12/11/2015

1939 National Rosita Resonator Guitar


I do like getting surprises! This old National Rosita walked-in down on its luck a bit and I spruced it up while the customer waited. At first it seemed like a simple job of fret level/dress and a little "cone massaging" and setup, but as usual... it got a little more involved once the "hood" was opened. I didn't get a soundclip, but it left the shop with an authoritative, barky voice, and plenty of volume.

Rositas are cool guitars and have a woodier, mellower tone compared to the metal-bodied Nationals. As far as I know, there were two varieties -- the earlier ones had Harmony-made bodies and necks and these later ones appear to have the Regal "squashed 000" body shape but made in ply and National-made necks. This neck is a lot like the ones found on Duolians with three-piece (core, fretboard-size layer, and dyed board) maple construction.



Anyone else love those soundholes? So weird!

The body appears to be refinished and the binding is replaced. The tailpiece is also unoriginal and it sports 50s/60s tuners that I'm used to seeing on Harmony products, but otherwise the hardware is legit and it has the original cone and biscuit.


The last guy to work on this installed a good bone nut.


The dyed maple board has a weird light s-curve to it, but the fret level/dress helped to rid a lot of the funkiness.



Under the coverplate lives an original cone that'd been crushed in its past. I managed to "massage" that out and get it going again, but it took 3 or 4 installs before it stayed-put and kept a good tone.

The biscuit is original to the guitar, but the saddle had been swapped out for a newer maple one that was a little tall and overly-flexible (it was tilting-over with string tension). I cut a new, oversized bone one that's a little bit sturdier.


3 comments:

Stefan said...

Hey Jake, thanks for your work on this the other day. It was a revelation to see how brisk and deliberate you are as you go about a restoration/repair. A couple of stories about this Rosita:

I bought it from a tow truck driver and his wife in a parking lot in Island Pond, VT several winters ago. It was presented to me as part of a kit-- also including a very old Martin, and unmarked mandolin, ukulele, and autoharp, all remarkably dried out (the Martin bridge was fastened down with two sizable screws)-- that had belonged to an old Irishman who gigged around the Northeast Kingdom for many years. I think I strummed it once before deciding to buy it. I probably could have bought the whole lot for what I offered. Anyway, I was enchanted.

At that time, the tuner strips were reversed and the nut was a jacked up piece of plastic that wasn't even glued in. The binding had disintegrated all around, and the neck was loose and pulling, seemingly held by the fingerboard alone. You could slip four or five playing cards under the heel. It was set up for dobro in G,and after putting on a regular plastic nut I played it that way for a number of years. It sounded great!

I eventually got nervous that the whole thing was going to fold in half. So I reluctantly traded my National Grand Console dual-8 to a repair guy in Burlington in exchange for a neck reset and re-binding. I don't have a regular six string, so my hope was to restore this so I could learn how to play cowboy chords.

That repair was okay as far as it went, but there was a lot of buzzing after the third or fourth fret up the neck, inadequate for regular playing, in my hands anyway. So I went back to playing dobro in open E for another year or two.

Fast forward to Jake's shop, where I casually mentioned these issues while dropping off another guitar for repair. Before I knew it, Jake was under the hood, pulling out and inspecting the cone…

Story number two: When I got back home after Jake's on Saturday, I took it out and started trying to play it in standard tuning, and it sounded just horrible and lifeless, with all sorts of clattery undertones, overtones, and aftertones. Feeling something between dismay and despair, I put the guitar back in the case and thought to myself, "Oh my God, after going to such lengths to revive this guitar, I've only managed to kill it!" sort of like the ancient Chinese story by Chuang-tze about K'un-Tun. After about an hour or so, I took it back out of its case, and decided to tune it back into open E, which requires tightening a few strings a bit, and then playing it with a steel as I was used to. I also tugged a scrap of red felt between the cover plate and tailpiece, thinking that might help somehow. Playing it with the steel bar, it sounded perhaps somewhat better…

But then the strangest thing happened! While strumming along, playing a ditty of barred chords with my finger, the guitar suddenly came to life, blooming like a flower. It got louder, chords and single notes started to sustain for five to eight seconds. The cacophony vanished and the tonalities cohered. It was as if the guitar was regaining consciousness after a surgical operation.

How to explain this? I do not know. My imagination? Perhaps. The red felt? I doubt it. But when you read that wood body Nationals sound muddy or stuff like that, don't believe it. These guitars have got a lot of soul, and it just requires a good set up, and a little waiting, to bring them to life.

Stefan said...

Upon re-reading, I see that my comment above leaves room for misunderstanding. Just to be clear: thanks to Jake, this guitar has never sounded better!

Perhaps the best theory of my unusual experience is that after being jostled on the long car ride home, the resonator cone needed that extra squeeze of tuning up to open E in order to find its seat in the well (though there was no perceptual change in the action at the 12th fret: still ~3/32"). I will pass over the possibility that it was simply because I'm an overly anxious person and a terrible player!

Marty Johnson said...

Hey Stephen..My friend Don Young just passed away..He was a former owner of National guitar..He had a small guitar shop in Los Osos California..He was teaching me to repair the treasures that I found on Ebay..In his honor i went to looking for a National guitar and I found a Dandy.. It had different F holes than any other I could find. Turns out its a Rosita like yours...Thanks for writing your story...