That's girl's wearing a new Harmony — looks O.K. to us!
As costs of production in Japan rise ever nearer those of the West, guitar making skills are starting to flow across to other parts of the Far East, where living standards are so low that the instruments can be turned out for far less money than even the Japs can manage. To date this has meant Taiwan and Korea, with not altogether happy results in very many cases. I'm not trying to suggest that all guitars from these two countries are of poor quality, but certainly most that I've seen have been — some so bad that they must be counted as unplayable and unworthy of consideration at any price!
This, of course, used to be true of many Japanese guitars once upon a time but skills developed over there which have led to instruments from the factories behind such names as Ibanez, Aria, Sigma and one or two others being as good as those from anywhere else. How long, I've often wondered, till the Koreans or the Taiwanese can catch up?
Well, to some extent I've possibly found the answer to that question in the shape of a new acoustic guitar (never the easiest instrument to get right, even in the best hands) marketed under the name of Harmony, once an American brand of eminently collectable quality and vintage.
Back in the 1960's a Harmony guitar wasn't exactly a Gibson or Gretsch but it was a very pleasant instrument, often seen in the hands of professional players. Two particular models, the Meteor and the Rocket, being very good electric axes indeed. But times change and, rather as Washburn was once an American guitar maker, dating back to the 19th. Century (whereas it now is merely a name for Japanese guitars) so with Harmony, who are cheaper than Washburn, being made in Korea as opposed to Japan.
In fact today's Harmony guitars still try to point out their heritage by carrying the legend 'Est. 1892' on the headstock. Don't be misled, these instruments bear little relationship to the original Harmony instruments however good they may be.
"Quite honestly this Harmony acoustic strikes me as one of the best value for money acoustics currently on the market."
So, having covered the background of Harmony, what about the sample we were loaned by distributors J.L.Music of Leeds? Well, I'll start (at the risk of causing some offence) by admitting that I wasn't expecting very much at all of the H6565N acoustic. As I've previously said, acoustic guitars are very hard to make properly and cheap laminated ones from countries in the East (other than Japan) that I've seen have been almost without exception horrendously poor.
But the Harmony looked nice, at least. Its spruce laminate top (in two pieces) looked to be nicely finished, and the laminated maple back was a very pleasant piece of work too. The maple neck was very well jointed to the heel, as it was to the separate piece of the headstock. This latter was even finished with a rosewood-like veneer to a quite impressive standard.
"Take into account the fact that it carries a Korean price and you've got a first class bargain on your hands!"
To confound my prejudices even further, the Harmony had a very nice neck too, the dimensions really well chosen for maximum ease of playing and a good rosewood-type fingerboard, accurately fretted, with a low action, very accurate intonation (even on barre chords high up the neck!) and a nice set of light gauge strings. This instrument wasn't just better than Korean guitars that I had previously encountered — it was better than any acoustic I can recall having tried selling at this sort of price (£84 inc. VAT)! Having established that the Harmony both looked and played very attractively it might have been far too much to have expected to have found that it sounded good — but, no, it sounded excellent, a bright, fairly cutting instrument with surprisingly good tonal balance across the strings, capable of giving a good sound played either with a pick or finger style.
Quite honestly this Harmony acoustic strikes me as one of the best value for money acoustics currently on the market. I know that some readers might be put off in advance by the reputation of some Korean guitars but, certainly judging by this sample instrument, the Harmony H6565N is far more like a mid-quality Japanese guitar than anything else. Take into account the fact that it carries a Korean price and you've got a first class bargain on your hands!
I look forward to trying other Harmony guitars as a result of playing this one. A dealer friend of mine tells me that he is doing well with a semi-acoustic of theirs and they consistently come through to him without the need for any setting-up at all — which may imply that much of the credit for them must go to substantial care and attention to detail on the part of the importers. Whatever the reasons though, I'd say that for a guitarist who needs an acoustic as a second instrument for recording, occasional stage use, just to have fun with, or the folk or C&W beginner, or just for anyone who wants to learn to play the guitar from scratch, the Harmony in question is one of the best value instruments I've seen: thoroughly recommendable in fact! Cheap acoustic guitars can be very dodgy buys but this one is 100% value for money.
Bearing in mind that this guitar isn't aimed at professionals, it still raises an interesting question in my mind. If, at last, one of the guitar factories in Korea has begun to get it right — how long now before they can make a guitar as good as a Japanese pro model? It can't be too far in the distant future and then the Japanese will start feeling (deservedly perhaps) uncomfortably like the American and European guitar makers must have done in the mid 1970's! The boot, as they say, will then be on the other foot! In the meantime, do look out for this model Harmony. It looks worthy of anyone in the market searching for this price acoustic.