Martin Reynolds



Harmony Guitar
Tale of the Stella
click the thumbnails to enlarge

I've been working on a old Harmony made Stella H-928 for the last week or so. I got this guitar many years ago and intended to save it for a apprentice to learn on, but once I gave it a real inspection I realized it was way beyond beyon apprentice work.This thing was a nasty, dirty wreck, looked like it had been kept in a barn. Parts of the back were loose and a most of the top. Braces and plate had just plain fallen out and were laying inside. The neck was loose, the tuners seized up, but everything was there.

A lot of careful cleaning had to be done before I could start the repairs. The first cleaning was with a damp cloth and sponge, just enough to get the top layer of grime off. Then I removed the neck using just a touch of steam. Once that was done I worked on cleaning all the open seams/cracks that needed to be glued. At this point I could glue and clamp the open seams/cracks without grinding dirt into the finish and worked on getting the neck back into good shape while the body was in clamps. With all the seams and cracks repaired the body could now be thoroughly cleaned inside and out. Using some black lacquer I touched up the painted binding. Now I am in the process of gluing braces back in place. The first photo to the left is not my guitar, that is from the Harmony Database site. The logo on mine is the earlier type, I think mine was made around 1956.

Once all the braces were back in I did a final cleaning and polish to the whole body and neck. Now it's time to get the neck back on. I cleaned the dovetail enough to get the neck back in and check the pitch, too litle, but that is what I expected. The first few photos are of my neck reset jig. The jig holds the neck steady and the table adjusts for the correct pitch. I made an offset base for the Moto Tool and the tool will cut away any part of the neck heel that is above the level plane of the table. The tool only cuts straight lines, the heel must fit the body as tightly as possible and the body is not straight, age has curved it. So the next step is to hand carve that curve in. The Fox vise holds the neck firmly but gently while I carve the heel. This takes quite a bit of carve... fit... carve... fit, moving the neck from the vise to the body and back again. Once I was happy with the fit I refitted the dovetail by adding more material to the tendon and then filing and sanding until it was a semi tight fit, too tight and you run into problems when the glue swells up the wood during gluing. Finally it's clamp time and a lot of cleanup while glue squeezes out.

The Finishing touches.

After removing all the clamps I did yet another cleaning to remove the haze from glue clean up. A final light waxing with some carnuba wax will even up the color overall and bring out the patina of the finish.

The original nut was pretty worn so I made a new one from some scrap Brazilian rosewood. That done it was time to look at the old bridge, too worn so I made a new one that would accept a bone saddle, much easier to adjust in the future and it's compensated for proper intonation.

The scale length on this guitar is 24 3/16", quite a bit on the short side meaning it needs a bit more compensation than a normal, say, 24 3/4" scale. Harmony did mark the bridge position on the top but it was way off, by almost 1/4".

When gluing braces back in I noticed that this little guitar was rather heavily braced. It has a tailpiece so it really didn't need to be braced quite as much as it was, so I left out one brace. I'm glad I did because while this is a sweet sounding little guitar it doesn't have much sustain, a rather quick decay. One more brace wouldn't have helped that at all and leaving it out gave it more bass. I have it strung with light gauge strings but even without the extra brace I would not worry about using mediums, the neck is so short it should be fine.

Lastly, last week my good camera crapped out on me. I started using my phone camera but holding that thing steady enough to get even half decent photos is almost impossible so I made a little holder to mount my phone to my camera tripod. I still take lousy photos but they're not blurry.

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