Documenting history as well as my experiences with repairing and restoring vintage guitars.

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I stumbled across a Reverb listing for a NOS pickguard for a Harmony H-16 Bobkat and the description mentioned that he got this as a samp...

An Interview with a Former Harmony Employee in 2019

I stumbled across a Reverb listing for a NOS pickguard for a Harmony H-16 Bobkat and the description mentioned that he got this as a sample from his time at the Harmony factory so I reached out to him.

This is my email interview with Kenneth B. who was an employee at the Harmony Musical Instruments factory from 1966-1975 and was gracious enough to entertain my questions.

October 1st, 2019

Do you play any instruments?
Yes. Believe it or not, I am a sax player. 

How did you find out about the job and how old were you?
I was 24 years of age when I walked through the back door looking for a job since I just graduated from DePaul University of Chicago. It was difficult finding work since I was eligible for the draft and the Vietnam crisis was in full swing. For whatever reason, Harmony was willing to take a chance on me. I was drafted within a year, but returned to continue my job functions at The Harmony Co. after serving 2 years in the military. 

What was your role at Harmony?
I was an assistant to the Vice President of Purchasing and Manufacturing. My main function was Purchasing.

Do you still work with instruments?
No, I am retired. I still play gigs on saxophone though.

What were some of your favorite experiences?
Working with the people at the Company. I found it to be one happy family. Also, I enjoyed meeting and working with the vendors from whom I purchase supplies.

What were some of your least favorite experiences?
The closing of the Company. I attended one of the days of the auction of completed musical instruments, machinery, parts, veneer, etc,, 
What was your opinion of the Kay Musical Instrument company?
Kay was our largest competitor. I saw the music industry as a friendly industry since companies would help each other when possible. I even got a request, which we fulfilled, from the Gibson Company for some celluloid the need for pick guards. Just a side note, we did not want to see Kay go out of business because the effect would mean more instruments arriving in this Country from overseas.

I hope I have answered the above questions to your satisfaction. You can ask more questions, but you must remember that it has been over 40 years since I left the Company so I may not have all the answers to your questions.

October 14th, 2019

How long have you been playing the saxophone? What kind of music do you play? Do you have a band?
Playing sax for about 65 years. Play some jazz and R n'R. The band I was part of, just broke up. That's show business.

What did your role entail? What was a typical day like?
My role entailed purchasing items to keep a manufacturing plant afloat, from lumber to toilet paper. I was also involved in testing new vendor items such as an adhesive or sandpaper, new type of coating, etc.
A typical day would be reviewing manufacturing orders against inventory of parts and raw materials.

Did you manage ordering parts, wood, or pickups from suppliers? 

I believe I've heard that Kluson had their own catalogs for their tuners but I have only ever seen one on the internet, did they have like a catalog for purchasing their machines?
They did have a catalog. 

The I believe I've heard that Kluson had their own catalogs for their tuners but I have only ever seen one on the internet, did they have like a catalog for purchasing their machines?
Yes. The only parts I purchased from Kluson were banjo parts such as the 5th string tuner plus nuts and bolts which attached the ring which held the head to the banjo shell.

When did Harmony switch away from using Brazilian Rosewood and to Indian Rosewood?
I really can't say.

Did you interact with any of the businesses who purchased Harmony guitars for their own distribution?
Not really. That was handled by the Sales Department.

If so, was there a separate stage in production where guitars were custom branded?
I would not say that there was a separate stage since certain types of guitar went through the same stages. A work order would call out the differences on the instruments and those differences would take place in the same areas of the regular Harmony lines.

Was there an attitude shift into the 70s as more import guitars were pouring in from Japan? I believe that Harmony Opus guitars were some of their last attempts to compete. 
It was a line to compete against the higher priced guitars in the field. Here is a piece of trivia, I came up with the "Opus" name for the new line of guitars.

I plan to pick up on the rest of your questions hopefully later this week. Need to run
now. The Chicago Blackhawks are on the air.

October 18th, 2019

At the auction, did it appear to be mostly businesses or hobbyists that were buying up parts? I can only imagine what happened to all that stock of wood and guitars
Mainly business men.

Did Harmony build some of their own tuning machines and tailpieces in house?
Harmony did not build their own tuning machines. As far as tailpieces go Harmony had dies for a couple and purchased others from the outside.

That surprised me about Gibson looking for pickguard material, did you know why they couldn't keep up with demand?
The supplier could have been backlogged and lead times were long if they were out of stock, which I think was the case that I recall.

Do you have any memorabilia, documents, photos, or catalogs from your time at Harmony? One of my hobbies is digitizing items from daily life that most people overlook because I think it provides great insight into the past.
The only catalog I had is long gone. I have no photos. However, at a Barnes & Nobles I saw in a book containing many guitar manufacturers, a photo of a giant Harmony guitar, largest in the world at that time, exhibited at the NAMM show. Besides from a couple of Christmas gifts from the company, in our house we have an Opus style guitar, a Harmony electric guitar, Roy Smeck model, and a prototype 12 string guitar, only 2 of this model were made, as one of the choices for Fender's "F" series. There was another prototype made which Fender chose for their line. Unfortunately, the one we have does not have the Fender name screened on the headpiece since it was not a production item, only a prototype. At that time, we most likely did not have the artwork for the Fender logo from which to produce a silkscreen.

I thought of another highlight which I should have mentioned earlier which is astounding, I think. Harmony was producing about 2500 banjos per year. When the movie "Deliverance" which contained the song "Dueling Banjos" was released, it created a craze for banjos. We had one heck of a time trying to get enough parts to build banjos. Harmony went from building 2500 per year to 2500 per week near the end of the run. It was hectic, but it was fun. What a ride!

October 28th, 2019

Dueling Banjos is actually what inspired me to try and pick up the banjo, I didn't stick to it as well as I could've haha. That is astounding that banjos picked up to that degree especially so late in Harmony's lifespan. Have you heard of the newest iteration of the Harmony brand? Hand built guitars from Kalamazoo, MI that resemble some of the classics from back in the day. Here is their website, Have you also heard of Baxendale conversions? Their business model consists of obtaining old Harmony and Kay guitars, converting them to X-bracing, rebuilding them, and selling them as a "greener" alternative to purchasing a new instrument. Plus you get the authenticity of having an instrument built from old wood which people seem to prize.
Thanks for bringing the above to my attention. Since I am not a guitar player nor any longer in the industry I do not keep up or hear much of the news on the Harmony name. However I did check a little bit of the Harmony website and it was quite obvious that these were not "original" Harmony's nor are exact duplicates. The pickups were a dead giveaway. Their warranty is for 2 years. The "real" Harmony company warranted their instruments for a lifetime. They were very confident about the quality of their instruments.

I thought it was pretty great that you came up with the Opus name, how did you pitch that? Were they looking for a name for a new line of instruments?
The president (Mandel Kapland) at one of our staff meetings requested that we summit names for this new line of guitars. I handed a list of names and the name Opus was chosen. He jumped on that one almost immediately.

How and why did Harmony get a hold of Gibson pickups like the wide-range humbucker and the P-13 for some of the semi-hollow models? Especially since most Harmony instruments used DeArmond as their pickup supplier.
Sorry, but that was before my time. I have no idea. 

Do you understand the meaning of the stamps inside Harmony instruments? I know there is always a model stamp like 1234H5678 where H5678 is the model and 1234 is something unrelated like a batch number.
You hit the nail on the head with this one: model number followed by the work order number. In this way the instrument could be traced all the way back to its final assembly, date, lot, etc. 

 Then there is F-67 which means the instrument was built in Fall of 1967 if I recall correctly. I've also seen letters follow the number too but I can't figure out what they mean. So like F-67 AB or something or that nature, I might have a picture somewhere of what I'm talking about.
Where did you see this type of number? I know there was a number inside the "back" of the instrument. I don't recall what the designation "F-67" means but the letters, such a the "AB", which would be at the end on the inside back are the initials  of the person who did the final inspection of the instrument.

Have you had any contact with any former employees since the company shut down?
Yes. Unfortunately, I lost contact with Mr. Edward Wozniak who was the chief designer and you could also say chief engineer for many years at the Harmony Company. As a matter-of-fact, he is pictured with the large Harmony guitar I have mentioned, in one of the guitar history type books I saw at a "Barnes and Nobles" book store. He knew more about the Harmony instruments than anyone in the company. I tried to keep in touch with a couple of others whom I have seen periodically.  

PS. I have enjoyed sharing these Harmony experiences with you and glad to hear someone is still interested in what was the largest musical stringed manufacturer in the world. Hope you get plenty of enjoyment out of your Harmony "Rocket".  I will see what I can do about getting photos of the 2 Harmony instruments I presently own along with a photo of a mounting plate with 2 mounted DeArmond pickups from the H.N. Rowe Company.

October 30th, 2019

Regarding tuners, I've seen this style of tuning machine on many, many instruments from Kay and Harmony. They aren't Klusons and you mentioned that Harmony didn't make them in house, do you know where they came from? The only other tuner manufacturer from that era that I know of is Waverly out of New York
Waverly was the manufacturer that sold most of the tuners used by the Harmony Company.

Here is another bit of trivia. when Regal was going out of business, Harmony bought the Regal name. If I remember correctly, the acoustics that we briefly made for Fender used the Regal name.

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