Sears Silvertone 605 Parlor Guitar

Sears Silvertone 605 Guitar

A Guitar for the Masses

From its humblest beginnings, to becoming the most produced, most purchased, and most played guitar in America during the 20th Century. From the factory in Chicago to the working plains of Texas and Oklahoma, to the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana Bayou, back to the blues clubs of Chicago, and then the garage bands of the 60s, this little birch box guitar was there.

This is the ubiquitous Silvertone 605 flattop acoustic guitar sold by Sears in catalogs and stores from about 1948 to 1970. It’s a 3/4 size all-Birch ladder braced body with a Cherry-burst finish, a solid Maple neck (no truss rod) with Ebony stained fingerboard, small brass frets, a carved hardwood nut, Waverly-type open tuners, a floating wooden bridge, a metal tail piece, and  stenciled (!) Silvertone logo on the headstock. The “binding” is simply paint. No pickguard – not even a painted on one! The scale is about 25-1/4 inch. Built like a tank!

These simple little Birch boxes take you back to early days of the Delta Blues. Think of guys like Leadbelly, Robert Johnson and Blind Willie Johnson. Although they probably never had one of these Sears models from the Catalog, they played something quite similar. And for today, think of new folk artists like Mumford and Sons.

Similar to it’s parlor cousin, the Stella H929 built by Harmony in their Chicago factory, the 605 was a simple  no frills instrument targeted to the entry level player on a tight budget. If you ordered one of these from the Sears Catalog in the 50’s, it would arrive in a cardboard box with a set of plain steel strings, a string for a strap, and a brief instruction book.

More Damage than Good?

Unfortunately, these Sears guitars might have done more damage than good! Due to the crude factory setup, high action, and an inexperienced user, these guitars were quite hard to play right out of the box. So, who knows how many young aspiring guitar wannabes were discouraged and eventually quit? But, in the hands of an experience player, these little gems still have potential to create some nice bluesy tones. Especially with a slide.

This particular 605 was built in 1956. When it arrived on the doorstep (eBay!), the neglect of its previous owner was obvious. The strings were rusted, the tuners were frozen, the bridge was wrong, and the intonation was way off. A “pluck” and a “boing” was about all she had for sound. But physically overall, this instrument of almost 60 years was in great condition and the Cherry-burst finish was pretty. I slapped on some new strings and then moved the bridge to get (mostly) correct intonation. Well (sigh), the high action was still there but still quite playable. And tuned down to D, and using a slide, this guy can sound pretty darn good.

I think in the future, we’ll will try a bone nut and a real bridge with a real saddle, to see how it might improve? So check back for another posting.

Sears Silvertone 605 Guitar HeadstockSears Silvertone 605 Guitar Body

From the 1956 Sears & Roebuck Catalog: “Silvertone flat top guitars… carefully constructed from choice, select woods. Great ‘party makers,’ deep mellow tones — fine for vocal accompaniment.”

Sears 1956 Catalog Page of Silvertone Guitars

 A Very Long Run

Noted for its popularity, low cost, and longevity, the Silvertone 600 Series enjoyed the longest run of any guitar series in the Sears Catalog during the 20th Century. The 605 appears in the oldest catalog that I have, which is a 1950. But according to Randy at Silvertone World the 605 began its run as early as 1948, and appeared continuously in every annual catalog until 1967 (19 years), at which point Sears just changed the model numbers from 600’s to 1200’s, and continued selling them through 1970. With a 1948 catalog price of $8.95, it was Sears lowest priced guitar, and therefore extremely popular. The Silvertone 605 was built for Sears by the Harmony Company in Chicago, Illinois. It was very similar to it’s Harmony cousin: the Stella H929.

The 605’s solid Birch top has a Cherry-red sunburst finish. The sides and back are also solid Birch, which gives this guitar it’s woodsy tone. The floating bridge is a hard-carved, sanded and stained piece of hardwood (probably also Birch). The tail piece is of punched steel with a nickel finish. The set neck is solid piece of hard Maple. The fingerboard is just the face of the same solid Maple neck and is Ebony stained to appear as Rosewood. The dots in the fingerboard are painted. The frets are brass and quite small. The darkly stained head stock has open tuning machines, three per side, with white plastic buttons. The top of the head stock is simply adorned with a stenciled Silvertone logo, which is the older 1950’s style logo.

Silvertone 605 Specifications and Features

  • Model #605 (Tobacco-burst finish), #603 (Blonde, or natural, finish), became the #1200 in fall 1968 thru 1970.
  • Size/Scale: Standard size (sometimes referred today as 3/4 or “parlor size”); 24-1/4″ scale; 18 frets, neck meets body at 12th fret.
  • Body: Solid birch top, sides and back. Ladder braced top. Painted edge binding and soundhole. No pickguard. Hardwood strap button.
  • Neck: Solid Maple, non-reinforced, set neck with ebonized (stained) fingerboard, painted position markers 1-3/4″ wide at nut. Hardwood (birch, poplar or maple?) nut.
  • Frets: Small brass frets.
  • Finish: Cherry-red stained semi-glosss sunburst, nitrocellulose lacquer finish.
  • Headstock: Solid Maple; black nitro-lacquer finish; block style logo.
  • Tuners: Waverly-style open gear tuners, three on a strip per side.
  • Bridge: Solid hardwood (birch?) floating bridge.
  • Dimensions: Length 36″; Body 13″; 3″ deep body.

Additional Resources

For more information about the Silvertone 600 Series and the 605… and the

Harmony Database.

Chickenbone John demos and talks about Harmony Stella guitars:

Electrified Stella! JRGuitars demos a Stella with a vintage DeArmond pickup:

Another Silvertone Christmas

Another Christmas; another Silvertone surprise!

Last year it was the snazzy electric Silvertone 1445 that showed up under the tree. This year it’s the diminutive 1956 model Silvertone 605 parlor guitar. It must have been misplaced in the back of Santa’s sleigh for some 55 years?

The 605 is a small body, short scale, acoustic flattop with a solid birch top, birch sides and back. These sturdy little guitars were made in Chicago, Illinois for Sears by the Harmony Musical Instrument Company. They were popular with the rhythm and blues crowd and they made great slide guitars. This one is in very good original condition with just a few minor surface scratches here and there. The size is perfect for traveling, so it will be a fun guitar to knock around and take anywhere.

The Silvertone 600 Series of parlor guitars were sold through the Sears Catalog continuously from 1948 through 1970 (that’s 22 years of production). In fact, a 1961 model of this guitar was played by Audrey Hepburn in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This 1956 model originally retailed in the Sears and Roebuck catalog for $10.95. Here is a cut from the 1956 Sears Catalog.

For more information about the Silvertone 600 Series and the 605, see and the Harmony Database.

Tags: 605, Audrey Hepburn, Birch Blues Box, Blind Willie Johnson, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Catalog, Django Reinhardt, H-605, Harmony, Leadbelly, Moon River, Robert Johnson, Sears, Silvertone, Slide Guitar

25 Years of Vintage Silvertone on CD

Here is a must-have for all vintage Silvertone fans. It’s a CD containing 25 years of Silvertone guitars, amps, and other musical instruments offered from the original Sears catalogs. The pages cover Silvertone products for each year from 1950 through 1975. The CD was created by Ray Clearwater of Morro Bay, California, and can be purchased on eBay or directly from Ray for $12.95, plus $2.00 shipping.

There are a total of 126 catalog pages all scanned at high resolution and saved as color JPEG’s. Also included are some articles compiled by Ray about Silvertone, Danelectro and music from the 50′s and 60′s. Ray says that this CD is a labor of his own appreciation and childhood memories. He adds, “It was my feeling that as I really enjoyed going back and looking through the guitar pages that I dreamed about as a kid, it might also be of at least some sentimental value to others as well.”

Here is the link to the eBay page: SILVERTONE – DANELECTRO – KAY – HARMONY – SEARS CATALOG PAGES 1950 TO 1975 ON CD. You can also contact Ray by email at

Here is a catalog page from 1964. This page is a real winner in itself! The black hollow-body is a sought-after classic, owned and played by Chris Isaac. The red one is a favorite of Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Both were built for Sears by Harmony in Chicago, Illinois.

The pages have been carefully scanned and contain invaluable information, specs and original prices of old Silvertone guitars and amps built by Danelectro, Harmony, Kay, Teisco, and others from the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. It is definitely worth the $12.95 plus shipping.

On eBay: Rebuilt 1960′s Harmony Stella

Auction Alert!

Check out this very cool, nicely restored, Harmony Stella from the 1960′s. Rebuilt with Martin-style X-bracing by Barton Lane Guitar Company. This guitar is on ebay right now at: 1960′s STELLA HARMONY guitar w/ Martin 0-18 X-bracing!!. This auction ends March 26, 2011 15:50:27 PDT

NOTE: Guitar sold at end of auction for $356.

Text from original auction:

Rebuilt Harmony Stella. Martin 0-18 X-Bracing. Barton Lane Guitar Company.

Here is a really cool 1960’s Stella guitar made in the USA by Harmony.

This guitar was professionally repaired/restored by the Barton Lane Guitar Company.

They rebuilt the top with Martin style forward shifted, tapered X-bracing (these guitars were originally ladder-braced) and also put a small, pre-war style, maple bridge plate in place of the original, extremely large mahogany one. The back, sides, and top, are all made of solid birch.

The many cracks in this instrument were all professionally repaired.

I imagine that this guitar sounds worlds better than it did with its original, heavy, ladder braces.

This instrument sounds REALLY COOL!! It would be ideal for a folk or blues guitar picker/strummer. The tone is reminiscent of an old Gibson L-00 or maybe a Martin 0-18.