1950 National 1111 Aristocrat Hollowbody Jumbo Electric Guitar

Update: Since originally posting, I've replaced the pickups and wiring harness, so I've updated the soundclip, pictures, and description.

This beastly, 17" wide bruiser is a fun new toy and has already had some band service under its belt. I've had two National archtops that I've adored and let go -- one was an electric '41 New Yorker and the other was a '50 L-48 clone -- and this blends the awesome "Stylist" bolt-on National neck that I liked on the latter with the cool, crazy-deco trim that I love from National electrics -- and then merges that with a Gibson-made ES-300 body. It not only sounds the business, it looks and feels the business, too. Later versions of this guitar used Kay-supplied bodies but the Gibson curves are more delicious, methinks, and provide that classic big band outline and a more comfortable feel in the lap.

At the time this was made, the Aristocrat was National's most high-end electric and it certainly seems posh with all the deco pearl inlay in the neck and the "iced tea" sunburst sprayed across its enormous, stage-filling body. That body is fairly thick ply throughout (with maple veneer) -- a material Gibson chose for their own hollowbody electrics at the time to cut down on feedback while at the same time making them extremely rugged.

It came to me in a mostly-original state, but minus a pickguard and with replacement knobs and jack. My work included a fret level/dress, new Seymour Duncan "hot Jazzmaster" pickup at the neck, K&K acoustic pickup installed in the body, a new wiring harness, new bridge topper/saddle, and a good setup with Thomastik flatwound 10s. I also installed the pickguard -- a nice, good quality 1930s one I've had stashed for a while and awaiting just the right guitar. The resulting guitar plays perfectly (3/32" E and 1/16" ADGBE action at the 12th fret), has a straight neck, and sounds righteous.

To me -- this is the guitar National intended to build, but missed a bit with their somewhat-dodgy original pickups (see bottom of post for a pic of those). I have the wiring harness laid-out with individual volume controls and the pickups going to a stereo jack -- the magnetic (electric) pup running to the left/mono side and the acoustic pup on the "right." I even splurged on a fancy Mogami stereo cable to keep the signals nice and clean.

That means that when one plugs in with a "normal" cable, the expected clear-sounding jazzbox electric is heard, but when one plugs-in with a stereo cable the K&K acoustic pickup can be accessed and used to get an "acoustic archtop" tone separate from the electric signal or blended with it -- or whatever! I use it to let me double-up roles on one guitar and thus get a thick, jazzy electric tone on some songs and a more honky-tonk acoustic sound on others.

I love the misty tobacco brownburst look of this. It's totally postwar late-40s "cool" and not-quite-yet the rockabilly, atomic-age crazy that guitars would be wearing by the mid-50s.

There's copious amounts of deco pearl inlay all over the neck. The neck itself is also bound at the board and the headstock and has a slim/medium C-shaped profile with a 12" radius fretboard. This has a 24 3/4" Gibson-style scale length and a 1 11/16" nut width. The nut is bone.

The board and headstock veneer are Brazilian rosewood. The neck itself has a big central core of magnesium but the headstock and neck proper are one-piece mahogany.

The neck pickup gives a P90 look from afar, but those in-the-know will enjoy the in-joke of a Jazzmaster pickup actually on a "jazz" guitar.

The original in-bridge "acoustic" pickup was not very functional, so I made a new rosewood topper that fit on the old bridge base. It's compensated and looks the part.

The "upper" knob controls volume for the magnetic, Jazzmaster-style pickup. The "lower" knob controls volume for the K&K acoustic pickup. This lets one "turn on" or "turn off" pickups individually for different tones/roles so you can set a mix via the two outs of the stereo cable running to your mixer board or amplifiers.

The f-hole, Gibson-style tailpiece oozes class...

While the top has plain-wrap maple veneer, the back and sides have figured veneer.

The coverplates hide 1950s-style tuners of the ilk I most commonly see on Harmony products. They work, however.

I also added a vintage-style strap button at the bolt-on, adjustable neck access port.

Under that cover one finds two upper hex-adjustable bolts that adjust side-side motion on the neck, one central "lock" bolt, and one lower up/down back-angle adjuster. All works as it should and I find these gizmos very, very, very stable and practical.

Here's the old pickup assortment -- a humbucking neck pickup and an in-bridge humbucking "acoustic" pickup. They definitely "had a sound," but the bridge pickup was fussy and tended to roll forward and the neck pickup's components were rattling and the tone pretty unbalanced string-to-string -- so I decided to swap them out. They were also low-output which meant I really needed to crank my amp to get them to deliver the goods.

Still, for the time, these were very cool units.


Rob Gardner said…
Magnificent old guitar, Jake. And having heard it, I wouldn't change a thing. I think if God had wanted K&K Pickups in that guitar, he would have had them invented earlier...
Matt said…
Jake - thanks for taking my call from Alabama the other day. I am picking up my National today from my local guitar shop. :)

Thx Matt
Unknown said…
I have one like yours that was my dad's is it worth restoring or just leave it as a wall hanger
Jake Wildwood said…
It's 10,000% worth getting fixed. If you're not going to use it, I'd be interested in buying it! Let me know.