Price paid: $ 50
Purchased from: Friend
Features: Why yes, I'm reviewing "junky" guitars on a massive guitar forum. Well, let's let the fun begin, I have many cheap, wacky, and weird guitars to post on here in the future.
Today's subject is Harmony's updated version of their old H-802/H-804 guitar, better known as the "Harmony Student Electric" or "Harmony 38" Student Guitar". The seemingly ubiqutous plank could be found under many a Christmas tree, to which many young picker's glee would soon be marred by this guitar's cheesy construction...okay, enough of my historic diatribe, let's get on with things...shall we.
- 2004, Made somewhere in the orient most likely
- 21 Medium frets, fat chunky neck that seems like a bizarre cross between maple and that strange bamboo-looking wood used on serviceman guitar copies of the 60's. Has a fretboard that is supposed to be rosewood but looks more like black stained maple (which has a surprisingly nice figure for such an instrument). Plastic Dot inlays, and surprisingly, a nut with no Zero fret, unlike it's predecessors, the H-802, and H-804.
- The body is roughly a little under an inch thick, made of plywood, and painted in cheap white paint. There was a black model sold under the model number of 2814. The paint came off with whatever tape was wrapped around the body.
- The body style is the same quasi-strat/Mustang/SG but not exactly directly based off of anything in particular body style Harmony has been using since the 60's on this model. This time it's a slab though, the H-802 and 804 had an arm contour.
- The original bridge I never had complete. But it's an even cheesier update on the older H-802/4 bridge. The original 802/804 bridge was just a solid bar of steel with 2 threaded steel rods with thumbwheels on them, and another steel bar with 3 notches for each string would sit on top of the rollers. The new version has a stamped steel plate with 2 screws hidden underneath, and 2 screws to hold it in place, and an unknown metal one slot per string saddle the strings pass over. I replaced this with a Nashville Tune-O-Matic, it plays very well in tune now.
- Very basic electronics - 1 volume, 1 tone, output jack, and 2 Strat-ish Single Coil Pickups of a very different construction (the coil assembly is stuck in a pickup cover that is only externally a Strat pickup, but inside is deeper, and is filled with paraffin wax).
- The tuning machines have been much improved from the past 802/804 models, which used these chintzy six on a strip open gear tuners that would strip and eventually either did not hold tune or needed a pair of pliars to tune the guitar, and were a pain to neatly coil the strings on. They used a better set of cheap tuners, similar to what used to be found on the earlier Squier Affinity guitars. They hold tune quite well.
I got this guitar in a cardboard box with a Kay KE-17 guitar recently, the only accessories I got were Harry Potter towels.
It's about as basic as a guitar gets without having a single pickup (and just wait, I have one of those coming as well). Definatley not a "rock out" shred axe, but it is what it is, and it has character due to the oddball hardware and off-kilter construction. // 6
Sound: In my typical Hard Rock/Heavy Metal style, I had to put this guitar through all the usual paces. However, despite my heavy/hard leanings, there's a deeper melodic and rhythmic side this particular guitar brings out, since it's not that well suited to fast runs due to the wonky nut, and not particularly metal due to the dual single coils.
I run this through a V-Amp pro most of the time, with my own custom settings. The overall sound is that of a Stratocaster stuck on position 2 (Neck + Middle), but a little brighter, with some weird resonance to it due to the huge swimming pool rout that houses the electronics. Sounds great clean, with distortion, it tends to favor itself more to a fuzzy Alt-Rock feel than to a crunchy Marshall type sound.
Clean I can get some very SRV-esque sounds out of it, think "Rude Mood" or "Pride and Joy". Distorted is more a muddied up J.Mascius type dealie. Cleans can also bring out some Andy-Summer's type moments in my playing as well.
It's not particularly noisy, I'm figuring this go around, Harmony was more consistant with using reverse wound, reverse polarity pickups in these guitars to act as a humbucker, and also, fixing the ground wire made it dead silent no matter what I'm working with.
As far as sound variety, it's all controlled by your hands and the minimal controls. The tone control can muffle the sound, but not much else. I'd put this guitar in the category of 6 for sound. Not something I'd use everyday or live, but it does have some pretty cool sounds that work in some places. // 6
Action, Fit & Finish: The guitar came to me in a box full of blankets and a Kay KE-17, so I can't really say what it was like Brand New.
I put it back together myself. The neck was unbolted, and the ground wire was loose from the bridge on the guitar, so I took the whole bridge assembly off the guitar and installed a Nashville Tune-O-Matic (a common mod I've done to these guitars since I started messing with them in high school).
The pickups were a little too high, so I backed them down to their magical spot. No flaws, however if the bridge was one I nipped that in the bud, the string travel is almost perfectly straight.
I did not like the newer, stamped tailpiece Harmony used on these guitars, so I took an old H-802/804 tailpiece and installed that, the mass gives a little more sustain and makes the guitar sound a hair or two brighter. It's like having the old 804, without the problems from a warped neck, low zero fret, and a strip of tuning keys that hold a tune as well as someone Who's tone deaf.
The only downsides I see so far is the paint's crappy, I figure it'll all be worn off one day, and when that day comes, I'll just repaint it some more interesting and different color possibly, that and the nut slots are cut a little too low, but that's an easy fix.
Again, I'll give it another six, not the best, but far from the worst I've seen. // 6
Reliability & Durability: I can see this thing withstanding live playing, though I'm not sure why I'd want to use it live unless it makes a few songs featuring it that no other guitar can touch, which I'll have to see yet on that.
The hardware will last, I see these guitars turn up on E-bay all the time, abused, crusty, dirty, missing paint, and somehow, they all still seem to work despite the hell the misbehaved five year old put it through.
The strap button's seem pretty solid but they will be going away before too long to be replaced by a set of Schaller strap-locks as that is what I prefer to use. Yep, even a cheapie like this gets Strap Locks, they are just what I prefer. I also will be putting that Strap lock on the bass side horn, and not the back of the neck, as it helps teqnique should I ever decide to go above the 12th fret on this thing.
I could depend on it, but like I say, it's a bit limited in what it can do. I have to take off a few points for the paint coming off the sides easily though. // 8
Overall Impression: I picked this up because of my somewhat sick and goofey liking for the old Harmony student model electrics. It amazes me that a company could be so wacked that they kept the same model for almost 35 years, with minor changes every few years, but never took on any of the serious sound issues like adding a bridge pickup (or moving the middle one to the bridge), or putting a humbucker in it in the bridge instead of 2 single coils. However it seems sometime during the 80's Harmony thought it would be a good idea to put a pointy Jackson style headstock on these (think, a Teisco-like design with a Jackson neck...lol).
I've been playing 14 years, and I own so much gear I'll just tell you to go look at my profile for it all, I have Jags, Jazzy's, and pointy metal things. I have an extensive pedalboard and a large full stack amp I use live made by a company called Bugera.
As far as stealing this thing, that's probably not likely. I mention this guitar and I'm usually laughed at a bit for it even by those Who do not play.
No comparisons to anything else, since I bought this for what it is, a crazy student electric with bizare traits that I like in the studio for certain things. And that role, it fullfills perfectly. // 7