Thursday, January 31, 2008

The $100 Guitar, first in a series

This is a Harmony acoustic guitar I bought in Evansville, Indiana a few years ago. I have tried with very little luck to find the correct model number for those of you who care about such stuff, but it doesn't seem to match up with anything in the online world of Harmony guitar reference.

We were on a stop on the Hootie "Looking for Lucky" tour with a Sunday off. My father had asked me to look around Evansville, as it was where his LST was built and launched from. There weren't a lot of places open, but there was a small music store a couple streets up from the hotel. A couple of us went inside, and once we got past the modern imported Strat and Les Paul knock-offs, we were dazzled: there were dusty old Stellas and Epiphones and weird Univox amps. Mandolins and ukes on pegboard hooks on the wall; ancient drums and accordions on the floor. It was like walking into the back of David Lindley's mind, I imagine.

And none of it was for sale! The man who ran the store told us we should go visit a store around the corner if we wanted to buy something. I'm not exactly sure why he had the place open, and it pained me to have to leave all that high quality junk behind but we followed his advice and went elsewhere.

"Elsewhere" turned out to be Goldman's Pawn Shop. We walked in, and it was Danelectroville Incarnate! I struck up a conversation with Bob Goldman of the namesake family, and he told me that when they'd originally begun reissuing Danelectros, he bought lots of all the different models. And he still had quite a stockroom full of U-2's and Convertibles some years later.

I wasn't sure I wanted to part with as much as a Danelectro would set me back, even the lowliest of the bunch. As I began walking toward the door, I saw the Harmony on a rack of used acoustic guitars. I stopped and looked it over. The pickguard had a terrible warp in it. Very dusty, and very big. Not a pretty guitar. It was priced at a hundred dollars. Food for thought.

I walked back to the hotel (my friends had left me, drooling on the counter at Goldman's), and I kept thinking about the Harmony. I'd played it, and it had a big boom of a sound, even with old and rusty strings. Up to the room where everyone was hanging out, and they asked if I'd bought anything. I said not yet.

Jason, our stage manager, laughed and said, "Oh you just want to buy a guitar because all of ours are on the truck and you can't get to them!" He had a point, and so I hightailed it out to the street again and back to Goldman's.

I found Bob and gave him his hundred dollars and tax for the Harmony. We went into the back of the store, and he found me a chipboard case that would hold it (this guitar has very broad shoulders, less curvy than a Gibson). He threw in an old Ace Hootenanny guitar strap I found in a box while I waited for him to close up the storeroom. Strode back to the hotel, took the guitar out in my room, strummed a giant roaring A chord, and it's been a love story between me and this Harmony ever since.

There's no question when you play it that it's not a top-dollar guitar: nothing fancy about it. I took the pickguard off, which exposed a crack in the top I have yet to get fixed. No amount of polishing has given the neck or the body any kind of appreciable sheen. The action is a little on the high side which makes it ideal for my new-found ring finger-based slide guitar playing. The Harmony's greatest appeal is its enormous volume. The sound can fill a large room without amplification, and it can dwarf this vocalist easily. I've never played a louder acoustic instrument. Great for parties on the porch, and I can mesmerize the baby for over forty-five minutes at a clip with some slide practice in the mornings.

Next to my 1969 Guild D40 which I use for shows, the Harmony is my favorite guitar. I think of slapping a pickup in its soundhole and trying to use it onstage, but I believe that I'd prefer to keep it safe at home where it hangs in the commanding center spot in the Holsapples' Wall of Hundred Dollar Guitars.


Deaconlight said...

Now didn't I hear somewhere you have a vintage clear Danelectro? Hmmm...

I feel lucky to have the red Fender Mustang my step-father bought from Camel Pawn Shop around 1973. He paid $160 for it. When I moved out of the house he stuck a claim to it, stating it was his guitar - even though I was the one who had played it 99.9% of the time I lived at home.

We shared the guitar over the years but in 1993, he wanted it back. I was crushed. So that Christmas I bought him a brand new sunburst finish Stratocaster and made a trade to own that Mustang once and for all. I was ready to play guitar again and took weekly lessons from Brad Newell. Then I began getting too tired to play. Why? By March I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter, Avalon. That put an end to my guitar lessons with Brad. The Mustang got put away in the case, where it collected dust for a long time.

Avalon started taking guitar lessons while she was still in Lower School. At first her guitar teacher, Kevin Dollar, said she would play acoustic for about a year. After her first lesson, he was amazed. Within a few weeks she was hauling that heavy red Mustang to her lessons.

About a year and a half ago, Avalon started complaining about the Mustang. She hated it. The only kind of guitar she wanted was a Schecter. All I heard about was how she had to have a Schecter. But she was stuck with the Mustang or her acoustic guitar.

Avalon and I were front row center when the Smashing Pumpkins played War Memorial Auditorium in Greensboro in November. Watching Billy Corgan so close up was amazing - I could have touched his shoe. The best song was one where he pulled out a beautiful black Schecter. The sustain would have even impressed Nigel Tufnel. Watching Billy play "United States" was almost like watching him and the guitar meld into one entity. I became a Schecter fan after that.

So Avalon gets a black Schecter for Christmas. Therefore, I expect the Mustang will be mine again. But no, suddenly Avalon declares - "Hey it's a Fender! I've gotta have a Fender. Now I have two guitars."

Wonder if I’ll ever get my Mustang back again...

Jeff Hart said...

my first impression when i saw that guitar was that "hey, it's got a clear pick guard like that andy griffith martin re-issue!". but now i see it's the outline of the pickguard. maybe even cooler. i guess you probably know the story of how andy acquired that martin on the set of "a face in the crowd". it's sure had an interesting life.