1931 National Style 0 "Palm Trees" Roundneck Resonator Guitar

Update: I located a period National cone (yay!) as well as a period wrist/bridge cover and so replaced those missing parts and have updated both the soundclip and the blog post with new pictures/updated information.

This guitar has been long in repair, now, but it's finally finished-up. As you'd expect: it projects like it has a small amplifier in it and has that spanky, bluesy, deliciously growly metal-body sound in spades. The serial places this at 1931 and it even has the rarely-seen hook-style coverplate (peculiar to that year). The body is brass with nickel-silver plating and this one has a "palm trees and boat" design etched into it. There's no doubt, however, that it's been through a hard playing life and it has plenty of wear and tear (gentle, though) to show for it.

Work included a board plane, refret, new biscuit, neck reset/adjustment work, a set of new (old) tuners, and general setup. The wrist-rest/bridge cover was broken (and missing) so I simply de-soldered the leavings of it and mounted a period wrist cover of the same type borrowed from a mid-40s Nat'l-equipped Kay resonator. It plays perfectly with 3/32" bass and 1/16" treble at the 12th fret (strung with 12s) and has a good, straight neck toting a 25" scale and 1 13/32" nut width.

The deco-style tropical motifs are pretty faded on the top but they're just ghostly enough to add a bit of class.

New bone nut and replacement (parts-bin) tuners. The original Waverly tuners were damaged (and are included in the case) so I swapped them for these old vintage parlor units. These are "pinned-in" shafts and despite the grunge, work just fine. The strings wrap under the shafts, however, so as to avoid having to redrill mounting holes at the headstock

Originally this maple board would have been stained black (much of the stain was worn when it came in) but because I had to plane it to remove warp, the finish all came off. I decided to leave it "natural" after work (it's nice-looking maple, isn't it?), though it is sealed to preserve the wood. Note the small chip-outs and remaining finger-wear marks on the board in the 1-5 fret area.

Note the coverplate mounting -- it has little bent tabs that rotate into slots and one "set screw" at 12 o'clock to keep it tidy. This was only used during 1931 and seems like a good idea, but if folks are rough with the coverplates the tabs tend to get broken-off.

Well -- what about the guts? The biscuit (maple) is a brand-new National Reso-Phonic unit that I've compensated and installed on the cone. The cone itself is not original to the guitar, but came from a mid-40s Kay resonator and is, in actuality, a late-30s true-blue National cone. It's the regular embossed 9 1/2" unit and sounds -- goo! I borrowed it from one of these guitars that's down-on-its-luck and in the storage racks.

The wrist rest/bridge cover is also borrowed from that Kay resonator and is, in actuality, also an old National part. I mounted it here like modern Nationals -- with 4 sheet metal screws -- which allows for easy setup changes if desired.

When this came in there was the base for one of those brass "bellhop" bells screwed to the original biscuit with a steel saddle running over a groove cut into it. It was kinda wild and lovely, in a way, but definitely a tone-destroyer. The nut, of course, had been jacked-up with a Hawaiian-style "nut extender."

The rest of the guts -- dowel-stick, fretboard extension plates, etc. -- are all original and in good health. I had to do minor modification to them here and there to nail the setup, though, of course. An interesting "extra" on this build is that there are two extra "soundwell posts" inside (4 total).

The tail is original.

The back, despite wear and tear, still looks grand, doesn't it? Palm trees, moon, stars, boatride on one's lonesome... pretty idyllic.

The back of the maple neck is almost bare from so much play. It feels great!

This has a c-shaped profile and is, actually, a lot more comfortable than your average modern National Reso-Phonic repro types which tend to follow the v-profiles of slightly later 30s Nationals.

This comes with a slightly-large old hard case that will be padded-up before shipping.

Here are the original tuners and biscuit, too -- stowed in the case.

At left is the cone that came with the Nat'l (a replacement) and at right is the 1930s Nat'l cone installed from a mid-40s Kay resonator guitar. Sweet!


Anonymous said...

What poor quality work. The neck-to-body fit looks awful at the heel, and the neck angle was overshot judging by how high the saddle is. Not to mention that National does not use "sheet metal screws" to attach the handrest...and that the hooks were "particular" to 1931, not "peculiar"...sheesh.

Rod Highsmith said...

Haters gonna hate, I think it's way cool and if I didn't have 100+ guitars and a wife ( tolerant though she is) I would buy it just for the art

Jake Wildwood said...

Who cares if it looks "awful" in your point of view?

I jack the neck angle back farther so that, as this guitar changes over time -- and it certainly will as all Nat'ls do once they get on the road -- you'll have some adjustment room at the saddle. Anyone who knows how these are built internally will know that having that gap absolutely does not hurt the guitar or effect its structure as it's all blocked-up with a ginormous dowel in there as well as bracing under the FB extension. Folks who've played the guitar in-store have remarked -- spot-on -- that it feels a lot more "solid" at the joint than your average National -- because of the way I do this!

As for the wrist rest -- this came to me with the cover torn off and only bits left on. I used the rest from another guitar's damaged coverplate and that one happened to have the riveted cover. So -- rather than put a brand-spanking-new cover on the guitar, I chose to install it with sheet-metal screws. If you're of the obsessive nature (who would buy this obviously-player's-guitar if you were?) you could scrounge the net for an original cover and solder it right over my install.

Particular/peculiar -- you're absolutely right, but it's also PECULIAR in that it wasn't used any other year. I write so many posts, so often, that a little lack of grammatical grace would hopefully be excused by someone who isn't obviously a troll.

All that said -- I've played Nationals "setup" by supposedly good-quality repair shops and they have the usual "hump" over the body at the extension. Why? Obviously they didn't want to go to the trouble to solve the problem. Not solving problems that impact the guitar's performance drives me nuts. These are, afterall, instruments.