Sort of buried on page 6 of the 1960 Harmony catalog, sat a new line of thin cutaway guitars that I just LOVE. The Harmony Rocket series guitars had a pretty good run from 1960 to about 1967. These were sort-of bare bones rock machines aimed at the intermediate to beginner guitarist, and they just flat out BALL!!! Originally, all the Rockets came in sunburst, but in 1963 the redburst guitars became available, and this one right here is from that first run of reds. By 1966 the pickups changed and a truss rod was in the neck, but alas, those changes would be short lived as the Rocket series would soon be put on the shelf, and the Harmony company would stagger into the 1970s before finally closing the proverbial doors for good in 1975.
But for now, let’s get back to the early 60s. The Beatles had landed in America, most every kid in the USA wants an electric guitar, and the Harmony Company churns out more instruments than anyone! Salad days! These Rockets were often called the “poor man’s Switchmaster”, referring to the Gibson ES-5 high end jazz guitar. Of course, this semi-comparible Harmony version could be had for $135.50 in 1960 and the price only rose slightly over the years to $154.50 in 1964. Harmony had guitars for just about every price range, and priced guitars according to features like neck inlays, hardware, and adornments (like headstock overlays). But the badass Rocket featured a stripped down style and more knobs than an oven!
- Check that rotary switch!
Now if you’ve been reading my posts, you’ve probably figured out that I just love masonite, plastic, and plywood, but these Rockets sport some nice features for a “beginner’s” guitar. Really, the Rockets are just my style. They’re built pretty well for mass produced instruments, and even though the DeArmond “Indox” pickups were cheap (cost-wise) pickups, they still hold up to any music you can throw at ‘em! In fact, my favorite pickups of all time are the various 50s/60s DeArmonds and Valcos. Hands down! These little Indox pups are hot as hell and all read out in the 9k-10k range! The guitar itself is only about 2″ deep but it is fully hollow, and the pickups are so hot the guitar just wants to take off when any bit of dirt is introduced to the mix. And I just dig instruments that are on the verge of exploding at any moment!
All hardware and components are of good American quality and hold up well over the years. This Rocket doesn’t have a truss rod, but it does have a robust neck which is proudly “Steel Reinforced.” The 1960 catalog describes the necks as “Ultra-Slim”, but most players today might find them pretty darn chunky! The neck isn’t very wide though, it just fills the palm if that makes any sense.
This particular guitar I bought from Dave D’Amelio (aka Dano) a few years back. He has a HUGE guitar collection and had a few Harmony guitars in the stable. He used to have this Rocket hanging in his shop and every time I went over there I’d bug him to borrow it! All those cupcake knobs and gold pickups just spoke to me, like PLAY ME!!! And that’s what I do! It’s always a joy to buy one of Dano’s guitars because he just dials these suckers in! This one came in the original case and was barely played in the 50 odd years it’s been around.
What’s nice about most Harmony guitars is that the company made SO MANY GUITARS! I’d bet Harmony outproduced Gisbon and Fender COMBINED in any given year or month in the 1960s. If you see a Harmony at a high price, just wait around and you’ll see another soon enough at a lower price. Many guitar stores seem to think some Harmony guitars should cost as much as a comparable Gibson or Fender, and that’s just delusional. Guitars like Harmony, Danelectro, and Kay, were built in such huge quantities that they can still be had for bargains here and there. And that’s the way it should be! Never buy American vintage from an overpriced American guitar store, if you can help it! There’s this one REALLY bad guitar shop in Chicago (like forget to put on deodorant and your all ripe in the pits at the end of the day bad), but if you want to know true value, just slash all their prices IN HALF, and then you’ll see what the market will really command. And this place can’t even do basic proper set-up work!!! I could write another whole article on my experiences with poor guitar stores, but I don’t want to be a downer around my Rocket!
So getting back to why I love these guitars, it’s mostly because I think it speaks to the American industry of the post war era that these guitars all stand the test of time. Even mass-produced guitars of the 60s were built way better than many of the guitars that would come out of the 1970s and 80s. At least in my opinion. There are several Harmony guitars that have become collectible and command prices in the thousands, but the humble Rockets can still be had for well under $1000 and have all the sound you’ll ever need. Don’t believe me? Then check out Mike Dugan ripping away on mine!