Harmony H1327 archtop guitar repair - Projects - Audio Artillery

Harmony H1327 archtop guitar repair

  1. Intro
  2. Bridge repair
  3. Neck removal
  4. Plane the fretboard
  5. Refret
  6. Neck angle
  7. Neck fitting
  8. Neck set
  9. All strung up
  10. Recording

1: Intro

This is an early (probably late 30's/early 40's) Harmony H1327 archtop guitar. It's got a 15.5", solid spruce top, solid (maple?) sides, and a brazilian rosewood fretboard. Not too much is wrong with it other than terrible action and the frets are almost gone.

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That's the case it came with. It's probably at least as old as the guitar. The guy who sold it to me said he bought it from an old man whose Army friend had bought the guitar prior to WWII.


2: Bridge repair

You see on a lot of archtop bridges that the top part of the bridge (the saddle) is tilted forward. The pressure of the strings over time compresses the wood around the threaded posts inside the saddle.

I attacked this with a two-part epoxy. I wouldn't try anything weaker (e.g., cyanoacrylite) because you don't really want to have to do this twice. I just mask off the area around the holes with tape, fill them with epoxy, smear vaseline all over the thumbscrews, and screw it all together.

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3: Neck removal

It's time to drill the 15th fret in search of the neck pocket. Last time I hit it on the first try. It took 3 tries this time. That's my neck pocket sensing resistor there in the final hole.

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I'm not real sure why the first couple holes didn't go thru, looking at it right now it seems like they were in the right spot. *shrug*

Last time I removed a neck I split the top because I hadn't properly separated the fingerboard extension from the top. Not this time. I got an iron, a towel, and a plastic putty knife. Heated up the fingerboard extension and slowly worked the knife under it. I had wetted the towel (can't remember why) and some steam came off and started screwing up the finish. Gah! I put down some green painters masking tape (less sticky than regular masking tape, thanks to whoever suggested it in the previous thread!) to protect the finish and kept at it. I didn't get the knife very far under but I got some separation.

Then I did the steaming part, with tons of masking tape all over. Then down on the floor to press the heel against a short block. Last time I had a really tall block, this time once the neck gives the body can only travel another 1/4" - less chance of things ripping apart if things go wrong. The joint didn't want to go so I worked on the extension more, got that knife in there a bit farther, and went back for another shot of steam.

On the 2nd round of this I was able to work the knife under quite a bit farther and the extension completely separated. Something went funny under it which you'll see in the pictures. But after that the neck slid out like it was glued in with molasses.

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Two problems here. First there's a bunch of steam damage. I had all that masked off. This is really frustrating. I'm starting to wonder if my steam is too hot. I was able to buff 80% of this out with some polishing compound. It doesn't want to come out where the finish isn't very smooth to begin with (hard to polish a rough surface).

Second, you can see a chunk of the top came off with the fingerboard extension. Not a big deal but I guess I didn't have it heated thoroughly enough.

So the dangerous part is over, time to move on to the tedious parts...


4: Plane the fretboard

Ok, I got the fingerboard planed yesterday afternoon. I used 60 grit sandpaper and it went pretty fast considering it's rosewood. I got most of the 14th fret hump out before I realized I'd sanded right thru one of the fret markers.

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The one that looks bad actually came off while I was sanding and I glued it back on. These are certainly replaceable but that isn't something I want to worry about right now.

Another consequence of removing so much material is the fret slots are now a lot shallower. In fact, a bit too shallow to accept the new frets.

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Luckily X-acto makes a saw that is exactly the right width to deepen fret slots.

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I didn't quite get the hump out on the bass side. You can't even see it by sighting down the neck now but it's noticeable with a straight edge. I don't think it's going to be a big problem.

One thing I really like about this neck is the edges of the fingerboard are rounded off. It makes it so comfortable to hold that I am making sure to keep that rounded edge. This is the only guitar I've seen like this, usually the edge is fairly sharp. Oddly enough, Fender added this as a feature to their strat line last year.

So, a little more slot deepening and it's time to bang in the frets and finish them and move on to the neck joint.


5: Refret

Frets are in and finished. They turned out border-line fantastic.

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I tried a new method this time for the finishing. I taped everything with that green tape and then went at it with the big file. It went a lot faster since I could get it almost flush with the wood without worrying about scratching anything. Then when the shaping was done I used a couple grades of emery cloth to knock down the sharp edges on the frets. I'm still going over them and finding a slight sharp edge here and there. I like the result.

The tape did lift a smidge of paint around the 14th fret on one side. I think this paint was loosened by the steam damage and it didn't take much to lift it.

So now it's just working on the joint itself, getting it shimmed correctly, and gluing the bastard back together. This is going pretty quick now that I have done this a couple times. At this rate I ought to be playing it next weekend... if I don't screw it up.

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