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Centre Stage – National Reso-Phonic Guitars

Adam Leaver: June 22, 2023
Full Transcript Below!

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In today’s video, Adam takes us through the storied history of the resonator guitar: from the inception of the instrument back in the 20’s right through to the modern day. We finish up by checking out some of the incredible hand made offerings from the unrivalled National Reso-Phonic

Full Transcript

hi guys Adam here from Guitar Village and I’m absolutely delighted today to be presenting to you some of the new National resophonic resonators that we’ve got in stock at the moment over the course this video I want to take a quick look at the history of national the original Corporation and the newer National resaphonic Corporation uh go over some of the famous models that National produced and the newer ones that are now available uh and play a few tunes for you as well so let’s get into it

so the original National Corporation that’s really the company that created the resonator guitar as we know it today uh the resonator guitar it was a a product of the time really and a product of necessity so back in 1925 or so there were the dopiera brothers in California and that was Rudy and John doppierra now both of them were immigrants to the US who had made a bit of a wave in the music industry already they’d patented some banjo designs and set up a new music shop in California selling banjos under the national name as you know the banjo was the popular instrument of the day um around about 1925 or so a Vaudeville Entertainer by the name of George beecham wanders into the shop and starts talking about his need for a louder acoustic guitar now this has been something that’s been a bit of a concern for acoustic guitars for a few years now especially playing in Orchestra pits in bands especially with the rise of jazz music and sort of embryonic swing music that was becoming a bit more popular the acoustic guitar was just being lost in the mix uh and a lot of the times guitarist would go across to the banjo and use the banjo as as a bit of an alternative but people wanted to really preserve the sort of the sweetness and the more mellow tones of the six strings uh so George beecham he’d been encountering these same problems goes across to John because he knew that John uh had a bit of a history of uh of filing patents and creating new designs for improved instruments so the first attempt to create a louder Guitar George was really Scouting Around for something like an electric guitar which you know at that time wasn’t even a thing and they came across two different ideas you had mechanical amplification and he had electrical amplification so George had had tried to create his own style of electric guitar kind of a strange embryonic thing back in the day where it created a high nut Martin that used to play lap style and use a bar with his Forest Hawaiian style of music and uh he took part of a microphone attached it up at the nut to try and give it a bit more of a uh a bit more of a louder sound um obviously back back in the early 20s when he did this amplification was also in its infancy and so the results were fairly disastrous by all accounts so talking to John they have this idea to make use of what was called a strobe violin now stro was an English company that had created violins with big conical horns on kind of similar to uh like a phonograph or an old victrola from back in the day um and they’re very strange looking things still around today and in fact you can hear one I’m sure on a few Tom Waits albums as well he’s used to stro violin now and again uh so I definitely recommend having a listen to those to see what they sound like and essentially the whole idea of this was you take the violin attach essentially a phonograph horn to it with something like a resonating diaphragm that you’re likely to find in these resonators and uh and try and project the sound a bit more the result of this was that they created this Big Walnut bodied guitar with a horn apparently sticking out of the base now there’s no photographs of this but the descriptions are fairly Vivid and as I’m sure you can imagine the results only went one way uh now so it’s back to the during the drawing board for John uh and he came up with this idea of making use of the burgeoning phonograph technology of the day and a big part of the phonograph technology were these resonating diaphragms um which George in fact presented to John as a bit of an idea uh and so the idea kind of forms slowly but surely and originally John took uh kind of an OM shape sort of Martin uh created the body out of metal as the diaphragm that he was going to be using was aluminum and he wanted the vibrations to be preserved as much as possible in order to make sure no sound was lost in transmission from the cone to the body or from the diaphragm to the body he attached a little aluminum Bridge as well just to make sure that there was no um loss of vibration there and voila he created the resonator has obviously a bit of a potted history a bit of a gloss he originally created a guitar with three diaphragms they’re known as the tricone guitars which you can still get hold of today but the ever more popular single cone uh soon came about essentially as using one cone rather than three was a little bit more cost effective for the company now the two guys John and George who really together created the uh the resonator guitar although John was pretty much he was the inventor of the guitar and George was very much just a Visionary behind it they were pretty much polar opposite in terms of personality so John was very much a conservative individual he was an inventor and a tinkerer and an engineer who liked precision and he liked accuracy uh and he was very keen to create perfect products that weren’t wasteful in any way and this was in terms of of money and in terms of products as well apparently one of his big issues back in the day was making sure that National weren’t wasting sandpaper because they used to go through Reams and reams of sand paper and he wasn’t satisfied with the amount they were using and remember this was in the in the mid-20s I mean National the national string instrument Corporation was founded in early 1927 as as the official Corporation the idea had come about a little bit earlier but the actual Corporation was founded officially in early 1927. uh this was the mid-rar of the Roaring Twenties the middle of the Roaring Twenties there was uh apparently lash parties uh or lavish parties I should say that George used to used to finance and used to organize um there were you know plenty of reports of bootleg whiskey being found around the the original National Factory and lots more money than John and George never really envisaged now this uh this really created a kind of tension because George as a Vaudeville Entertainer as someone who just wanted to allow the guitar in order to entertain more people he was of course over the moon with the results uh but by late 1928 John had very much pretty much had enough he kind of said you know he kind of decided that uh the Heyday of national had really been and gone and it become a bit more of a behemoth than he was uh that he was enjoying operating um there was also lots of tension between the two individuals John’s conservatism versus uh George is kind of more lavish personality really came to her head when George started to try and started trying to file patents um under his own name uh when they were allegedly blatantly uh inventions that John had come up with and so John left the company in 1928 1929 and eventually National kind of went the way of a lot of companies during the Great Depression as as the Great Depression approached they survived through to 1943 and throughout the 1930s created some really interesting guitars many of them of the single cone design that we’ve got here uh lots of the Stylo guitars for example the triolians the duolians all these famous names they really came about in the 30s but by 1943 the company was wound up and it was dissolved and merged and turned into the Valco Corporation now people may be familiar with Valco as an amplifier company that’s how they originally started they’d kind of adopted the original idea of George back in the early and mid 1920s of creating an electric guitar and ran with that a few years later George incidentally I should say got involved very heavily with Adolf Rickenbacker in 1931 and helped Adolf design and create and eventually launch what’s known as the frying pan Which is uh the first commercially available electric guitar so George’s vision for electrical amplification really came to a head throughout the 1930s and then onwards as Valco took off Valco also split and divided and merged into various other companies that may be familiar too so airline companies like supro companies like Harmony and K became very heavily involved with Valco and eventually even Brands like Dan Electro have all kind of sort of traced their lineage back through Valco so that’s really a bit of a potted history of national it’s uh it’s a Confluence of two different individuals a creation of necessity a creation of its time of the 1920s you can see the heavy sort of Art Deco inspiration that goes into these guitars um and of course we now have the Fantastic National resophonic Corporation so the guitars that we have in stock at the moment and the guitars that we have arrived fairly recently they’re not from the original National company now there’s a bit of confusion when it comes to resonated guitars over the national name people will use National to refer to the original National Corporation that existed 1927 to 1943 but they’ll also use it to refer to the new National reserphonic Corporation which is currently in business and is currently producing these guitars uh now so there’s no real Connection in terms of company lineage between National resophonic the newer company and the original National corporation instead National reserphonic was set up in 1989 by a chap called Don Young Who sadly passed away a few years ago who originally got a job at dobro and decided he could do it better and pay better tributes to the original design of the national resonator guitar Don incidentally getting the job at dobro had started working for John Doe Pierre’s second company so John do Pierre the inventor of the resonator guitar after he left National in the in the late 20s went on to form dobro now dobro as a Slavic word that means good and John was originally of Slavic origin and there are also five dopiera brothers which you know d-o-b-r-o hence why I set up dobroke as a bit of a rival to National so yeah so don in the in the 60s and the 70s got absolutely inspired by the resonator guitar he saw an original National tricone in a pawn shop window heard recordings by legendary Blues Man the black Ace who I’m also a big fan of and decided that that’s what he needed to do he needs to go and create these guitars so National Reser phonic first came about in 1989 still in business today and ever since I’ve been producing these fantastic instruments that really pay tribute to the original designs of the original National company so much so that Don in fact even managed to track down the original uh presses for the cones and for the bodies that they’d used in the original National Factory but he arrived two weeks too late before they were put into the uh to The Crusher the steel Crusher where he’d found them at The Scrappers yard so a bit of an unfortunate timing there but uh just shows you how much he uh he was inspired by that company and by the guitars they produced so without much further Ado I think we should take a look at some of the models we got in at the moment some of these fantastic things that National resaphonic are producing uh and play a few tunes and see how we get on

this first one that I’m holding is part of the raw series from National now the raw series is really kind of inspired by those older guitars that you’re likely to have seen people like sun house and book of white play So In The Raw series you’re going to find resonated guitars that have really minimal treatment to the the metal work here they’re rubbed down with a bit of wax and that’s about it the idea of these guitars is really that they’re going to distress with time they’re going to Patina and become completely unique instruments very much inspired by those summer Juke joints some of those Juke joints or resonators that you would have seen book of white and sunhouse and guitarists like that play upon their rediscovery in the 60s so if you want a guitar that’s going to wear to the way that you play and really look the part in a few years time then of course this is the uh this is the one to go for

steel resonator from National now so as you can see this one’s got a little bit of patina already it’s been aged a little bit uh to make it look like one of those tube joint guitars again absolutely stunning neck on this guitar as well I just want to show you that this really stands out against the patina they’ve put on there um you’ll notice the slotted headstock on this guitar as well when it comes to National resonators when you’ve got a slotted headstock typically you’re going to be holding a 12 fret guitar now all of these guitars come in 12 and 14 fret options and so this is obviously the 12th fret version I’m holding here again it’s very minimal treatment apart from the the Aging that’s been put onto the the metal work here so again this guitar is going to wear to how you play and age over time as well I’m holding here probably one of the most famous resonator guitar models of all time this is the Stylo the 14th fret with a solid headstock and for all you Martin offer and Dire Straits fans out there this is of course the model that’s featured on that famous brothers in arms album cover now on this guitar you’ve got the Hawaiian sandblasted scenes which were on the original 30 stylos from the original National company and which national resaphonic have replicated absolutely fantastically on these guitars here now the reason for these Hawaiian scenes was that during the late 20s or maybe even early 20s and into the early 30s there was really a craze for Hawaiian music in the United States there were famous musicians such as Sal Hopi for example who was an early Ambassador and endorser of national guitars and you can sort of see these uh these sandblasted scenes as a tribute to both those kinds of musicians and that fantastic era of American music which really produced these fantastic instruments

okay so as a little bonus we have here another Stylo but this one is the Stylo Replicon from National reservonic now it’s the same 14 fret solid headstock as the Stylo I showed you the one that’s been featured on Mark knopfler’s or Dire Straits his brothers in arms album cover but this one’s just been made to look a little bit older it’s been Relic a little uh and I have to say it’s a pretty convincing job uh already a really decent patina established on this metal work here a little bit of wear to the neck so it’s nice and comfortable to play and it’s you know it’s a pretty unique one-off guitar this one uh so very excited to have this in the shop at the moment so we’ve taken a look at some of the models uh that National resaphonic have been producing and we’ve also taken a quick look at the history of national resophonic and the original National Corporation so at this point there’s a couple of questions I’d like to address uh first up is why should anyone buy a resonator guitar at all these days as I said in the uh in the original History Section that we went through uh the resonator guitar can really be seen as a bit of a bridge between the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar now these days there’s plenty of electric guitars to choose from a much louder amplification uh that you’re ever going to get off of what is essentially an acoustic instrument um so why should anybody buy one well I think first up we just need to have a look at the instruments and as we’ve demonstrated a few of them I hope you’ll agree that they are stunning looking instruments um there’s no company really I think that pays as much attention to the detail of a resonator and National really get it right with all the Hawaiian scenes and all the etchings that you’re going to see on some of these models second of all of course is that they have each resonator guitar has very distinctive tone so there are certain styles of music that are just going to sound best with a resonator instrument things like your your delta blues if you’re fans of sun house Booker white blind boy Fuller these kinds of people they all used resonator guitars if you want to get into your Hawaiian Slide music as we say there’s a chap Sal Hopi uh who used to play an original tricone these these kinds of sounds have become embedded in these genres and there’s really no replicating them last of all it’s a very practical reason why you might want to buy a resonator and that is of course for the original intention of them say you’re somewhere where you can’t plug into an amplifier but you need an acoustic guitar that’s going to cut through the mix a bit more the mechanical amplification aspect of these guitars still works and you know as as Tom here was discovering that they can be quite loud instruments and so they can cut through the mix just that little bit better than your standard acoustic guitar so the second question that I want to address is why should you choose National resophonic over another resonator brand there are plenty of companies out out there doing cheaper resonator guitars for example and doing different models than you’re going to find in the National resophonic catalog so why go for National I think an important aspect of this is to remember that these guitars are all handmade out there in sunny California so they are absolutely top of the tree when it comes to resonator instruments as we say about the attention to detail on them as well that is second to none and as a personal anecdote I do play a slightly cheaper resonated guitar that I’ve got at home and had it for many years and it always feels like quite hard work to play there is a bit of a stereotype with resonated guitars that they’re a little bit harder work than your standard acoustic guitar you know they’re they’re they fight back a little bit more um but that is certainly not the case with national reserphonic as I hope I’ve demonstrated today uh they’re excellent fun and they just really feel like a fantastically made acoustic guitar and the bonus of course is that you get that fantastic biting distinctive tone that you’re only going to get off of one of these guitars so anyway I really hope you enjoyed this video guys this has been an absolute pleasure for me to do it as always the guitars will be in the description box below the video like And subscribe and tune in next time


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