c.1937/2013 Harmony-made Supertone Electric Mandolin

Update 2015: It's back in trade and ready for service again. Nothing's changed and boy is this fun to play!

Update December 2013: I've since started work on a second one of these for fun so this guy's now available! I also replaced the bridge and swapped tuners for a 2x2 arrangement. I've since updated the photos due to these changes.

This guy started in at the bench as a down-on-its-luck 1937 (date stamped inside) Supertone all-birch flatback mando. I had to rebrace the whole thing as all of the braces were split or loose, though, so I decided to have some fun with it as I went. In this case, I removed half the tuners and installed an old Strat pickup (1970s Korean make) from my parts bin and converted it into a 4-string electric mandolin.

The conversion went nicely and it has both a warm and sweet, good-volume acoustic tone as well as a "Supertone" great plugged-in sound. I think with the full acoustic body what you get through the single coil pickup is sort of a breathy and clean hollowbody tone compared to the more poppy/picky, lots-of-sustain sound you get from a solidbody electric mando.

The stenciled wreath/lines decoration is more often seen on Harmony-made Supertone guitars from the same time. I think it's one of their more successful stencils.

The bridge is a parts-bin hand-made ebony tenor banjo bridge that I've compensated. It happened to be just the right height to dial in hair-under 1/16" action at the 12th fret.

I fished some single-unit early-40s Kluson tuners out of my parts bin and installed them on this mando along with some "Golden Age" StewMac ferrules that I had leftover from a tuner upgrade on one of my guitars. The remaining holes from the other 4 posts that would have been on this mando were simply covered with some pearl dots.

New bone nut.

The neck is good and straight but I did do a light fret level/dress. Check out the odd "crystalline" silver finish on the dyed-maple board. I added some clay side-dots to make this gig-useful.

The scale length on this guy is 13" and the build is lightweight, but because I have fewer strings on it I jumped the gauges up to 38w-11 for a more tense, pitch-stable tension when you dig in.

The grungy old cream Strat-style pickup cover looks perfectly at home with the rest of the cream decorations. I had to grind down (crudely, to fit with the look) the polepieces a bit to compensate for the usual "overly loud A string" problem with e-mandos. The pickup itself is pretty hot (7.9k) which gives you a bit more height adjustment room than most single coil pups.

Because I hardly ever use my volume or tone controls on electrics, I left them off when I hooked this up. I even had some nice big cream vintage knobs to use, but said... "ehh, maybe not."

The single-unit Klusons work just fine. I think they're probably 12:1 ratio.

I added some strap buttons to make it gig-ready.

There's the Supertone label in the soundhole. There's also a Harmony style number stamped inside and a Harmony style (S-37) date stamp.

The whole instrument is crack-free except for this very old slight hairline near the A-string tuner which was glued up in the past. It's stable -- so no issue.


Nick R said…
I have read it suggested that the motif on these instruments was probably inspired by the 1936 Olympic Games and is a laurel wreath. The fact that the design was replaced in 1937 suggests it may have been time sensitive.