Classic Gear: 1961 Silvertone 1423

Gibson and fender might have led the electric-guitar pack in the USA in the early ’60s for design virtue, quality, star power, and overall desirability—with the likes of Gretsch, Rickenbacker, and Epiphone following closely behind.
By Dave Hunter ,

Gibson and fender might have led the electric-guitar pack in the USA in the early ’60s for design virtue, quality, star power, and overall desirability—with the likes of Gretsch, Rickenbacker, and Epiphone following closely behind. Harmony, however, was the country’s biggest guitar maker, selling more than a quarter of a million instruments annually during its peak years in the mid ’60s, between its own brand and others it manufactured for, such as the Silvertone line sold through Sears, Roebuck & Company. Most guitars from this Chicago manufacturer addressed the needs of the beginner, student, and lower-budget end of the market, and were priced and constructed accordingly. Now and then, however, the designers and builders at Harmony cinched up their belts, bolstered their pride, and got down to making a guitar that they hoped would run with the fancier brands from California and Kalamazoo. The results rarely lived up to those hopes, but it wasn’t for lack of trying, and the Harmony Stratotone H-49 Jupiter—also marketed as the Silvertone Model 1423, as seen here—is cool enough to deliver the kinds of aesthetic vibe and hip ’60s tone promised by the pricier vintage collectibles worth five figures and more.

As big as it was, and as closely tied to catalogs that also sold everything from garden tools to kitchenware, Harmony was led more by the bean counters than the creative team, so this Silvertone 1423 doesn’t have a lot to boast about in the construction department. The body is made from laminated woods with a semi-hollow core of construction-grade lumber, all disguised as one of the popular single-cutaway solidbodies of the era. But put that shaky foundation aside, and you quickly notice a lot of high-end features packed into this thing, such as multi-ply body and fingerboard binding, a functional trussrod (Harmonies and Silvertones didn’t always have them), a dark rosewood fretboard with elegant celluloid block inlays, a rather nifty black-sparkle finish, and control wiring that was significantly more complex than that of the average Gibson or Fender.

In addition to individual volume and tone controls for each pickup, the guitar included a Blender knob that, when the 3-way switch was in the middle position, routed the neck and bridge pickups direct to the output (bypassing the other pots) at any player-determined mix of the two. More important than all this, though, were the pickups that went into this system: a pair of DeArmond “silver foil” single-coils with diamond-center covers, which were exactly the same internally as the famed DeArmond “gold foil” pickups that have made a roaring comeback in recent years. Wound with 44 AWG wire around thin bar magnets to resistance readings in the 10kΩ range, these pickups contribute a sweet, full voice that is both delectably textured and a touch raw, with dynamics that simultaneously blend good bite in the pick-attack with a very playable hint of compression. They also drive a semi-cranked tube amp beautifully, and sound great through fuzz pedals, so everyone from bluesers to indie-rockers have been enjoying their sonic charms of late.

The weapon of choice for myriad blues artists back in the day, Harmony and Silvertone models much like this one (or cousins to it) were also hoisted by many legendary rockers, including both Keith Richards and Brian Jones, Pete Townshend, Mike Campbell, Ronnie Lane, and others, and have lately proved popular with alternative guitarists such as Dan Auerbach and John Butler.

ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS

► Semi-hollow body with laminated top, back, and sides
► Bolt-on neck attached with three wood screws
► Two single-coil DeArmond “diamond cover” silver-foil pickups (same as the famous “gold foil” pickups)
► Floating bridge with wooden saddle and trapeze tailpiece
► Deluxe wiring with Blender control
► Multi-ply binding, block inlays, and black-sparkle finish

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