Harmony Stella S1204 Revisited: Timeless Tunes.

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Stella S1204

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 (from 2:20) explained it. And it’s as genius as it’s so obvious.

Stella S1204. 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 instruments were manufactured by Oscar Schmidt company in Jersey City. And nowadays Schmidt Stellas have become expensive collectibles.
But later (1939) the Harmony company bought the Stella brand. They marketed Stellas as cheap beginner/student instruments.
The ’40s and ’50s had no truss rod. Only starting in the 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 an unusual choice even for that time.
All: top, sides, and back. All wood!
And that’s what made a very special “woody” sound.

Instrument. Stella S1204.

In my case, it’s Stella Harmony S1204. Made in 1968. At least the stamp inside of it reads as “F-68”.
It actually looks exactly like the 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 the overall state is next to perfect. Like many of those cheap guitars, it was spending most of its life in some closet. That’s what preserved it from aging.

Defect.

Harmony Stella S1204 nut

 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 the side with the hummer: but it didn’t work.
Moreover, there are 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. I carefully kicked the wooden bar on the opposite side with the hammer: the nut came out quite easily.
  4. I’ve put just 2 drops of the white Carpenter’s glue into the trench then placed the nut back properly adjusted.
  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 the used tools.

Stella. Tools.

Small video clip to demonstrate the sound of the Stella S1204.

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4 Comments

  1. That was my first guitar, my parents bought it for me for when I was 9 years old, Christmas 1967. It was $30 with soft case from Sears. I played it until my fingers bled, but I never really appreciated it. It was hard to get in tune and would not stay in tune. The tuners eventually would not turn. I am ashamed and regret that I destroyed it (when I was 20) when the tuners would not move any more. I could have just, should have just gotten some nicer tuners for it.. I would love to hear a sound sample from your Stella, thanks.

  2. I have the exact same guitar except mine is stamped F-67 (Fall 1967). Mine is also nearly perfect; there are a few dings here and there. The neck is dead straight as well.

    I picked it up at a garage sale about $15 years ago for $30 CDN. The woman I bought it from got in brand new for Christmas in 1967 when she was 9. She played it for a few months, loosened the strings, and put in back in the case for 40 years. That’s where it sat until I bought it.

    It’s got such a sweet twang to it that I will never get rid of it.

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