H929. Finally!

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Finally. After years of hesitations, I have got this iconic instrument. A nice Stella Harmony H929. The year of 1955.

According to Wikipedia: ” Stella guitars were played by notable artists, including Robert JohnsonLead BellyCharlie PattonDoc Watson and Willie Nelson[2] who learned to play on one.[citation needed]Kurt Cobain of Nirvana played an acoustic Stella on the recording of the song Polly, from the Nevermind album, and Mason Williams with Classical Gas”.

It’s all wood instrument made from birch. Unusual material, but because of that, it has a tone that is so specific and recognizable in early blues.

Technically speaking Stella authentic sound is reach in the mid-range frequency and at the same time quite poor on both ends, the bass and tremble. That produces such a scratchy and “swampy” voice.

Here is the sample made on this guitar by the previous owner
Mario Vaillancourt

Happiness exists! Cheap and easy way to make a magnetic pickup.

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In one of my previous related posts DIY Pickup in 4 Easy Steps. I was explaining how I make the magnetic pickup from the sewing bobbin and a copper coil of a transformer.
Oh, and the neodymium headphone element ofcourse.
It was including the winding with the use of the ordinary drill.
Well. No more winding!
No more hassle with disassembling the transformers and cracking the old headphones!
The fast and easy way to make a magnetic pickup is as follows:

1. Transformer: take it but not break it.

According to many other reports the best choice is 110/12 VAC transformer.
If you cant find the transformer itself you can find any old power supply/charger for any electronic device.

2. Neodymium magnetic element.

Not necessarily neodymium one.
But to my experience the neodymium is the most effective and cheap magnet you can find.
More magnets you can set up more strong signal from your magnetic pickup will you get.
Q.: Where can I get the neodymium magnet?
A.: I’d suggest the same source as in “DIY Pickup in 4 Easy Steps.” post: the old broken headphones.

3. Copper Wire.

I use the copper wire from the electrical cable, the one for grounding without isolation coat.
But actually it can be any thick copper wire which you can find.
It just has to be long enough to make a loop which runs over the smaller coil frame of the transformer and around the magnets.

4. Putting everything together.

Firstly I’ve removed the smaller coil from the transformer to have enough space to push through the copper wire.
Maybe it’s not that necessary.
And it take quite a bit of time to do it.
Maybe in my next experiment I will not remove it if the copper wire will go through anyway.
Then I’ve made a loop with the copper wire as described above.
I secured the magnets and the surrounding wire with the peace of scotch just for the sake of the experiment.
Later I will find a better more reliable solution.
Here’s how it looks like:


OK. I admit that this is a “quick and dirty” way to do things.
But it’s only to share with an idea.
Of course, the final version has to be done the right way.

And the final step: testing.
Here’s how it sounds like.
Sorry for humming noise: no shielding.
The amp is the Fishman Loudbox Mini.

Harmony Stella H1204. A Blast from the Past.

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Harmony Stella H1204 H933)Since I’m not North American born there’s no wonder that I’ve never heard about Stella guitars before.
It was quite a revelation for me.
The guy on Youtube.com had explained it. And it’s as genius as it’s so obvious.

Delta Sound.
If you want an authentic Delta sound you don’t need to get an expensive National Dobro or something like that.
Robert Johnson and Leadbelly and many other pioneers of Blues just could not afford any expensive guitars.
At least at the beginning of their career.
They often played cheap Stella guitars.

A Bit of Stella History.
Before the 40’s Stella guitars were manufactured by Oscar Schmidt company. And nowadays those became expensive collectibles.
But later (1939) the Harmony company bought the Stella brand. They marketed Stellas as cheap beginner/student instruments.
The 40’s and 50’s had no truss rod. Only starting at early 60’s Harmony started to build and mark necks as “steel reinforced”.
But it still was not quite a truss rod as you cannot make any adjustment.
The instrument was built from birch. What was quite unusual choice even for that times.
All: top, sides, and back. All wood!
And that’s what made a very special “woody” sound.

In my case it’s Stella Harmony H1204. Made in 1968. At least the stamp inside of it reads as “F-68”.
It actually looks exactly like famous H939 or H933. And I’ve heard some story that many of them were supplied to Sears at that time.
This is my guess for the first “S” in the model stamp.
“Like new”. Of course, there are some dark stripes on white colored edges. But overall state is next to perfect. As many of those cheap guitars it was spending most of its life in some closet. That’s what preserved it from aging.

nut_shift It would be too good to be true to get the vintage guitar in the next to perfect state just for $75. Right?
So here comes the problem: the nut was shifted down (see the image). I have marked the place of the shift with the red color. So the lowest string was going right upon the edge and was practically unplayable at the first frets.
Luckily it is a minor problem. The main challenge here is to remove the nut from the place without damaging any part of the neck.
Firstly I tried to slightly hit the extended part from side with the hummer: it didn’t work.
Moreover, there is more chances to hurt the edges around the nut.
So here’s what I did:

  1. Strings removed.
  2. I have found some wooden bar and placed it on the top of the neck upon the frets and resting against the nut.
  3. 3. I carefully kicked the wooden bar on the opposite side with the hammer: the nut came out quite easily.
  4. 4. I’ve put just 2 drops of the white Carpenter’s glue into the trench then placed the nut back properly adjusted.
  5. 5. The last step: put a clamp for a couple of hours or more if you can.

Unfortunately I don’t have a set of images or even a video clip of the process.
But the last image presents the final stage and all used tools.

Cigar Box Guitar: Nice Looking vs. Ugly but Working.

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Few weeks ago there was some interesting discussion in the FB group “Cigar Box Guitar Builders”.
Someone started it with the statement, kind of: “I don’t like the idea of using any expensive guitar parts on cigar box guitars.
Because there were no expensive parts at the times when first CBGs had been created.
And the creators never had money for these parts. As well as for real instruments.
Actually this was the point and main reason why cigar box guitars have been appeared on the edge of 19th and 20th centuries.

I personally have mixed feelings about this subject.
On one side I like to browse the eBay for really cheap “Made in China” pickups (I remember I bought the standard single coil pickup for just $0.99, free shipping. And it worked well).
And it’s an amazing feeling: it looks like a box but sounds like a real electric guitar.
And I believe that it can be a real fun: volume control, tone control, pickups switch etc.
I myself have built one and I like it:
P-Bass Cigar Box Guitar

As I said before there were no electric parts when first cigar box guitar was invented.
So there is always a feeling of something weird happening in CBG world when I see a luxury shiny CBG piece with the price tag well over $400.
I repeat I’m not against it.
It just feels not right to me personally.
That’s why I tried to make another instrument, a CB Ukulele.
It looks like this:
Cigar Box Ukulele: Frontend.

The only part I had to buy is an input jack. Well and those 2 screened grommets but these were the leftovers from another projects.
Those 3 pickups-bobbins are hand made. Here are more details on it.

So, yes. It’s fun to make “next to professional” CBG instrument.
And no. It’s another fun to make some stringed instrument which is built from any garbage at your home.
And it should not be a cigar box. Any suitable box (or can) can be used.

My first CBG was built from tea box lid and bottom:

CBA – Cigar Box Amp for CBG.


I had this idea for a long time. So long that I started to notice that some other CBG hobbyists started to make them. The guitar amplifiers made from the cigar boxes – cigar box amp. 

And my idea is to build a very basic SMALL amp which can operate on a 9V battery.

So, here what I had for this project:

Small Cohiba cigar box: from some point of time my local cigar stores started to give away the cigar boxes if the are smaller than a certain size.


2 Watt speaker from the old computer audio system:



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