1910s Harmony-made Supertone Fancy Parlor Guitar

Guys, it has been a while since I've worked on an old, lightweight Harmony parlor guitar. This Supertone-branded one is in for consignment and it's crazy. Check out how intense that rope binding and plethora of purfling is! Check out how seriously the finish has alligatored! You can barely see through it to the nice figure in the mahogany that's on the back and sides.

It has some design features that are quirky, too, including a fairly-steep radius on the fretboard which I barely ever see on Harmony builds and the "patented" adjustable steel bridge that I've only ever handled once or twice on guitars coming through the shop. It's a nice idea but it needs lots of tweaking to actually make it work. I've checked the Sears catalogs for their Supertone guitars for the era, and this bridge style appears in 1918/1919 but this particular model is not shown. A similar one with white binding is shown, however.

The rest of the design is straight-ahead Harmony-built for the time, though, including the thinly-cut top and light ladder-bracing that's just barely acceptable for the lightest steel strings (46w-10 gauges). It sound is remarkably full for a little "size 2" body and it has a sweet, rich fingerpicking tone. I'm excited to also relate that the flatpicking sound is nice and gutsy as well. I can't say that about most of the Harmony parlor products I've played from this period which can sound a little mushy flatpicked because of the light bracing.

Work included: a neck reset, fret level/dress, cleats for 6 hairline cracks on the top above and below the bridge, cleaning, bridge repositioning and modification of the bridge's design and loading, compensation of the saddle, and a setup.

Setup: action is nice with 3/32" EA and 1/16" DGBE at the 12th fret. It plays quick and easy. The tops on these Harmony guitars swell and contract a fair-bit season-to-season because of the light build, so the adjustable saddle is nice to have because of that.

Scale length: 24 1/8"
Nut width: 1 7/8"
String spacing at nut: 1 5/8"
String spacing at bridge: 2 1/4"
Body length: 18 1/8"
Lower bout width: 12 3/4"
Waist width: 7 1/8"
Upper bout width: 9"
Side depth at endpin: 3 3/4"
Top wood: solid spruce
Back/sides wood: solid mahogany with flamey figure
Neck wood: mahogany
Bracing type: ladder
Fretboard: possibly actual ebony, probably ebonized maple
Bridge: steel, baked(?) black finish
Neck feel: medium V, ~10-12" board radius

Condition notes: aside from the repaired hairline cracks, the instrument is in pretty great shape. The finish has entirely alligatored all-over, however, so some of the finer details are obscured by that. One can still see the absurd level of trim, however, and cool, "arts and crafts"-style wood inlay and binding work. The frets are nearly full-original-height but that means that they're still very small and slim. It's a period thing, after-all...! There's some cross-grain scratching on the fretboard, too.

The diamond inlays on the board are all wood. Note small repaired chip-out at the 12th fret on the board.

To get the compensation correct for steel strings, I had to move the bridge slightly which meant filling two of the bolt-mounting holes and repositioning them slightly aft.

Modification of the bridge included compensation the B/E and low E slots on the saddle, modifying the cut of the saddle, cutting slots into the bridge itself to allow proper back-angle on the saddle, and making a rosewood retainer bar (painted black) at the back of the bridge to allow rear string-mount with the ball-ends exposed on the outside.

If it didn't have the retainer bar for Ovation-style stringing, the ball-ends would hang on the inside hollow of the bridge and if the strings break, sometimes the balls get trapped inside and rattle-around for eternity. So -- I fixed this design flaw.


Nick R said…
Quite an amazing instrument- and an example of a higher end Harmony guitar. That Supertone label is possibly the original style that lasted for quite a while into the mid-20s- when it began to change regularly over the next 15 years.