Monday, May 21, 2012

Harmony H1203 Sovereign - Back in the Saddle Again

I'm back in the saddle again
Out where the strings meet the end...

It's always exciting to find a package in the mailbox.  My new saddle arrived a few weeks ago, and has been waiting patiently for me to get to preparing and installing it on this old guitar.  Totally unlike the one that was in the bridge before, this saddle is made of genuine bone and is fully compensated.  Comparing the back end of the bridge with the saddle, the length and string spacing is a pretty good match.  Although there are some slight gaps between the bridge and body, the bridge does not appear to be lifting enough to repair at this time.  When it does, I'll swap it out for a modern pin-type bridge.

After reducing the thickness of the saddle to make it fit the bridge slot, I put it aside...

... reattached her Grover tuning machines...

...put in her nice new end pin...

... and put on a set of DR Pure Blues PHR-11 pure nickel strings!

I don't usually use an 11-gauge set of strings, nor do I like a plain, unwound G-string, but I wanted to see how her neck and action would react to a heavy set, and hear how she might have sounded with the only kind of strings that were available back in her heyday.  As expected with such a tall saddle, the action was very high, between 1/8-inch and 3/16-inch at the 12th fret, and the intonation was way out.  It was a starting point.  With some trimming of the saddle height, I was able to get the 12th fret action down to just below 1/8 inch.  I usually prefer a very flat neck, little to no relief, so I put the truss rod in the "neutral" position before putting on the strings.  I was getting some fret buzz at the 3rd and fourth fret on her low E string, so I cranked the truss rod counterclockwise until I could feel the rod tighten.  I turned the rod another quarter turn, giving the neck a touch of relief.  With just one more quarter turn tweak, all of the buzz was gone, and I attached her truss rod cover plate.

Before touching up the front with some lacquer, I decided it was best to bring her inside the house to allow the strings to stretch and her wood to acclimate to a lower humidity, air conditioned environment.  And, yes, so I could play her for a bit before calling it a night.

Almost time to tidy up a bit and start getting ready for the next project, but first I'll be back in here to apply some more lacquer.


  1. Hi Edgar

    Chris here from NZ. Great work...I have a question...just picked up a 50 year old Harmony exactly this model which has been cased and is nearly in perfect condition except for the saddle which seems to be a fine piece of bone or plastic bead which sits in a slot in a piece of timber which then is slotted into the this how yours was? My saddle is bowed particularly at the treble end and is I think contributing to the high action. At this stage the neck looks straight and there is little bellying in the top.

    The previous owner purchased and rarely played the guitar and it was stored loosely strung in the attic.

    I think that I will replace the entire saddle with a bone one as you have...did you change the nut mine seems quite high compared to the other guitars I have here?


  2. Hi Chris, thanks for the comments. That guitar of yours sounds like quite a good find!

    The saddle that was in mine was plastic and had already been trimmed down to almost nothing in an attempt to correct the high action caused by the top bellying and neck angle. I replaced mine with a bone saddle. The nut had plenty of life left in in, so I left it, despite it being a 50-year old piece of plastic.

    The brige on mine has a slot that receives the saddle. A few different types of bridge and saddle arrangements were used on these guitars over the years. As you can see in the pictures of these pages, the bridge in my Sovereign is also pinless, like on classical guitars. Although many (myself included) prefer pin-through bridges on flat tops, this Sovereign model is a testament to how well a pinless brige can work on a steel string guitar. There are some good pictures and information here:

    What you've described sounds typical for an old guitar left to dry out and warp in an attic. Hopefully, some slow re-humidification, a neck reset and a careful setup of the saddle, nut and truss rod is all it needs to be a good player again. I'd be interested in seeing your guitar, feel free to send an email with some pictures to me at:


  3. Hi... If when you replace the bridge on this guitar, can I buy the original? I have a 1203 with non-original bridge.
    Thanks- Barry