin 000. The Harmony H-162 was produced in Chicago from 1940-1971, this one is most likely from the late 1960’s looking at the headstock. Even though it was an inexpensive guitar at the time they were built with all solid woods, back and sides of selected quality mahogany with a resonant spruce top. It’s a surprisingly well sounding guitar for being a mass produced ladder braced guitar, way better sounding than any Gibson B-15 or B-25 I’ve heard and it cost a third. The neck is pretty wide which makes it extremely comfortable for finger picking. Considering the price of a late 1960’s Martin 000-18, or even a Gibson B-25, the Harmony H-162 is a bargain for a USA made all solid wood vintage guitar. This guitar is now for sale.
Once the neck was reset all the hard work was done. The rest was just cleaning, polishing frets, oiling fretboard, repairing some binding, installing machine heads and creating a new truss-rod cover.
I got myself two late 1960’s H-162 so now I will start on the second one and get that neck reset as well. Taken from a 1959 Harmony catalogue
Harmony H-162, Made in Chicago, USA in the late 1960’s
This is a project that could have been done in two days but has taken two years. I guess it’s partly my fault, I wasn’t really sure how to reset a neck so I kept putting it off. I also have a 1.5 years old daughter and she is like a black hole when it comes to making time disappear. Anyway, now it’s done and everything worked out pretty great. I steamed off the necks back in April and then I had a lot of gigs and moved house in the middle and then last week I finally managed to get the guitar back together.
I drilled a small hole under the 14th fret and tried to steam it off that way but it worked really badly so in the end I got frustrated and just removed the fretboard and got the neck off that way instead. I glued the fretboard back straight away so I wouldn’t mix the parts between the two late 1960’s Harmony H-162 that I had lying around at home. Once the neck angle was corrected I glued the neck back with Titebond 506/4 classic wood glue.
The late 1960’s Harmony H-162 in parts, it was actually quite easy to reset a neck. It’s pretty worn but the solid woods are really nice, mahogany back and sides with a two piece spruce top.
I cleaned up the dovetail and heel with a chisel and then adjusted the neck angle with a file, it felt less risky than doing it with a chisel. I didn’t have to remove much for getting the action down and making it playable again.
I decided to carve a new bridge for my 1968 Levin LT-18. The old bridge needed to be re-glued anyway so I thought it was a good time to create a new one in ebony instead. I did this once, I carved a new bridge for my 1973 K. Yairi YW-1000. This was a pretty similar job, both ebony and roughly the same shape. I’m really happy with the sound of this guitar now, so much richer than with the original bridge.
First step was to remove the old bridge with a heated spatula and then copy the bridge and drill the holes.
Then shape it as close to the original as possible using my Japanese saw rasp and different files.
Last step, fit the bridge and glue it down. Once the bridge was in place I could check the intonation to get the saddle slot in the perfect spot. Unfortunately I cut the slot 1 mm too wide so the bone saddle got a bit fatter than I had planned. Perhaps that gives tonal qualities I would have missed with a thinner saddle, let’s hope so. I also installed a LR Baggs M1A so I can use the guitar for gigs.
Before: with the original rosewood bridge and the individual height adjustable plastic saddles
After: with the ebony bridge I carved and a bone saddle
The new Claescaster, my second attempt at building a guitar
Back in 2014 I built myself my first Claescaster, it was not just my first guitar but pretty much the first anything I ever built. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either so I decided to give it second try and here is the result, the new Claescaster. The truth is that two years ago my wife was pregnant and I thought that was a great opportunity to build myself a Telecaster to mark the occasion. Unfortunately we lost that child half way through so I named the first guitar Greta after the daughter we never had. Two years later we tried again and were blessed with our little Frida, and just before she saw the light of day in early May I had my second Claescaster ready and gave it her name. My wife asked if I was going to build a guitar every time she gets pregnant and I might very well do that, it’s a great way for a man to keep himself busy during the nine long months of waiting. I will try to find some more pictures of the building progress, if not there are some more on my Instagram.
Claescaster – Frida, is not the best Telecaster I’ve ever played but it’s still pretty damn good guitar, and ten times better than the first one I built. My plan was to build a 1952 copy so I could be like Bruce Springsteen, Keith Richards or Roy Buchanan with his Nancy. Unfortunately that never happened, or at least not as close as I hoped for. Everything was going great, I had an awesome baseball bat neck with a 7.25 radius, it was actually so fat that I had to reshape it twice, great grain running along the top, everything felt smooth and the edges were pretty straight for being cut and shaped by hand, then I got to the lacquer. I managed to use the wrong lacquer and even though I tried to scrape it off and try again I never got perfect after that. I decided to give up on the brand new look and went for some form of old and worn 50’s vibe instead, which was my secret plan all along, I just wanted to have it perfect before I made it look old. Anyway, I’ve learnt a lot for my next Claescaster.
The body comes from a wood pile I found in the streets of Barcelona and most likely pine. If I remember correctly it was a beam or a bed frame, that I cut in half on the length and glued together to get the width. The neck was from a block of North American maple that I bought in a wood shop here and that I had to saw by hand, which took forever. I used a 6 mm stick of wood for the fretboard markers and jumbo frets from Jascar. The pickups are Artec and the hardware is all from Wilkinson. I will try to get video up so you can hear what it sounds like.
I’ve recently managed to do some more work to the Sonora parlour. I decided to reset the neck to try to get rid of the banana neck and high action and it worked pretty well. I also redesigned the fretboard and added some wooden dot markers. Now the action is low and the guitar is easy to play.
The new Sonora parlour and here is what she looked like before
My initial plan was to steam the neck off by drilling two small holes under the 13th fret and that way get steam straight in to the dove tail. That didn’t work, I think it was too much old glue stuck in the joint and also the needle tip I used for my home built steamer was too thin. I decided to remove the whole fretboard instead, I used a spatula heated on a normal clothes iron which worked like a charm. Once the fretboard was off I could just steam the hell out of that joint and eventually the glue softened and then neck came off.
Next I had to try to remove the hump on the fretboard where the neck and body meet. I removed all the frets, and kept them in the correct order to make it easier to reinstall them later. To get rid of the hump I had to remove almost 6 mm of the overhang and then sand the rest to get the fretboard straight.
I re-cut all the fret slots, reinstalled the frets and added four wooden dots in different grain directions as position markers. I gave the fretboard a coat of lacquer and then painted everything black except for the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th fret. I added a layer of lacquer on top and then sanded it smooth and polished out the frets again.
I recently restored a little German parlour that I unfortunately don’t know anything about. The only info the seller gave me was that it was made in Vogtland in perhaps the 1920-30’s. If this would have been a Japanese acoustic or a Levin I would have had a bit more of knowledge but I really don’t know anything about old German parlours. I just bought it to practice my guitar repairing skills and for that it was pretty good, I’ve learned a couple of new things. The idea was to give it to my wife but now we found another one for her so if anyone is interested in buying this then send me an email.
The action is a bit high so it’s ideal for slide playing but you can still play it like a normal guitar if you have light gauged strings on it. It sounds pretty awesome, really clear and loud for being so small. It’s made of all solid woods, spruce top, walnut back and sides and perhaps pine or some other light coloured wood in the neck, I’m not that great at guessing woods. One set of machine heads looks original and seems to be from 1920-30’s and the other is perhaps DDR made from the 1960’s, but both works fine. Overall a pretty nice sounding little guitar with a beautiful patina and the most awesome looking one piece walnut back.
I started with taking the back off so I could re-glue all the braces. It was pretty straight forward to open it, I used a heated spatula and a knife, it worked like charm, I removed all the braces in the same way. The head was broken and pretty much everything that could be lose was lose on it when it arrived. It has a small makers mark under the bridge but I can’t really figure out what it says, if anyone has any ideas please get in touch.
Update: August 27, 2015: The brand is Sonora
I re-glued all the braces and the two cracks in the top with fish glue. Unfortunately the top had been cracked for so long so I couldn’t get it to close perfectly but at least now it’s solid with two cleats running along the cracks.
The next step was to glue the head back on. This was a bit harder than the Spanish guitar I glued the head on the week before since the break this time was just under the nut and therefore a lot harder to clamp. I left it for 48 hours and it seems to have worked pretty well so I carved and sanded the back smooth and then painted it black again. I glued the back on and closed the guitar with tape and clamps and this was pretty tricky too, as I’m sure everyone that has ever closed a guitar would know. The sides tend to move outwards so you have to push them in place sideways at the same time as you clamp the top down to the body. A bit fiddly but it worked fine in the end.
Now I just had to make the guitar playable. These old parlours are known for having banana necks since they lack any form of reinforcement in the neck. On top of that they tend to have a hump where the fretboard meets the body. First I heated and steamed the neck under pressure which worked quite well for straighten it out a bit. Then I took out the last 5 frets, sanded down the fretboard, put the frets back and lowered them as much as I could. I painted the fretboard brown and sanded over it to match the rest. After that it was just to level, crown and polish the rest of the frets.
I have recently come across another American guitar maker that was previously unknown to me. I mentioned Grammer guitars earlier, this time it’s Mossman guitars that I’ve fallen in love with. One of the guitar builders that I follow on Instagram, kawvalleyguitars in Kansas, kept posting images of Mossman guitars he had done neck resets on, which awoke my curiosity. After a bit of Googleing I realised that quite a few artists liked Mossman guitars, including John Denver, Eric Clapton, Albert Lee, Doc Watson, Hank Snow, Cat Stevens and Merle Travis. Stuart Mossman got fed up with all the plywood guitars that was pumped out of the big factories in the 1960-70’s and decided to start building his own guitars with real tone woods and proper craftsmanship, and so S.L Mossman Guitars were born in Winfield, Kansas.
Stuart Mossman in Winfield, Kansas. Here you can read more about the Mossman story
The new Claescaster, my first attempt at building a guitar
As I mentioned before I’ve been pretty busy building a Telecaster from scratch. I have never built anything in my life so this was more of a test to see how hard it was to shape a body, carve a neck, install a trussrod and frets and get it to intonate and actually play properly. It wasn’t that hard. I would say that with some patience this could be done by pretty much anyone. Now I will start to build something a lot prettier and use what I’ve learned from my mistakes the first time around. I promise to take a lot of pictures so you can follow the whole process. You can follow me on Instagram.
As mentioned before, there are two guitars that I really would like to own. The first would be a Gibson J-50, ideally from before 1970. The Second would be a mid 1970’s K. Yairi YW-1000, the most beautiful Martin D-45 copy ever made. Having said that, I might have to add a third guitar in my list of holy grails, a Grammer Guitar. Imagine to find an original, before Ampeg took over, The Grammer Guitar RG&G, built by Billy and the boys in Nashville, Tennessee. Here you can read the history of the Grammer Guitar, it’s a pretty interesting story, especially if you like country music as I do. In the mid 1960’s Billy Grammer, a musician himself, decided to make an affordable flat top guitar for his friends in the Country music business. He took a Gibson J-45 and a Martin D-18 apart, studied their bracing pattern and how they were built and then made a copy with the best of both worlds, The Grammer Guitar. Maybe the reason I like them so much is because they remind me of my big headed Levin guitars from the 1970’s.
The Last Grammer Guitar made by RG&G, built in 1968 on 715 Poplar Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee
I’m not much of a Joe Bonamassa fan but he plays a 1969 Grammer Johnny Cash model, I mainly respect him for taking his vintage guitars on tour and using them instead of just collection them. The Guitar Of The Week part on the Joe Bonamassa’s site is well worth a visit if you like old guitars.
Joe Bonamassa’s 1969 Grammer Johnny Cash model, here is a Youtube clip of him playing it live
Here is Billy when he was young and awesome
And here is Billy when he is old and blind, but still kind of awesome