This guitar is the very definition of an oldie but goodie!
A short introduction to the Harmony Rocket:
The Rocket was built by the (all American!) Harmony Musical Instruments Company from 1958 until 1972. The original Rocket was produced as a single cutaway, thin body model. These were built through 1967, when a new double cutaway design was introduced, retaining the Rocket name. This example, produced in the last year of the single cutaway version, has a well-constructed, completely hollow arch-top plywood body with a bolt-on neck attached by three bolts. An odd feature of these guitars (and most Harmony electrics) was the seemingly nearly-parallel string spacing, from nut to bridge. Fender and Gibson guitars both visibly widen the string spacing as you go from a narrow nut up the neck toward the bridge. Not so, on these guitars! It's kind of an optical illusion - the neck actually does widen from 1 3/4 inches to 2 inches - and the string spacing from 1 1/2 inch to 1 15/16 inches on mine... Was this a conscious effort aimed at (or at least, a different approach to) better playability, or was it just easier and cheaper to build them this way? I don't know - but it does give them a unique look and feel. A simple trapeze tailpiece is probably the most common setup, although a Bigsby unit could be readily substituted, and was installed on many of the three pickup examples. There were also many two pickup models built with the same vibrato unit as was available on Harmony's solid body guitars, which required a sizable hole to be cut in the top of the guitar. Yuk! Why? Again, I'm thinking it was the cheapest vibrato unit available to Harmony at the time vibrato units were all the rage, made even more economical by the fact it could be used in several models. Equipped as single, double, or triple pickup model, another interesting feature is that the pickups were not wired through the body at their mounting positions, as are most other guitars. Instead, the leads from the pickups run across the top of the body, entering through the treble side "f" hole, the wire hidden by the pickguard. Again, I'm gonna guess that's an ease-of-construction design idiosyncrasy. Originally manufactured with a non-adjustable "steel re-enforced neck," their adjustable truss rod-equipped neck became a standard feature in around 1964 or 1965 (I'm GUESSING!), at the same time they changed to the Rowe-DeArmond "Mustache" pickups that feature adjustable pole pieces. I've never seen an example WITH the truss rod that didn't have the adjustable poles... and vice-verse.
My impressions of this example:
This particular specimen, dated inside the body as "Oct 17, 1967," has all the most desirable (to me) features. It has the adjustable truss rod, a bound fingerboard, and the DeArmond "GoldenTone" pickups with adjustable pole pieces. It has a 3/4 inch square "soundpost" inside, placed approximately under where the bass side of the bridge sits on the top - this may explain why this guitar is less feedback-prone than you might expect. While the neck is a tad "thicker" than most modern guitars (perhaps like a Gibson '50s profile), and has the "near parallel" string spacing described above, after adjusting the truss rod, nut and bridge I was able to dial-in the action on this guy to rival that of any Gibson. I find it very comfortable to hold and play, as it's a bit lighter than the other guitars in my arsenal. And the tone? Fabulous! Big ol' single coil sound, kinda Gretsch-y, kinda Gibson-y. The neck pup has a very convincing jazz voice with the tone control rolled back a bit, the bridge pup has a nice bite, and together they just shout "rock-a-billy!!!" I've been sorely tempted to add a Bigsby to this old guy, but so far I have resisted that urge... It's a classic, just the way it is.
In June of 2003, I happily/sadly sold this guitar to Ben, in Canada. I was sad to see it go, but happy to imagine that he will be playing a lot more than I have. It really dropped out of my "playing rotation" once I got that purple Gretsch, and it deserves to be played.
So it's, adios, Rocket, and happy pickin', Ben...
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