Vintage Instruments: Electric Guitars & Amps

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1961 Harmony/Kay Stratotone

An interesting Harmony-built H45 Stratotone Mars, with Kay branding. This is an early version of the model, and we suspect the red-burst finish is particular to the non-Harmony branding of this guitar. It’s otherwise a typical Stratotone model, with period DeArmond ‘Hershey bar’ pickup, hollow body single-cutaway body, and short 24” scale.

What makes this guitar a little extra bit special is the custom hot-rodding that we’ve just done to it here. These are always amazing sounding guitars, but they were fairly cheaply made and really benefit from a few key improvements. We’ve replaced the original wooden bridge with a TonePros Tune-O-Matic and hand-made ebony base for better intonation, sustain, and string spacing; we’ve added a string ground to help eliminate needless 60 cycle hum; we’ve replaced the tuners with a set of modern Klusons, we’ve dressed the frets for clean, buzz-free, fast fretting, and we’ve carefully set the whole thing up with a set of 11’s. It’s now a completely dependable version of itself, with amazing playability, and great intonation. It doesn’t get better if you’re into Harmony/DeArmond fat single-coil tone.

The guitar is in excellent condition with original wiring and pickup in place. The tuners had been swapped out before we came along, so you’ll notice some minor scarring on the back of the headstock and a couple of extra filled-in screw-holes peeking out. Frets are level and well dressed, and the fretboard is without the typical hump at the body joint we usually find. Original nut is spaced well and properly adjusted. Neck has a medium D carve that feels natural, a 24” scale, and nut width of 1-11/16. String spacing is a bit less than 2” at the bridge.

Very fat, dark, hot, and dynamic DeArmond single-coil pickup. Nothing sounds like a good 60’s DeArmond Hershey Bar or Gold Foil pickup.

With gigbag

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