Vintage guitars are prized for their rich tone and old look. When wood is subjected to decades of wear and tear, the wood becomes lighter, stronger and better accustomed to the sweet sound of strings. A brand name vintage guitar can cost upwards of 30 grand. Luckily, the ultimate vintage guitar is affordable and well within reach. For around 700 dollars you can have a well worn instrument that sounds amazing with deep lows and rich tone. Many older American made guitars were constructed as "student" or "entry level" models that could be purchased on a budget. Brands such as Harmony, Stella, Kay, and many others fell into this category. While considered "cheap" guitars by many players, the plain and simple fact is that these guitars (many from the 50s and 60s) were actually made from solid, prime "Old Growth" woods. Unfortunately, they were braced with only "strength" in mind with little concern as to "sound" (often "ladder" braced).
The Harmony Silvertone guitar was built in the 60's out of solid birch and with a few modifications, can be transformed into an instrument that sounds deeper, richer and surpasses those costing 20 times more. The original Harmony guitar was made in an era when guitars where all made by hand and great care was put into the process. The quality wood and double-binding make it a solid platform for experimentation and luthiers eventually noticed it, giving birth to the "Harmony Conversion" process. The "Harmony Conversion" is a process where the guitar has specific procedures that improve the tone and playability. This article will highlight the process for my own guitar and show an overview of the steps taken to achieve 100% satisfaction.
The plastic ring in the soundhole can be removed, which opens up the sound. Since the Harmony was built like a tank with decent parts, it became the ultimate candidate for experimentation. Somewhere along the line, luthiers noticed this and started to implement changes to the top and neck that completely change the sound and playability. The most important change is the internal bracing, which goes from the "ladder" style bracing to a pre-war "x-bracing" which causes drastic changes in the sonic signature, deepening the bass response and opening up the sound. I first heard about this process from Scott Baxendale, who has since passed down and improved upon by various American luthiers. The combination of the vastly improved tone and "old look" of the guitar makes this attractive to players worldwide. Simply find an old Harmony Silvertone guitar in decent shape for around 100 dollars. These can be found on craigslist and ebay. Contact Colfax Guitar Shop in Denver and talk to Dave or Christian. They will perform the conversion which includes resetting the neck, planing the fretboard and changing the plastic saddle/nut to ones made of animal bone. The neck is reset and a number of improvements are made, drastically changing the sound.
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