LEFT: In 1963, the Harmony Archtone H1213 sold for under $40.
RIGHT: Made of solid wood, as opposed to laminates, the Archtone sports a birch body.
I have a Harmony archtop acoustic with the following numbers inside: F-63-HB and 3714H1213. I know Harmony guitars aren’t worth much, but this guitar plays quite well. Can you identify it for me and tell me how much it’s worth?
—Chad in St. Paul, MN
Cool guitar! And you’re right— most Harmony guitars aren’t worth much, or in other words, they aren’t very collectible. That said, I wonder how many guitarists reading this column started out learning to play on a Harmony. There are hundreds of thousands of Harmony guitars out there, and though these are mostly entry-level instruments, they’re very much a part of guitar history.
Harmony was the largest US guitar manufacturer between the 1930s and late 1960s. At the height of the guitar boom in the mid-1960s, Harmony was building more than 1000 instruments per day. Not only were they producing Harmony-branded guitars, there was a time when the Chicago-based factory was making guitars for 57 different brand names and trademarks. At one point, Harmony was selling 40 percent of their guitars through Sears & Roebuck under the Silvertone brand.
Your guitar is a model H1213 Archtone made in 1963. Harmony did a great job of stamping model numbers and dates of manufacture on their guitars, but they often require some decoding. The F-63-HB is the date code and the two numbers, not surprisingly, indicate 1963. The “F” preceding the year was often thought to be a fall production indicator while the other letter stamp they would use was an “S,” which researchers thought stood for a spring production instrument. However, a former Harmony employee notified a Harmony database website that it is more likely an “F” stands for “first” and “S” stands for “second.” He explained that Harmony would shut the factory down for two weeks in July and that guitars produced before this break were stamped “F,” while guitars produced after were stamped “S.” The H1213 is the model number as indicated in Harmony’s catalogs and literature. The “3714” is the serial number of your guitar, but little information has been uncovered as to what this series of numbers represents. More than likely, it was a consecutive production number of that particular model for either the first or second half of the year.
The Archtone acoustics were some of the most popular guitars ever produced by Harmony. While production totals are unavailable, we can safely say that tens of thousands of these instruments were manufactured. The Archtone had a non-cutaway body and was advertised as being constructed from hardwoods. These “hardwoods” were actually birch (grained to resemble mahogany and spruce) and maple (grained to look like rosewood) for the fretboard. The binding was actually painted on!
Other Archtone owners may notice a slightly different model number, but with the exception of a tenor version, the only difference is the finish. The H1213 (your model) was finished with a shaded-brown sunburst, the H1214 was ivory-colored with a flame effect, and the H1215 was a sunburst with a grained effect. In excellent condition, this model is worth between $200 and $250 today. But in the average condition yours appears to be, it’s worth between $100 and $150.
According to Harmony’s 1963 price list, the H1213 Archtone sold for $37.75. If we take inflation into account, this same guitar would actually sell for around $270 today. This is roughly the same price for most entry-level acoustic guitars these days, but the two main differences are that the H1213 is an archtop and it was made in the US (most modern entry-level acoustics are flattops produced in Asia).
While most collectors aren’t necessarily going to boast that they own a number of Harmony guitars, we shouldn’t forget the important “first axe” role Harmony played for many guitarists. This company took mass production of guitars to the next level. And though you may have to sort through a few to find one that is completely intact and doesn’t allow a car to drive under the strings, they were quality-made instruments for the most part. For those of you who first learned on a Harmony Archtone, this is certainly a childhood treasure!
Zachary R. Fjestad is author of Blue Book of Acoustic Guitars, Blue Book of Electric Guitars, and Blue Book of Guitar Amplifiers. For more information, visit bluebookinc.com or email Zach at firstname.lastname@example.org.