Early ambitions: I purchased the Harmony Soverign 1260 pictured above in 2012. I didn't pay much for it because it had a lot of issues - cracks, bad neck angle, broken truss rod, bent tuners, for starters. Great, I thought. These are solid wood instruments and the wood has had a lot of time to age. There is significant respect (and nostalgia) for them among those in my age group as well, since for many of us, one of these was the best solid wood guitar we could afford - and paying for them was not exactly easy.
The 1260 was one of the first guitars the legendary Pete Townshend used. That's a lot of mojo. I thought there might be customers for a hot-rodded version - one that sounded a little louder, a little richer, and had great playability (as few of the remaining specimens posses, thanks to poorly fitted dovetail joints). This would therefore be a complete rebuild, including a refinish so I could thin the top as well as conceal the funny cracks. The bridge would be replaced with a pin through version, complete with a fully compensated saddle made from bone; wood bindings would replace the brittle plastic; a neck reset, of course, complete with a new truss bar and carbon fiber rod reinforcement installed on either side, and a bone nut. Then thin the top and its bracing, it seemed so overbuit at .16" (later I found it was that thick because it was very floppy across the grain; maybe they are all that thick, just to cover all bases). And replace the back braces with thinner ones. New tuners, a no-brainer. Repair or replace the fingerboard. A lot of work, but I was excited by it.
The short of it: I am somewhat obsessed with removing wood. Removing wood was intrinsic to my plan for hot-rodding the 1260. I can hardly look at a piece of wood inside a guitar without imagining how it would work if it were smaller. In this case, a lot of it seemed way thick, so it seemed like I could go pretty wild. But sometimes this obsession carries me into a place that is destructive, as it eventually did with this troubled, but initially playable Harmony 1260. And sometimes, what seems obvious at first is completly false. My great ambitions led me to ignore a couple of flags which suggested leaving well enough alone might have been the better path. "Suggested" is perhaps too mild a word.
The first flags were several odd looking cracks in the sides. Ordinarily sides crack along a grain line but these meandered. This can happen if the instrument They had been repaired well enough to make them stable, but the two parts were not flush with each other - not unexpected when one deals with this model instrument. I quickly determined part of the solution woud be to sand them flush. What I failed to think about was why the cracks took such strange configurations in the first place.
The picture of a section of rib on the left shows that Harmony had used very thin wood for this particular instrument. However, the picture represents hind-sight that came only after it was too late. While the body was intact I had no way to measure wood thickness. Thanks to the eventual outcome from this project, now I do. It is not wise, especially when dealing with an inexpensive guitar, to assume anything about its construction before taking it apart. Ribs this thin should not be messed with. In retrospect, I should have thought more about why the side cracks were so non-ordinary. In fact, as I have looked at 1260s for sale on eBay, I have noticed quite a few suffer from this odd type of side cracking. But where I sanded each side of a crack flush, I introduced incredible weakness into the structure of the instrument. Ideally, ribs are rigid in order to force string energy to leave the instrument though the top and back (if it is not damped against the belly of the player). My ribs soon became one of the most flexible parts of the body.
And then there was a strange bubble on the back, a reverse puckering with no apparent cause. After I removed the back and put the calipers to it, I found it was a sudden area of very thin wood surrounded by thicker wood. How it got there is anybody's guess. That back, in any case, is the most vitreous piece of mahogany I have ever had in my hands. Someday I hope to salvage what is left of it for use on a parlor sized instrument.
As an aside that may interest some, Harmony 1260s are usually described as having a one piece back. In the case of this one, that was not true, even though, thanks to the heavy stain, fill, and thick finish, it appeared to be one piece. The picture shows the back after the finish was removed, with the arrows pointing to the joint. Clearly Harmony did not attempt to place this joint in the center, where conventional building practice would have placed it. Most likely, they were simply using their wood in the most efficient manner possible.
Further, there were other surprises. Besides the strange ripple-bubble, once I removed the finish I found the tap tone of the back dropped well below that of the top. (??) The thinness of the back explains how its tap tone dropped below that of the top once the heavy lacquer was removed. The wide short braces weighed a lot, but did not contribute much to stiffness. If a brace were split to be half as wide and the split off part glued onto its top, it would be 8 times as stiff for the same amount of weight. So the back was intrinsically loose, so loose that its finish constituted a significant stiffening element. Interestingly, as I thinned the top (described next) the tap tone of the top finally dropped below that of the back.
I measured the top thickness through the sound hole and concluded sound could be improved by thinning the top. I undertook this adjustment while leaving the body intact - in itself a good enough approach. Volume improved too, as I removed about .05" from the center and a little more (I hoped) from the perimeter. I started thinking about replacing the ladder braces with an X-braced system. Off came the top. Off came the ladder braces. Now the dirty little secret of this top raised its ugly little head. The top was inordiantely flexible across the grain. Five strong ladder braces had corrected this problem. Yikes. While the back was impressively vitreous, the top tapped like a piece of cardboard. Rats. This project had become what, in Oklahoma, we called a dry hole. What follows is a series of pictures from the various stages of disassembly, followed by my final result. Then a picture of Pete Townshend's final result on a J-200, after performing "Pinball Wizard" on the David Letterman show in 1993. I must say, Townshend was more efficient and did a more thorough job. But then he is a professional performer and I am not.