1. Win a Broadcaster or one of 3 Teles! The annual Supporting Member Giveaway is on. To enter Click Here. To see all the prizes and full details Click Here. To view the thread about the giveaway Click Here.

Harmony H17 Bobkat project/scale conversion

Discussion in 'Other Guitars, other instruments' started by Oldsmobum, Oct 29, 2020.

  1. Oldsmobum

    Oldsmobum TDPRI Member

    Age:
    34
    Posts:
    65
    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2020
    Location:
    SoCal
    About a year ago, I was doing what many of us do while we, uhm, do our business; browsing craigslist for more things I don’t need.

    One of my favorite things to do is use vague search keywords to see what comes up; such as “project”, “needs work”, “broken”...

    And this time I found an old Harmony Bobkat... For $99! I had not really thought much about them until then, but it looked cool and I was in the middle of a Teisco kick and it seemed to fit the bill of what I would be after. It was listed “for parts”, but Mostly complete and looked like it might be salvageable. Hell, the gold foils are each worth more than that if they work. The seller was a bit far; but as luck would have it, I was going his way for work in a few days so I shot him a message. Here is the guitar, as pictured in the ad:

    B5558495-FC71-41AE-A285-8659B0F5C912.png 4CE8F8C1-F93B-4530-9EE1-5C01386CCAAE.png

    It was missing a knob, the bridge, as well as one of the posts for the tuning pegs. Otherwise it was all there. I met him at an In n Out parking lot, he was a professional musician (a mariachi) who did not play guitar and was dressed up and on his way to a gig. I gave him a $100 bill, and he gave me a dollar back! So $99 it was.

    I got it back home, and further inspected it later that night. Everything looked good, except for a huge issue- one side of the fretboard had separated and lifted off the neck. The separation ran almost the entire length of the neck, and in places the gap was fairly large. It would have definitely put too much stress on the neck to just clamp it and glue it- it took an unreasonable amount of force with a clamp to even get the gap close to shut. This was the gap, it was worse than this at the nut:

    4888593E-0EC5-4EBE-974C-9A15C768BF6D.jpeg 034E3A62-A0B1-4A35-BF8F-ABA852F99CAC.jpeg

    So I got out the iron and attempted to melt the glue to fully remove the fretboard. I did plenty of research, and decided I would go about it carefully. I should first note that I am very experienced with hand tools, and using tools in general. My hands earned the money for this guitar, and there is not a part of a car I have not rebuilt at some point (transmissions, engines, differentials, carburetors, etc) as well as industrial machinery, electronics, appliances, and even bicycles. And despite all of that:

    D836FDFA-C35B-4822-BDBC-BBBC20D4A182.jpeg

    Oops. This took absolutely no effort whatsoever- so whether or not it was already damaged I can’t say. What I can say, is that this is clearly an art and despite my experience I can see this will likely take years to become proficient working with wood to make playable instruments. This mistake is no big deal, because everything is repairable if you care enough. I already have an unslotted fretboard to replace it with, and some medium jumbo jescar frets for it. However, I have learned my lesson and have a bit of practicing to do before I can tackle the repair.

    Fast forward a year, and this was put on the back burner because of other guitars, 70-80 hour work weeks, international traveling for work, and a new and awesome girlfriend. I had acquired some parts for it initially before I snapped the fretboard- this included two bridges (one compensated rosewood, and one Wilkinson roller), a set of tuners, strap buttons, and assorted hardware. I have watched the prices of these creep up from the absurd point they were even before Covid, so I decided I needed to see what the fuss was about.

    First and most obvious issue is, I don’t have a neck. For those who don’t know, this guitar is 24.25” scale, and only has a 20 fret neck with a 2” wide neck pocket. Not exactly in stock at GFS or warmoth. So I kept an eye out for a neck on eBay/reverb, and deciding I didn’t want to pay $200 for a neck with bad frets and missing fret markers, I decided to get creative.

    Obviously for a guitar to intonate, the 12th fret has to be the center point between the nut and the bridge. This usually means that in order to increase scale length, you have to move the bridge back, or the neck pocket out, to compensate. I will try to explain my thought process as best as I can here- I remembered that I only have 20 frets, and most fender scale lengths have at least 21. This would effectively bump the neck out, since the extra frets are after the 12th. But would it work? Luckily, I have a telecaster (here? Of all places?) and I measured from the neck pocket to the bride saddles. I went to my Bobkat carcass and measured from the neck pocket out- and it looks like it might work!

    So now I need a fenderish neck that is not too expensive, because A. This might not work and B. I have to ruin it by shaving the sides down to make it fit a 2” neck pocket. So I get onto reverb and with no delay find a set of 2 (!) telecaster style (square heeled) takeoff necks for $50!

    41C469F6-5312-4798-A2C5-7E1FF9E3A462.png 7EF13D28-3FF6-4A38-AF22-1BCBDFF805A8.png

    One is from a firefly telecaster, and the other is from one of the “Ivy” telecasters. They cost me about $63 with fees and shipping. Hopefully, one of them is useable.

    So they show up, (to my old house, long story) and I have a look at them. The firefly neck looks far superior to the Ivy one. Better finish, pretty fat (.93 at 1st fret, .95 at 12th) with no sharp frets and what looks like an attempt to polish them. It even has tuners! The ivy neck is thin, has sharp frets, a pretty sad fretboard, and is too light to be real maple. It will be perfect to try first- it’s not a big deal if I ruin it.

    So first thing is to notch heel of this neck. I need it to be 2” wide, because I’m not cutting into the neck pocket of the body, or modifying it at all in any way. I set up the router table and have a go at it. No drama here. My only mistake was that I notched both sides the full 3” depth of the pocket, even though it was not necessary due to the cutaway. Looks stupid, but works fine, and is exactly why I did the crap neck first. It fits in the pocket without drama, and now I can move on to the bridge. Didn’t fill in any holes or do any cosmetics, just have to prove it works.

    image.jpg

    Next up is the bridge. I bought the rosewood piece, and since then I acquired another guitar that had one (peerless wizard standard, 3 P90s) and I hated it. I wasn’t too upset when I found that the bridge was WAY too tall as is- I would make a base out of 1/8 aluminum stock and drill and tap posts into it:

    AA85EBE5-5C7A-447C-8371-71E5DC38F523.jpeg

    Much better. To be continued...
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2020
    uriah1 and tintag27 like this.
  2. Oldsmobum

    Oldsmobum TDPRI Member

    Age:
    34
    Posts:
    65
    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2020
    Location:
    SoCal
    After fitting the tuners from the firefly neck on this one, and installing the neck with screws... I had a guitar. After stringing it, and fussing with the bridge and truss rod...

    566C4967-90B4-45FE-8345-3ACD418CC5A8.jpeg

    It works! And after having to tap, level and polish the frets which were at separate altitudes, (Never done it before, not sure how well I did in practice) and just about maxing out the truss rod to get relief right, it plays and sounds sweet! It immediately became my 2nd favorite guitar out of... way too many... Here’s a picture of the neck joint:

    7ECCBAF5-93A5-4936-9650-11D06CE03095.jpeg

    So now that I’ve got a functional, nice sounding and playing guitar... I can’t leave it alone. I was lucky enough that even though harmony used 2 headstock shapes on these, the necks I got had very similar shapes to both of those:

    A6304FFA-EBD8-4890-96F2-998A92C99E66.jpeg

    the other is more like a weird less defined Strat shape that looks similar to the Ivy neck. Seems like it was standard on H19’s.

    So now that it works, the plan is to more properly route the heel of the firefly neck, paint it black, and make a truss rod cover for it.

    So for routing the heel, this one was not so drama free:

    35B29AC2-E8EB-495C-992F-AEC965C25B73.jpeg F1A03430-237F-4687-86CE-CBC11B994A1C.jpeg

    Chipped one side and dug into the other... My inexperience is showing again. It’s okay because wood filler will hide my shame along with the neck pocket itself.

    A077505D-3E5B-42F3-8913-AEED314957E5.jpeg

    All better. Notice I had to trim the butt of the heel here- this neck was not standard and the heel protruded beyond the 21st fret about 1/8 more than the other neck and my telecaster’s neck. Luckily I caught that before trying to fit it... Things to keep an eye out for.

    I did not bother stripping the entire poly finish, I sanded the hell out of it after taping the edges of the fretboard. Worked pretty well and I was able to sand right up to the edge. I shot 4 coats of black Krylon lacquer, allowed it to cure and then sanded with 600 grit. Probably would have spent less time doing so if I had started with 400 grit, but I was concerned about going through edges. This was a reasonable concern because that did indeed happen, but I expected it to. Another 3 coats, curing, sanding, and polishing, and I came up with this:


    B8AF0812-DA29-40B9-8149-31722A59EFE0.jpeg A7AC4321-3288-4A7B-B305-6756193FB2A8.jpeg

    Notice the truss rod cover I made- it is not identical dimensionally to the original. First, the original would never fit because The tuners were much farther from the nut on the original neck; and second, the cap to the deodorant stick I cut it out of was naturally limited dimensionally. I used polishing compound to dull it and it worked perfectly.

    39615BEC-4958-4D4B-9C50-73C2D0AADFDF.jpeg

    To be continued...
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2020
    tintag27, FenderGyrl, BradKM and 2 others like this.
  3. Oldsmobum

    Oldsmobum TDPRI Member

    Age:
    34
    Posts:
    65
    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2020
    Location:
    SoCal
    All of the paint curing took a while, but fortunately I had the other neck on the guitar to keep it playing. It kept breaking the high E at the trem however; I made an effort to resolve this when it was apart to get the second neck. Around about this time I broke down and paid about $30 for 1(!) knob to match the others... because I could not find any 1/8 knobs that would properly fit the d shaped shaft. I even tried ones with set screws- of which I know have an assortment.

    This neck had the opposite issue of the other one- there was too much relief and over periodic adjustments I wound up taking most of the tension out of it before I got decent relief. On this neck, the actual thickness of the heel was closer to the original neck and much thicker than the Ivy neck. so the bridge was raised, and I hoped that the string height wouldn’t affect the sound too much.

    So here are some crappy pictures of the complete guitar:

    B8CBDCEB-602C-47E6-AAF2-E22719AC267A.jpeg 0F9976A5-0935-4C68-86A8-0985764237D3.jpeg

    It has all of the sound of the old Bobkat (except for maybe the rosewood bridge, which I can and probably will add later) and all of the playability of a strat or telecaster. I am LOVING it! The plan is to bring it back to original with the other neck once I’ve done a few refrets, but I promise you that I’m not in a rush after how this turned out. The trem is very usable and stable, and the pickups sound fantastic, I definitely get why people pay up to $200 for them. Mr. Novak is going to be very busy here when I figure out which other guitars are getting them... Despite that, I admit that the guitar is a bit noisy. I might do some shielding and ground the trem, but that won’t happen right away.

    Eventually I might do a refinish, but I’m not so sure about that yet. I also might cut a new pickguard, simply because these are some weird molded plastic that gets very brittle- I’ve already had to glue one of the corners back on. Otherwise I don’t have any plans to hot rod this thing, I like it the way it is.

    I realize this would have been more fun and interactive if I had included you all during the progress, and I will try to be better about that next time... Fortunately, there is no shortage of projects here.

    To be continued...
     
  4. jhundt

    jhundt Doctor of Teleocity

    Age:
    66
    Posts:
    12,736
    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2003
    Location:
    Netherlands
    I very much enjoyed this story. My first electric guitar was exactly that model and color, assembled from a Heathkit package. I have always regretted letting it get away.
     
    Brian Krashpad likes this.
  5. jayyj

    jayyj Tele-Afflicted

    Posts:
    1,355
    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2014
    Location:
    Manchester, UK
    Great work, well done! I love those old Harmony solids.

    St Vincent used to use Bobcats before she got the signature model, that was my first exposure to them - you don't see Harmonys over here the way you do the the US, it's all Watkins Rapiers and the like.
     
    tintag27 likes this.
  6. tintag27

    tintag27 Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    2,320
    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2010
    Location:
    Old England
    Great story - you have made a good home for that old stray Bobcat!
    I can relate to this from working on my own Harmony (H49 Jupiter hollowbody) - I went through the same process to get a workable bridge, as mine came with a broken metal one and a homemade trem bolted on, aargh! After failing to get a ABR bridge low enough, I went through 3 wooden ones before customising one that worked fairly well and looked pretty much like the lost original ... oh happy days :0(
     
  7. tintag27

    tintag27 Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    2,320
    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2010
    Location:
    Old England
    That's true! I was lucky enough to find my Harmony Stratotone in the window of Barratts music store on Oxford Road in Manchester, when I was still at school - but that's probably way before your time :0)
     
    jayyj likes this.
  8. jayyj

    jayyj Tele-Afflicted

    Posts:
    1,355
    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2014
    Location:
    Manchester, UK
    Yeah, Barratts was gone by the time I started pestering guitar shops - it was Johnny Roadhouse and A1 holding down the Oxford Road fort by then.
     
  9. Oldsmobum

    Oldsmobum TDPRI Member

    Age:
    34
    Posts:
    65
    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2020
    Location:
    SoCal
    fortunately they are still out there, though harder to find for what might be considered a reasonable price.

    About 8 or 9 months ago I passed up on one that was used as a restroom door handle in a bar for something like $135. It had two pickups but no trem, so an H15 I guess. Except for a pair of small holes in the body, it was fairly complete... might have been missing tuners. The only reason I turned it down, is because the neck on it had its own issues (the fretboard was coated in some kind of clear epoxy, the frets were worn, missing fret markers...) and I needed a neck for this one. In hindsight, I should have bought it. I’d love to do another one, and will keep my eye out for an h19 or silvertone 1478.
     
  10. Oldsmobum

    Oldsmobum TDPRI Member

    Age:
    34
    Posts:
    65
    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2020
    Location:
    SoCal
    I had a look at some images of the old Bell catalogues after you posted this. I now want a Rosetti III!
     
    jayyj likes this.
  11. Oldsmobum

    Oldsmobum TDPRI Member

    Age:
    34
    Posts:
    65
    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2020
    Location:
    SoCal
    So for a total cost rundown (excluding shipping):

    guitar: $99
    Necks (2): $50
    Bridge: $25
    Tuners: $31
    Aluminum strip, various screws: $10ish
    Strap buttons: $5
    1 stupid vintage knob: $25
    Black krylon lacquer: $5
    Ernie Ball Super slinkies: $6

    =$256. I probably payed about $50 total for shipping on the bits that I bought online, (some items shipped prime) so I can comfortably say I have about $300 into it as it sits right now. Not the deal of the century (I’ve got a few of those) but I would be happy even if it cost $100 more.
     
    posttoastie likes this.
  12. Oldsmobum

    Oldsmobum TDPRI Member

    Age:
    34
    Posts:
    65
    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2020
    Location:
    SoCal
    I did plenty of research trying to find a bridge that might fit. Aside from a bigsby style bridge, and a funky one that was two thin strips of wood with a fret angled diagonally across the top piece serving as the “saddles”, there wasn’t much at all. These old harmonies are set up for problems most people don’t have I guess!
     
    tintag27 likes this.
  13. tintag27

    tintag27 Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    2,320
    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2010
    Location:
    Old England
    Ah yes - I spent many happy hours in A1 - it was quite a relaxed place in those days... and I forgot Renos - a tiny place further up somewhere around St Peter's Square - if I remember rightly (which I probably don't)...? but I think Johnny Roadhouse is still open!
     
    jayyj likes this.
  14. tintag27

    tintag27 Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    2,320
    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2010
    Location:
    Old England
    That's right - it's got to be a labour of love (and pain!) fixing up those old Harmonys. I was stuck with a modern trapeze tailpiece for a couple of years, which really bugged me - but I had been checking eBay regularly and finally a period correct one came up for sale (in the US) I paid too much for it of course, but when it arrived I was so pleased - it fit perfectly on the Jupiter, and just looked like it had always been there...
     
  15. jayyj

    jayyj Tele-Afflicted

    Posts:
    1,355
    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2014
    Location:
    Manchester, UK
    A1's long gone although Rich Henry's still about doing his own vintage stuff. Johnny's seems to be doing ok although I don't know anyone there anymore and it's years since I've been in. The 90s were a great time for those two shops, I went to the art college opposite Johnny's and I was in there all the time... Probably more than I was in college, come to think of it!
     
    tintag27 likes this.
  16. 62 Jazzmaster

    62 Jazzmaster Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    2,690
    Joined:
    May 18, 2010
    Location:
    Steveston BC, Canada
    That's a great story and very nice job of making a playable guitar again!

    Back in the '80s, before the Internet showed us how to do things the right way, I attempted to fix a rattling, loose fingerboard on my Harmony Rocket H59. It did not go well. I thought I could gently pry it off with a thin palette knife, but the wood Harmony used was incredibly brittle and snapped into 5 or 6 pieces.

    [​IMG]

    It got shelved in the back closet for about 25 years until I found a neck on eBay that was in good shape for its age. It's all back together now.

    Here's a pic of a Silvertone of mine that is similar to your Bobcat:

    [​IMG]
     
IMPORTANT: Treat everyone here with respect, no matter how difficult!
No sex, drug, political, religion or hate discussion permitted here.