Trash or Treasure: 1964 Harmony Silhouette
A reader receives a 1964 Harmony Silhouette H14V as a birthday gift.
I'm not looking to sell this guitar or anything. I'm just curious because I haven't been able to find much information about it. For my birthday a few years ago, I received a 1964 (says it under the pickguard) Harmony H14V Bobkat. It was purchased for about $250 (CAD) and now I'm seeing them on the used market shooting up in price. I really don't know much beyond the killer sounds I get from it. What it's worth, hypothetically?
Mitch Finck in Stratford, Ontario, Canada
This is a cool guitar and it appears to be in great shape. Your Harmony's condition is somewhat of a rarity since they were often a guitarist's first instrument, and subject to the beating and torment of youngsters trying to emulate Pete Townshend.
The Harmony Silhouette series was introduced in 1963. Based on their body shape/configuration, it appears these guitars were intended to compete with Fender's newer Jazzmaster and Jaguar instruments. Harmony, however, provided something Fender didn't at the time. There were four versions/price points of the Silhouette, making one affordable to nearly all guitarists. The original prices were $64.95 for the single-pickup H14, $89.50 for the two-pickup H15, and $137.50 for the H17 that had two pickups, a polished finish, and vibrato. The top-of-the line fourth model, the H19, was priced at $189.50 and had two pickups, a deluxe vibrato, and block fretboard inlays. Compared to Fender's price of approximately $350 for a Jaguar or Jazzmaster in 1963, Harmony was very competitive.
Vibrato versions of the H14 and H15 officially appeared in Harmony catalogs in 1966 (and were noted as the H14V and H15V, respectively), but Harmony had been selling add-on vibrato tailpieces since 1964, so vibrato versions were possible during the entire run. In 1968, Harmony changed the name of the guitar series from Silhouette to Bobkat. They also introduced the “Color Kat" models that were essentially the same models with custom-color finishes. Candy apple red wasn't unique to Fender in 1968, or at least Harmony didn't think so! The Silhouette/Bobkat series lasted through the early 1970s with only minor style and body changes during the run.
These guitars—especially the H14—were designed and priced as entry-level instruments, and were mass-produced quickly. Today (and probably in the 1960s as well), it's hard to find one with decent action, tolerable intonation, and a neck thinner than a baseball bat. (It's interesting to note that these guitars were advertised as having a “Slim Line" neck.) The hardware on these instruments often fails and it's somewhat difficult to find replacement tuners, bridges, and tailpieces. To find one of these guitars that plays decently is a treasure unto itself when you consider how many you could have sorted through.
You mention the killer sound that the guitar puts out. The DeArmond-designed gold-foil pickup is mostly responsible for that. These high-output pickups produce that dirty garage-rock sound so many artists are looking for these days. (Think of bands like the Black Keys and the White Stripes, where simplistic style and heavy distortion define their sound.) These pickups on their own are often worth as much as the guitar, which is too bad since it often turns a guitar into a donor project.
St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) is a notable Harmony player with her H15V, and this has most likely contributed to these guitars becoming more popular in recent years. I've also read numerous stories about the fond memories associated with an H14 being the first instrument for many guitarists. Most of these instruments were traded in for better guitars, but many baby boomers are now trying to find their first instrument some 50 years later.
This was a $100 to $150 guitar just a decade ago, but today, an H14 with a vibrato is worth between $300 and $400. No doubt the nostalgia of a first guitar, the sound of the DeArmond pickup, and the association with a famous artist are partially responsible for the appreciation. This is a great treasure of a birthday present, especially if it continues to increase in value.