Ca. 1973 Harptone RS-6

 

Standel never had much luck with guitars. They tried three times to have electric guitars built bearing their brand – first by Mosrite, then by an unknown mystery builder, and finally by Harptone – but each attempt floundered within a couple of years (or much sooner, as with Mosrite). Nevertheless, the Harptone association actually resulted in a manufacturing run that outlasted Standel by several years – albeit without the electric models.

Harptone had a long history as a builder of guitar cases by the 1960s. It is not known why they agreed to start building guitars, but it was originally intended to be a minor side business. When Standel hired Sam Koontz to design their new line of guitars in 1967, Koontz probably sought out Harptone because their New Jersey factory was nearby and they had plenty of experience with bending and laminating wood. Koontz didn’t build any Standel guitars beyond the prototypes, but he designed an extensive range of models for the Harptone factory. Standel probably was more concerned with the electrics (after all, they were a builder of amplifiers) but a good number of flat-top acoustics were built as well.

Standel appears to have pulled the plug on guitars in 1969; they were already struggling, and the company went under for good in 1972. Harptone cut out the Standel logo from a few remaining electrics and inserted their own name, but there were never as many electric Harptones built as Standels. However, Harptone continued to build acoustics without interruption; the 1969 Standel flat-top catalog was reprinted in 1970 with no changes except the names and logos! If only Standel could have waited another couple of years, they would have seen George Harrison play his Harptone in the film of The Concert for Bangladesh. The result was a wave of popularity for these guitars, and Harptone was hard-pressed to keep up with demand. The small side venture was become more than the company could handle, and in 1975 Harptone sold the guitar side of their business. Production moved briefly to Virginia but ceased for good within a year.

Harrison received his Harptone-branded guitar in 1968, suggesting that Harptone planned on making guitars under their own name long before the Standel deal ended. Ringo Starr received a Harptone as well, perhaps at the same time. Starr is not known as a guitarist, but he does play a bit; the cover of the sheet music for “It Don’t Come Easy” shows him strumming his Harptone. Still, it must have raised a few eyebrows when Starr was given his own Harptone signature model guitar, the RS-6. In fact, it’s questionable whether either Beatle gave consent for their names to be used; the price lists referred to the “G. Harrison -R. Star [sic] model”. The specs were similar to Starr’s own jumbo, which had upgraded block markers, but added binding to the neck and a more pointed pickguard. It was available in natural curly maple (RS-6NC) and in black (RS-6BC); oddly enough, the latter designation indicates curly maple hidden beneath an opaque finish. The RS series were among the most expensive models catalogued by Harptone, though the natural version was a tad cheaper than the black or 12-string (RS-12NC) model. I question whether Ringo sold as many Harptone guitars as he did Ludwig drums, but at least his signature guitar is a fine instrument.

 

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