Fingerpicking on 1936 National Style-O

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in MK guitar style and licks

This is just some fingerpicking on that old National Style-O. The guitar is tuned to open g.

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National Style-O 1932 and 1936 – Double Power

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Guitars, Vintage guitars

What can be nicer than one of those wonderful old National resophonic guitars like the Style-0? The answer is, of course, two of these! My friend Thomas brought his 1932 Style-O along for a photo session. And what a wonderful guitar this is – shiny and sparkling like one of the new reissues but real vintage, almost 80 years old. The pictures from the photo session show the guitar from all sides, and some in contrast to my battered-looking 1936 Style-O.

1932 National Style-0

1932 (above) - 1936 (below)

Differences

The National Style-0 from the early 30ies have a different, longer body shape. The body joins the neck at the 12th fret, while from the mid-30ies on the joint was near the 14th fret. For this reason the body was slightly larger, and thus has more volume. In fact Thomas’ National sounds deeper and has more low end than the 1936, however, you never know in how far the sound difference is caused by other aspects. One is that on his 1932 the resonator rests on a ring of thin rubber foil. This was done by a luthier some time ago to remedy buzz from the resonator.

Both guitars differ a lot in detail, e.g. different resonator covers, different logos, different headstocks, etc. The pictures might tell more than many words here.

Different body shape: 1936 (left), 1932 (right)

The 1932 has a flat fingerboard while the 1936 is curved. Both have the original frets, but in case of the 1932 these are heavily worn, especially in the middle of the frets so that the frets appear almost concave which makes it unpleasant to fret certain chords. The 1936 has an extremely fat neck, the Shubb capo can be used only up to to the 5th fret and does not fit anymore beyond this point.

Headstock shape: closed (1936, left) and slotted (1932, right)

 

Both have the Hawaiian scene with a volcano, a canoe and the palm trees on the back, but both are different. National used many different variations over the years.

 

Hawaiian scene: 1936 left, 1932 right
Resonator (1932)
Resonator (1936)

Video

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Installing a Highlander iP-1X โ€“ The best pick-up for the National resonator guitar

Posted on 8 CommentsPosted in Guitars, Mark Knopfler gear, Misc, Recording, Vintage guitars

I have my National for some years now but never found the time, money, and courage to install a pick-up into this sensitive instrument. But a few weeks ago I decided to order what is said to be the best available pick-up for single cone Nationals: the iP-1X pick-up from Highlander – the same model that Mark Knopfler has in both his beautiful 1937 National and his new National.
I bought it new on ebay for USD 239 (169,- โ‚ฌ), quite a lot of money for just a pick-up with an internal pre-amplifier, well, but a lot cheaper than the recommended retail price of USD 329.

What is always annoying here in Germany is that you have to pay not only customs (which in this case were only 2.7 %) but also 19% VAT, and this not only on the price of the item but also on the shipping costs (!?). You even have to pick-up the package from the local customs office.

In the box were the pick-up itself which is installed into a new biscuit (the piece of wood that holds the bridge) – so you have to exchange your old biscuit – the pre-amp which has to be installed in the interior of the guitar, a case for the external battery (replacing batteries inside of a National is no fun and puts stress on the cone construction), a guitar cable (stereo, one lead for the 9v battery power), and some velco tape to fix the cables inside the body of the guitar.

Highlander iP-1X

Installing the pick-up

Unfortunately this is a job that is not easily done, and does not take just a few minutes. The new biscuit with its bridge is much higher than the original one and has no grooves. It took me almost three hours to transfer the shape and height of the original bridge to a cardboard template, then to transfer it from the template to the new bridge, to cut it out roughly with a fret saw, to fine tune the contours with a file, and to saw the new grooves, again using the template. Of course I did this extremely carefully and slowly because I was afraid to cause some irreversible damage. Fortunateley the new bridge soon looked fine and was ready to install.

This picture shows the difference in height and shape of the bridges
This picture shows the difference in height and shape of the bridges. The old biscuit looks much cooler, doesn't it - but you don't see much of it when installed into the guitar.
I used such a cardboard template to transfer the bridge contour
I used such a cardboard template to transfer the bridge contour
The new biscuit after sawing
The new biscuit after sawing
From the installation description - you need to pierce a hole into the cone
From the installation description - you need to pierce a hole into the cone

Normally you would ask a good local luthier for this job, but (a) there was noone near who had experience with Nationals and this pick-up, and (b) I like to do all kind of jobs on my guitar myself anyway. An experienced repair man surely will get this job done much quicker than me.

The external case for the battery
The external case for the battery

One thing that worried me was the fact that you need to drill a small hole into the cone (!) for the cable from the pick-up to the pre-amp. Besides two tiny screw holes on the wood stick inside the body to hold the pre-amp, this is the only irreversible modification of your guitar. I was reluctant when I learned about this before I ordered the pick-up because the cone is extremely sensitive, and also in my opinion a major sound difference between a vintage instrument and a new National. The hole could be pierced with a small prick first, then carefully drilled to 2,5 mm (3/32 “).ย  After threading the pick-up cable through the hole, I had to solder the RCA connector to the cable that is plugged into the pre-amp.

The rest was easy: the pre-amp is held by 2 little screws, like Mark Knopfler I used the f-hole for the output jack (no drilling required), and fixed all internal cables with the velcro tape.

The sound

After restringing the instrument, I was extremely curious how it will sound. I went directly from the pre-amp into the mixing desk and played the guitar over my studio monitors. What should I say, the sound was …. wonderful, sounds as you hear it from Knopfler’s guitar on his live recordings. The output seems to be rather hot, and the pick-up delivers the full range from bass, middle, to treble end. It is so balanced that I even did not have to adjust any EQ, sounded fine as it was. After adding some reverb it was perfect. I also could not detect any sound difference with the acoustic sound. Even at high volume I did not get any feedback problems, great!

Now it was also time to add a strap button to the heel of the neck so that I could play the guitar when standing, something I did not need before. I did not produce any sound clips because it really sounds just like the recent Knopfler live recordings (he had different pick-ups installed in the past I think), listen to Romeo & Juliet on the roadrunning live CD for example.

I would give 5 stars for this product.

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