Harmony Stella H929
(used in Jailhouse Rock)


J-200 pictured in Original one-sheet for Jailhouse Rock - 1957
Photo courtesy IMP Awards

In the 1957 release of MGM's Jailhouse Rock, Elvis' third and possibly most successful movie, he plays a prisoner turned singer/pop artist.  The story has many elements in it analogous to that of his own, minus the penitentiary theme of course, though that in itself is like a page out of the annals of the Prisonaires in the Sun Record story and who's story is suggested as initially bringing Elvis' attention to Sun.


Elvis with a Stella H929 in
MGM's Jailhouse Rock - 1957
Screen capture Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


Elvis with a Stella H929 in MGM's Jailhouse Rock - 1957
Screen capture Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

In the movie Elvis is seen playing three (or four) different model guitars, the first of which is one used by his Jailhouse Rock costar/cellmate, Mickey Shaughnessey, who when Elvis plays it advises him not to "break any strings."  When Elvis' character makes his performing debut on the televised Prisoner's show he is pictured using a Stella H929 acoustic.


Judy Tyler and Elvis with a Stella like a H929 (no flame) in MGM's Jailhouse Rock - 1957
Screen capture Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


Elvis onstage auditioning for a job as a singer in a bar in MGM's Jailhouse Rock - 1957
Screen capture Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

After Elvis' character is released from Jail the story has him get another guitar from a pawn shop to try to audition for a job singing.  The club is where he meets his love interest, future partner (Judy Tyler), and the band that will be his band in the movie. They are in fact played by Scotty, Bill, DJ and Mike Stoller of the songwriting team, Leiber and Stoller, that wrote most of music for the film. The guitar used in this scene is an identical model to the H929 but without the faux flame finish and fret markers.  It's possible they were sanded out and painted over to give the impression of a different guitar but given the abundance of this model, and variations to it, probably unnecessary.


Bill, Scotty, DJ, Mike Stoller and Elvis with H929 (with mis-positioned bridge) in MGM's Jailhouse Rock - 1957
Screen capture Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


Frustrated at the hecklers, Elvis shows how a H929 is deconstructed in MGM's Jailhouse Rock - 1957
Screen capture Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The guitar used in the bar scene, as evidenced by the improper position of the bridge, was obviously not set up to actually play.  To move the plot along, Elvis' character reveals his temperament by smashing the Stella guitar in response to the interruptions of his performance by a non-interested crowd.  The last guitar used by Elvis in the film is an Australian made Maton (Hillbilly Guitar) HG100S.


Harmony guitar catalog pages - H929 on top right
courtesy Harmony Guitar Page

The Harmony Company in Chicago was founded by Wilhelm Schultz in 1892, initially in a two room loft on the top floor of the Edison Building at Washington and Market Streets, later the site of Chicago's Civic Opera House. In 1904 the business settled in their own three story 30,000 square foot factory at 1738-1754 Lawndale Ave. By 1923 they stated annual sales of 250,000 units. By 1930 the amount of instruments being produced by Harmony made up the largest percentage of stringed instruments being manufactured in the U.S. at that time: guitars - archtops, flat-tops, electric Spanish, Hawaiian bodies, ukuleles, banjos, mandolins, violins and more. In 1941 the company moved to 3633 Racine Ave.


portion of catalog page for the H1141 and H930 (pickguard version)
courtesy Lew Skinner

Harmony instruments carried many brand names. Valencia, Johnny Marvin, Vogue, Airline, Fender, Kay and Regal are a few of the more notable names which Harmony produced several models of guitars, but Silvertone offered by Sears is probably the most common.  Many of these guitars went overseas with the troops during WW2 and Korea as they were both inexpensive and extremely tough. Harmony stressed value while at the same time providing a player with a dependable, enjoyable instrument. Prior to 1939 "Stella" guitars were manufactured in Jersey City by the Oscar Schmidt Company. Sometime after that company folded the "Stella" brand name was acquired by the Harmony Company.


Harmony Stella - model H929
Photos courtesy Guitar Museum

The Stella H929 models, as used in the movie, were made from 1945 to 1970, at least.  It was a fairly inexpensive parlor sized guitar targeted as a student model and/or for home playing.  They were of hardwood construction, solid birch top and body, with hard maple fingerboards stained rosewood, accurately fretted and painted fret markers.  It was offered with a sunburst vertical faux flame finish, with white striping on the top edge and soundhole. They had a floating bridge and metal tailpiece.


Harmony Stella - model H929 headstock and tuners
Photos courtesy Guitar Museum

They were 13.25" wide, 35.75" long, had a body depth of 3.75" and a scale length of 24.25".  They listed for $16.50 in 1951, $23.00 in 1957, $28.50 in 1967 and $31.50 in 1969.  It was a very popular model and also sold as an Airline 7076, Airline 8286/7026, Alden 9935, Barclay H929, Fender F-1000, Holiday AL9238, Regal R200, Silvertone 605 and SR (Sears & Roebuck) 1294.

This page added August 15, 2010 is part of the section The Movie Guitars of Elvis Presley.

Much of the specifications for Stella models was obtained directly from the Harmony guitars database and the history of Harmony guitars from several sources on the web, primarily Bill Hillman's site on Harmony guitars, the Harmony USA website.

 


The unidentified guitar of Jailhouse Rock


Elvis with cellmate's guitar in MGM's Jailhouse Rock - 1957
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff's Inside Jailhouse Rock

Elvis' character, Vince Everett, in Jailhouse Rock in sentenced for 1-10 years in prison where he is inspired by his cell mate, a former country and western performer with some small success played by Mickey Shaughnessey, to pursue a singing career and attempts to teach him something about playing guitar. 


Mickey Shaughnessey and Elvis in MGM's Jailhouse Rock - 1957
Screen capture Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Elvis' response literally paraphrases his father's in real life when he says "I never heard of anyone paying money to hear a guitar player."  The guitar is, as of yet, an unidentified brand of flat top acoustic but has a Harmony/Stella style headstock.  The guitar appears to be a traditional folk style rounded flattop, not too dissimilar from a Harmony 162 (and countless other brands) with a mahogany back and sides but with an ornately decorated soundhole.


Mickey Shaughnessey and Elvis in MGM's Jailhouse Rock - 1957
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff's Inside Jailhouse Rock

The guitar also lacks fret markers and has a headstock identical to the Harmony Stella used next in the movie and possibly other Harmony models.

page added August 15, 2010

 

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