Claescaster

Tag: Guitar repairs

Harmony H-162

Harmony H-162, Made in USA
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.

Harmony H-162, Made in USAHarmony H-162, Made in USAThe 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

Harmony H-162, Made in USA 1960'sHarmony 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.

Harmony H-162, Made in USA 1960's
Harmony H-162, Made in USA 1960'sOnce 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.

Harmony H162, 1959 Harmony catalogue
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

How to… reset a neck

Harmony H-162, Made in USA 1960'sHarmony 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.

Harmony H-162, Made in USA 1960's
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.

Harmony H-162, Made in USA 1960's
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.

Harmony H-162, Made in USA 1960's
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.

 

Levin LT-18

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1966Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1966

When I bought my first Goliath sized Levin guitar back in September 2013, a 1966 Goya T-18, I was amazed by the sound of it. They aren’t that easy to come by so I have pretty much bought every Levin LT-18 I got my hands on. Now I’m the proud dad of seven, 3 Levin LT-18, 1 Levin LS-18, 1 Goya T-18, 1 Goya T-23 and 1 Levin 174, they are all the same model with the same specifications, it’s just small details that have changed over the years. They have an X-braced alpine spruce top with flame maple back and sides. I first thought I was a mahogany back and sides type of guy, then I believed that rosewood was really my thing, when the truth is that I was a flamed maple guy all the time, who would have guessed? It’s a pretty odd tone wood, we have classics like the Gibson J-200 and quite a few of Guild’s jumbo models that are built with maple back and sides, but not that many dreadnoughts and especially not in the 1960’s. To my ears the Levin LT-18 is the love child of a Gibson J-45 and a Martin D-28, it’s somewhere in between, a perfect mix and I just love them.

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1966
Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1966
Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1966

Levin LT-18 / Goya T-18
Goliath size: Body width: 400 mm, body length: 505 mm, body depth: 95/120 mm
Fingerboard width: 43 mm, scale length: 630 mm
Spruce top, flame maple back and sides, 4-ply bound top, single-bound back
Mahogany bolt-on neck with adjustable truss rod
Single-bound ebony fingerboard with bass side pearloid block inlay
Nickel plated individual Van Gent tuners with metal buttons
Ebony bridge, natural finish and ten year warranty

Marketed by U.K. distributors as Super Goliath Model 1855

Levin LS-18 (1960), Levin LT-18 (1963), Levin LT-18 (1966), Levin LT-18 (1968), Goya by Levin T-18 (1966), Goya by Levin T-23 (1966)The Goliath sized Levin collection so far: Levin LS-18 (1960), Levin LT-18 (1963), Levin LT-18 (1966), Levin LT-18 (1968), Goya T-18 (1966), Goya T-23 (1966). I didn’t include my 1972 Levin 174 in the picture since the head shape is different and it didn’t really match the others, even though it’s technically the same guitar.

Levin LS-18

Levin LS-18 Made in Sweden 1960Levin LS-18 Made in Sweden 1960

I finally got my hands on a Levin LS-18. Around Christmas 2015 I was offered to buy a Levin LS-16 that I’ve loved since the first time I played it. Therefore I’ve been really curious to hear what a full sized LS sounded like. These guitars seems to be fairly rare, I’ve seen one or two up on eBay in the last year but they have both gone for upwards of a £1000. I’m not sure why there aren’t more of these around in Europe, perhaps people refuse to sell them or they all got badged like Goya S-18 and shipped off to USA. The Levin LS-18 was introduced in 1958 and replaced by the LT-18 in 1964. The only difference sound vice that I’ve noticed between the LS-18 and the LT-18, both of them have flamed maple back and sides, is that the LS-18 seems a bit deeper in the bass. Perhaps it’s just this guitar, or the year, or the wood, it’s impossible to know without trying ten others. Other noticeable differences is that the LS-18 has thicker neck profile, different machine heads and centred pearl dot inlay instead of the LT-18’s bass side pearloid block inlay. It basically looks a bit more 1950’s and I love it.

Levin LS-18 Made in Sweden 1960Levin LS-18 Made in Sweden 1960There was quite a lot of work to do on this when I first got it. The action was so high that I couldn’t even get it in tune properly, the intonation was way off. I reset the neck and cleaned it up and now it both sounds and plays great.

Levin LS-18 / Goya S-18
Goliath size: Body width: 400 mm, body length: 505 mm, body depth: 95/120 mm
Fingerboard width: 43 mm, scale length: 630 mm
Spruce top, flame maple back and sides, 4-ply bound top, single-bound back
Mahogany bolt-on neck with adjustable truss rod
Single-bound ebony fingerboard with with centred pearl dot inlay. Nickel plated strip tuners with plastic buttons. Ebony bridge, metal Levin truss rod cover, natural finish and ten year warranty

Marketed by U.K. distributors as Super Goliath Model 1855

Levin LT-18

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1963 Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden in 1963

2016 might have been the worst year ever when it comes to good musicians dying, last out was Leonard Cohen who meant so much for me in my late teens. Having said that, 2016 has also been the most amazing year ever when it comes to me getting my hands on some mighty fine Levin guitars. I’ve been trying to find another Goliath sized Levin for the past 3 years without much luck, except for the lovely 1968 Levin LT-18 that I found a couple of weeks ago. The full sized Levin guitars don’t come up for sale that often, especially not in Sweden or Germany where people seem to keep them until they die. The 1966 Goya T-18 that I bought back in 2013, which started my obsession with the Levin brand, was imported from USA and they seem to be quite rare there too. I have seen a couple on eBay in the UK but the sellers always want £1000 for them which for me as a Swedish collector is way too much. I was raised with this brand, my first guitar was a Levin and even though they might be worth what they deserve in the rest of Europe, the cheaper models can still be found on yard sales in Sweden for close to nothing. We have to remember that Levin had produced 500,000 guitars by 1970, something that C. F. Martin & Co completed in 1990, so there are still quite a few lying around in peoples attics in Sweden. I must have done something right lately because I’ve been very lucky when it comes to guitars, both these Levin LT-18 was actually offered to me, the sellers had seen my blog and contacted me to see if I was interested in buying them and of course I was. You feel a bit honoured too, when someone offers you a guitar because they know you will restore it, take care of it, play it and cherish it for years to come. This 1963 Levin LT-18 has spent it’s life in Ireland and came to me from a guy called Fintan. It has had some repair work done to it, apparently by a luthier in Dublin about 10 years ago. The pickguard was replaced and a new bridge was cut and for some reason screwed down to the top, madness if you ask me. I just adjusted the neck a bit, cleaned it up and it was ready to go. The guitar sounds pretty damn amazing, not as strong in the mid-range as the 1968 Levin LT-18, especially not after I changed the bridge to ebony, but the highs are great with really nice overtones.

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1963
Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1963

Levin LT-18 / Goya T-18
Goliath size: Body width: 400 mm, body length: 505 mm, body depth: 95/120 mm
Fingerboard width: 43 mm, scale length: 630 mm
Spruce top, flame maple back and sides, 4-ply bound top, single-bound back
Mahogany bolt-on neck with adjustable truss rod
Single-bound ebony fingerboard with bass side pearloid block inlay
Nickel plated individual Van Gent tuners with metal buttons
Ebony bridge, natural finish and ten year warranty

Marketed by U.K. distributors as Super Goliath Model 1855

How to… carve a bridge

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden in 1968

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.

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968First step was to remove the old bridge with a heated spatula and then copy the bridge and drill the holes.

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968Then shape it as close to the original as possible using my Japanese saw rasp and different files.

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968Last 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

 

Levin LT-18

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968
Levin LT-18, Made in Sweden in 1968

I’ve tried my best not to buy more guitars, hence why I’m selling most of my Japanese acoustics. Having said that, if a Levin LT-18 shows up on eBay and the seller contacts me via email, after a couple of shamefully low best offers from my part, and I happen to lie at home with pneumonia, it was just impossible to resist. I’m so weak for these top of the line Levin flat tops from the 1960’s, they sound amazing and they are pretty rare to find, people tend to cling on to them until they die, and then their kids will sell them. It’s also quite rare to see a Levin branded LT-18 for sale, I already have a Goya T-18 which is the same guitar but branded Goya for the US market and they tend to be a bit easier to come across. I always prefer early to mid 1960’s Levin guitars, before they opened the new factory in Lessebo in 1965, having said that, most of my Levin guitars are actually from 1965-1966 and they sound pretty damn amazing. This one from 1968 is pushing it a bit, I thought it was from 1967 until I got it home and could check the serial number properly. The problem after 1967 is the new invention of Levin, the individual height adjustable plastic saddles, I hate them. I will have to carve a new bridge in ebony, to match the fretboard, and cut a slot for a real bone saddle.

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968
Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968
Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968

Levin LT-18 / Goya T-18
Goliath size: Body width: 400 mm, body length: 505 mm, body depth: 95/120 mm
Fingerboard width: 43 mm, scale length: 630 mm
Spruce top, flame maple back and sides, 4-ply bound top, single-bound back
Mahogany bolt-on neck with adjustable truss rod
Single-bound ebony fingerboard with bass side pearloid block inlay
Nickel plated individual Van Gent tuners with metal buttons
Ebony bridge, natural finish and ten year warranty

Marketed by U.K. distributors as Super Goliath Model 1855

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968There were two things that I couldn’t stand with this Levin, first the lack of lacquer on the back of the neck, and then the rosewood bridge with the individual height adjustable plastic saddles. I’m not sure how they managed to loose most of the lacquer on the back of the neck but that was easily filled in with a couple of layers of Nitrocellulose lacquer. The second part, with the rosewood bridge and the plastic saddles is something we are going to have to deal with. The sound is not terrible with the plastic saddles, it ads a kind of 1960’s Gibson bass to it but it lacks a lot of clarity in the trebles and I always prefer a bone saddle. I also don’t like the look of a rosewood bridge to a ebony fretboard, they should match. I will try to carve a new bridge in ebony as soon as I get time.  

the-big-three-at-the-cavern-decca
This Levin LT-18 was apparently owned by Brian Griffiths from The Big Three, a Liverpool band that was active during the days of The Beatles. However, since the guitar was made in 1968 he must have bought it long after the Liverpool glory days were over.

Here is the guitar in action when we played at the Cavern in Terrassa last weekend

How to… Replace frets

Hagström Western 6 Made in Sweden 1978Hagström Western 6 Missouri, Made in Sweden 1978

Last weekend I tried a trick that I had seen some old luthier in the US doing on Instagram, replacing the first three worn frets with the last three, instead of re-fretting the whole guitar. This seemed like a really good solutions for my 1978 Hagström Western 6 which had terrible wear on the first three frets.

Hagström Western 6 Made in Sweden 1978It seemed a bit pointless to do a complete re-fret when it was just the first three that was worn, I also like to keep things as original as possible. I just pulled out the first three and the last three and replaced the first three with the last three and then added three new frets where the last three used to be, easy peasy. I just had to nip off the edges with some pliers, file them down and round them a bit to get them smooth. Since you don’t play on the last three frets, or at least I don’t, you don’t have to level and crown them too much.

Sonora parlour

Sonora parlour guitar Made in Germany 1920-30'sSonora parlour guitar made in Germany 1920-30’s

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.

Sonora parlour guitar Made in Germany 1920-30'sSonora parlour guitar Made in Germany 1920-30'sThe new Sonora parlour and here is what she looked like before

Sonora parlour guitar Made in Germany 1920-30'sMy 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.

Sonora parlour guitar Made in Germany 1920-30'sNext 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. 

Sonora parlour guitar Made in Germany 1920-30'sI 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.