6/04/2017

1968 Harmony H1270 Sovereign 12-String Jumbo Guitar (Modded)





A customer of mine sent this in for a number of repairs and a bit of hot-rodding to make it play like more of a modern guitar. I already have a huge fondness for this model of 12-string as it has that Leadbelly-style punch, girth, and rumble and responds like an old '20s Oscar Schmidt, in a way, too. They're very different from a more "modern-style" 12 which mostly take after the Guild mold. The secret to the tone is the giant, 12-fret, ladder-braced body with its solid spruce top and solid mahogany back and sides. It has a light build and a lot of airspace.

What the customer wanted, however, was to do-away with the big 2" nut width, clunky neck profile, and lackluster bridge these come with "stock." Work thus included a neck reset, neck shave and width change, a refret with jumbo "pyramid-shaped" fretwire, mod of the original bridge to an adjustable/archtop-style unit, new bone nut, some brace repairs, and a setup. As it stands, now, it's just about the most playable and satisfying 12-string I've come across this side of a '61 Gibson B-45-12 I sold a while back. Because the neck and string spacing is closer to a 6-string, too, it feels excellent to sit back and cowboy-chord it minus the usual fatigue associated with the usual wide nuts.


The guitar is relatively clean and has no cracks, but did have a bad "sink" and detached brace in the upper-bout top. I removed said brace entirely and replaced it with a bigger block of mahogany that's helped to shore-up that area (it often collapses on this model as there's not enough bracing up there).

Check out that 16" wide real estate of spruce, though!


The nut width is just shy of 1 13/16" after being cut down from a full 2" classical-style width. The owner talked about going down to 1 7/8" -- but reshaping never goes the way one desires or measures for every time. However, the bonus here is that the original radius on the fretboard is a tight 9 1/2" which means that there's plenty of finger-room vs. something like a flatter 14" radius which, on this, would make the spacing feel tight.

I borrowed the measurements for string spacing from a Taylor 12-string as the owner spoke well of them when I was talking to him on the phone. The back of the neck was thinned-up a bit, too, and is now a "regular medium" C-shape instead of the clunky, large, square-ish D-shape that Harmony 12s usually have.


The board lost its binding after the reshaping which, I think, is an improvement in the feel. The modern, pyramid-shaped jumbo frets are also a huge improvement in the feel and I think add a bit of sustain and clarity over the thin, narrow, stock Harmony wire.

The board itself is Brazilian rosewood and, unfortunately, acquired a few tiny chip-outs on some fret-slot edges when I pressed the frets home. It'd dried out a ton and my rehydrating did not seem to help as much as I'd hoped. The feel of the board itself is greatly-improved after its level/dress, however, as stock Harmony boards are never, ever, dressed-up correctly. They almost always have bad sanding and tool marks in the direction of the frets.


The owner tunes in D, so it's tuned in D for the soundclip. It sounds excellent tuned-up to E, however, and the 48w-10 strings on it tune-up to that just fine with the neck not even needing a truss adjustment at all (I have it engaged just enough to not rattle). I think the guitar could do well with a set of 11s for tuning down as it positively rumbles as it is and feels like playing an electric 12 at the moment.

Because I knocked the neck angle so far back, I had to add a shim under the fretboard extension. The extension is level with the rest of the board until about the 15th fret and then after that it starts dipping down towards the soundhole. That was the "natural state" that the board arrived in, so I didn't fuss with it too much as I don't think anyone in their right mind is going to try to pull a note off at the 17th fret on a guitar like this.



I reworked the original bridge base and it cleaned-up nicely, though the old saddle marks leave some discoloration that is (thankfully) under the new saddle/bridge topper. I made the new, compensated, rosewood topper and used some old adjustment wheels and posts from my parts-bin to give it a more vintage look.

If you're wondering why I put the bridge topper so far forward on the bridge -- it's because I want the bridge to hide the "light patch" where said bridge has lived most of its life. Since Harmony placed the saddle in that area of the bridge, I needed to as well.







The shave job on the neck is not 100% my proudest moment, but it does feel good. The best way to do this would've been to strip the whole neck, reshape, and then refinish -- but that takes an awful-lot more time and effort. I simply reshaped it and then stained and sealed it with a couple thin coats of wipe-on poly. The result is a neck that feels bare/satin to the touch and won't gum-up in hot weather. It feels great!



A vintage "new" tuner button was added.





The tuners are going strong after a lube, though my preference would be to (down the line) replace them with StewMac vintage-style repro machines. These old ones can be a bit stiff now and then but the guitar holds pitch just fine.



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