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View Full Version : Harmony and Roy Smeck Ukes - - - -Curiosities or Playable?



MD1948
03-04-2019, 04:32 AM
There are seemingly millions of these out there. I wonder if the 1930s and 40s instruments play well? Or, were they just useless beginners' instruments? The plastic fretboard looks toy-like to me, but I don't know.

I've been on the make for a little soprano to keep by my chair, and I have been seeing so many of these for sale. Just wondering.

jelow1966
03-04-2019, 04:40 AM
I have a 70's Harmony. It's perfectly fine if you just want to strum on first position chords but for anything other then that it's pretty worthless. Intonation is way off and no way to adjust with a one piece bridge. Not the best tuners either. It's a cheap uke so no surprise it has issues.

John

EDW
03-04-2019, 05:15 AM
Go to https://jakewildwood.blogspot.com/p/museum.html and scroll down to the Harmony ukulele section. He has lots of examples and many have sound clips and detailed write ups. He often discusses issues as well as thoughts on playability and what work he performed. Many of those sound pretty decent. I think many of these old ones can be playable. Some might need a little tweaking.

hoosierhiver
03-04-2019, 05:17 AM
It depends on the year and the model, solid wood Harmony baritones are awesome.

Ukecaster
03-04-2019, 05:43 AM
I had a vintage Harmony soprano a while back. It looked much better than it sounded. It had good volume, the tone was ok, nothing complex or especially rich. Looking back, I would have been better served by a modern Kala or Ohana from a good dealer; at least then you know you're getting a well set up instrument that sounds as good or better, and you don't need to drop $40.00 on a setup of a tired old instrument that already cost you 75.00 or so. Pics of my old one below. I sold it, without taking a loss, fortunately. If I did that again, I might choose a vintage Gretsch instead.

How about a plastic vintage Maccaferri? I've never seen/played one, but there seem to be lots of those around too. Steve's always sounded good in his 365-day fundraiser videos. Anyone who has played both of these, would you choose a vintage Harmony or Maccaferri soprano?

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Swamp Yankee
03-04-2019, 05:58 AM
First uke I ever played was my older brothers Harmony Roy Smeck. It had gut strings on it and it was a HOOT to play - but I was like 8 years old so.. :rolleyes:

Braddtastic
03-04-2019, 08:04 AM
I don't know about sopranos, but I have a mid-1950's Harmony baritone that has been in my family since it was first sold. For years I looked past it, having read all the dismissive comments from people whose credentials I could never verify, but finally gave it a shot with some restoration and modern strings. What I found was a nice uke with a warm mellow mahogany tone that had held its own very well for the last 64 years!

Keep in mind that Harmony was once the largest producer of musical instruments, and they ultimately had to close because they wouldn't replace the 150 people doing work by hand with machine automation. For the price point they were sold at, they offered a hand made instrument with very solid construction and a decent tone. It's not something you fairly compare to a K-brand ukulele, or even to my solid acacia Kala baritone that has a full setup, but you will find your Harmony ukulele has a sound all its own. I actually prefer it to my nicer/newer ukuleles when playing old cowboy songs and certain other specific genres. Right now I've restrung mine to become a low octave GCEA "super tenor" and it sounds fine doing that as well!

My point is, take all of our comments with a grain of salt and decide for yourself. Your Harmony ukulele will give you a nice piece of history and you'll have fun with its unique offerings. Don't mistake low price for bad quality...have fun with it and celebrate the ridiculously great deal you got!

For some great information on the Harmony brand, check out https://www.madeinchicagomuseum.com/single-post/harmony-company

Jerryc41
03-04-2019, 10:44 AM
I have a Roy Smeck soprano from about 1950. A neighbor used it in high school music class. It's a nice little uke, but it's more of a "special" uke than one I would play to make good music. I don't think I'll be putting Gotoh tuners on it. :)

Jim Yates
03-04-2019, 11:28 AM
My first harmony was bought at a flea market for about $25. I bought it so my grandkids would have something to play on when they came over. It's fun to play first position chords as jelow1966 said, but that's about it. See the video below.

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Last Christmas, my friend Jimmy Bowskill gave me a Roy Smeck, essentially the same ukulele.

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A few years back I bought a Maccaferri for a friend who lived out of town. He left it at my house for a couple of weeks till he came to pick it up. It was a better quality uke than the Harmonys, but not fantastic. Maggie took this photo about five minutes before he came to pick it up.

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Here's John Rutherford playing a song that he and his dad wrote on a Harmony uke.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2PEBKZGaEg

MD1948
03-04-2019, 11:50 AM
Well, THAT was a nice education! Thank you all. I'm going to pass on collecting one of those. I was at my sister's yesterday and she pulled an almost unused KALA soprano out of the closet. It's one of those $75 ones, but it plays nice enough for my "chair side uke" when I want to fiddle with an idea.

I'll leave the Harmonys and Smecks to vintage collectors and those who can fix them up. Thanks for all the super information. Love this forum!

actadh
03-04-2019, 02:43 PM
I think is depends on what you want out of it.

The 50's plastic fretboard birch Harmony soprano can be strummed or fingerpicked, but it has little sustain. If that is not an issue, it is a fantastic little chair uke. I have one in my office. It does play up the neck. I have Martin M600's on it.

I also have a 40's solid mahogany Silvertone by Harmony soprano with great sustain. I have Aquila Reds on it.

But of the two, the plastic fretboard Harmony is way more fun.

PetalumaRescuke
03-05-2019, 07:41 AM
I've been on the make for a little soprano to keep by my chair, and I have been seeing so many of these for sale. Just wondering.

You might look at Northern as were used,but limited to, Canadian Schools. It has a triangle shape with a flat bass that stands up very nicely and look kind of like desk decoration. I used it as such back when I had a desk at work.115894

Jim Yates
03-05-2019, 01:16 PM
You might look at Northern as were used,but limited to, Canadian Schools. It has a triangle shape with a flat bass that stands up very nicely and look kind of like desk decoration. I used it as such back when I had a desk at work.115894

I believe that uke was designed by Canadian music educator Chalmers Doane (sp?) One of the itinerant music teachers that taught with me had one.