High-quality construction and versatile mini-humbuckers help a pawnshop fixture evolve into a mid-price top-performer.
Harmony Silhouette tested into a modified Plexi-style amp, set to semi-clean (edge of breakup) for the first three clips, then crunch for the final two.
0:00 – Bridge pickup
0:19 – Both pickups
0:38 – Neck pickup
1:05 – Bridge pickup, Marshall gain up to “crunch”
1:35 – Neck pickup
A thoughtful blend of vintage-derived style and tone, and 21st-century construction and playability.
Body shape and neck joint make it a little neck-heavy when played seated.
Harmony is one of the oldest American guitar brands. The company has been at it, in one form or another, since 1892. And from the mid ’60s through the mid ’70s, Harmony manufactured more instruments-per-year than any other company in the world—an impressive feat in the electric guitar’s most golden era. Not long after, though, the brand moved away from its Chicago roots, passing between temporary owners and overseas manufacturing facilities. As the years passed, word of the unappreciated quality and character in vintage originals passed from pawnshop hunters to punk, grunge, and garage-band musicians. But in the last few years, it’s not been unusual to see a festival headliner like St. Vincent or War on Drugs parade out an old Harmony solidbody.
Harmony’s newest owner, BandLab Technologies—which also owns Heritage Guitars, Mono Cases, Teisco, and other brands—did not take the resurrection of these Harmonys lightly. All three new Harmony guitar models are based on originals even though they aren’t down-to-the-letter reissues. And They’re manufactured at Harmony’s factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan—the same factory where Gibsons were once made, and where Heritage guitars are now also built. The high level of quality makes them entirely functional to a 21st-century gigging guitarist. And the Silhouette reviewed here, like its siblings the Jupiter and the Rebel, sells at a novice-friendly $1,299 with case. That’s a nice price for a unique, U.S.-made solidbody.
The typical Harmony guitars of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s were regarded as beginner and student guitars—the kind your parents bought to make sure you were really going to learn to play before investing in something more serious. The new Harmony is, in most respects, a better quality guitar than the originals, and it’s certainly built to a high standard for a mid-priced, bolt-neck solidbody.
The body is crafted from solid alder in an, ummmm, silhouette that mimics the original, though the neck joint and bridge placement differ (Many originals came with a Hagstrom vibrato.) and the pickguard has simpler and arguably more elegant Jazzmaster-style lines. There’s also generous rib and forearm contours that enhance the comfort of the new version.
Our review guitar came in a pearl white finish, but slate blue and champagne finishes are also available. The bolt-on neck is built around a 25" scale length with a 12" radius ebony fingerboard. The neck profile is a medium C that leans a little toward the slim side. Tuners are a locking type that feel both smooth and efficient, and the bridge is a chopped-Tele-style affair with three compensated saddles and through-body stringing.
Quirky shapes and features aside, Harmony’s claim to fame is, for many players, the great-sounding single-coil gold-foil pickups many models were fitted with, which were manufactured in the late ’50s and ’60s by Rowe Industries for DeArmond. While the Silhouette’s pickups look like gold-foils, they are actually more versatile mini-humbuckers. I’m a little surprised that they dispensed with the archetypal “S” or “diamond-top” covers that distinguished the originals visually, but these still look sharp. Controls are a simple master volume and tone, rather than the original’s 4-control set. But the guitar is fitted with stylish cupcake knobs, an orange-drop tone capacitor under the hood, plus an easy-action toggle selector. Each new Harmony solidbody guitar also comes in a high-quality Mono Vertigo gig bag, which is a nice bonus given that it would set you back almost $250 by itself.
The Silhouette is comfortable and easy to play. And while I prefer chunkier necks, this medium-C profile is certainly easy on the hand. The shape of the guitar and the relative position of the neck/body joint make it a little neck-heavy on the lap, and you sometimes feel the neck start to dive when you remove your fretting hand. Oddly, though, it feels more balanced hanging from a strap, and it’s a confident player regardless, in either position.
I tested the Harmony Silhouette through a Friedman Small Box head with a 2x12 cabinet and a tweed Deluxe-style 1x12 combo, and I was immediately impressed by how well this guitar accomplished its mission—which is to say, it plays like a well-built modern guitar but still delivers a lot of the of lo-fi-meets-hi-fi personality that gold-foil-equipped originals delivered by the bucket load. It’s easy to tap into the gnarly, raw, garage-rock sounds that mini humbuckers are excellent for. But it also has the added refinement of hum-cancelling performance and a little extra sweetness and musicality, thanks to the more resonant qualities that come via well-executed construction.
While the mini humbuckers shine in many musical situations, the Silhouette excels at edgy indie-rock, punk-tinged blues, and classic rock—just the way gold-foils would. You also hear and feel a cool blend of cutting top-end attack and compression in single notes and chords that’s quite like vintage gold-foils. Given what a good set of gold-foil reproductions with period-correct rubber magnet construction can cost, the substitution of mini humbuckers is an effective and cost-conscious move that certainly helps keep the guitar affordable. But they also mean you don’t sacrifice the rowdy vintage personality you probably want from a Harmony. The modern Harmony struck a nice balance and compromise here.
Ultimately, the Harmony Silhouette is a clever, broadly appealing homage to a funky pawn-shop favorite that ends up much more versatile than its inspiration. Some players might wish for a little more of the original Silhouette’s quirkiness: the club-like neck, the gold foil aesthetic, funky switches, extra knobs, and a less Fender-y pickguard. But it’s hard to argue with this new offering’s marriage of personality, playability, versatility, and, when you want it, capabilities for punk savagery.
Watch the First Look: