Not Stradivarius — Stratotone

Stratotone H44

My late friend Mark Richardson once told me he had no interest in vintage instruments in mint condition. “Once a guitar’s that old,” he said, “if it had sounded good, somebody would have played it. An old instrument without a mark on it is usually one that’s no fun to play.”

I bought a new guitar on eBay last week – new to me anyway; it may be older than I am. By the looks of it, this one should be a lot of fun to play. There’s no doubt it’s had an interesting life. That’s the way I like guitars. I believe it comes out in the music.

This is my second Harmony Stratotone. Now I can travel with a matched pair, one tuned to D and one to G. There’s something about the single-piece construction and the DeArmond “Hershey bar” pickup that just feels and sounds like nothing else. This one is, I think, older. It doesn’t say “Stratotone” on the headstock. Instead of a musical note as the nucleus of an atom it has a graphic that looks like an ocean wave or maybe Jack Lord’s hair. So I’ve decided to call the guitar Jack.

The headstock in the photo doesn’t have all the strings on it yet because I’m still setting the guitar up. After all this Stratotone has been through (my first one has a hole drilled in the side; this one has a nail driven in it) my modifications to make it a dependable gigging instrument seem pretty minor. I upgrade the tuners, install a strap lock and raise the nut to play it as a six-string steel guitar. On the road, not much can go wrong with this instrument that can’t be fixed with simple things from any hardware store. When the plastic jackplate on my first Stratotone cracked I replaced it with a piece of aluminum cut from an old screen door, filed and hammered to shape. Jack’s jackplate was replaced long ago with a piece of mystery metal that now has a nice patina on it.

I plan to take Jack on Delta Moon’s trip to Louisiana and Texas next week. This guitar has some ghosts in it, and I look forward to getting to know them.

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