1930s National Collegian Resonator Guitar

This is a lovely old resonator. It has all the appeal of a rusty old tractor found in someone's barn -- and all the associated mucking-about you might expect an ancient tractor to have had in its lifetime, too.

Post-work, this is a loud, clean-sounding, warm-around-the-edges, workhorse of a resonator guitar. I always love the sound of the brass on these -- it's a bit more inviting and fundamental. It doesn't have quite the same sustain as the steel-bodied models, but it's not thwocky in a bluesy way like the wood-bodied ones and has an easy sound to record with.

During the course of its life the body had been stripped down to bare brass, painted white, stripped again, dented heavily all over, one seam cracked and broken in several places, and then dented some more. The neck got an ugly headstock break (click here to see the before pics) and badly needed tuners, binding, and a refret. The original cone and biscuit-bridge, however, were unscathed save for a little excess spray-paint on the top of the cone itself. Inside the body, all of the "mushroom islands" were replacements made from random wood scraps out of someone's random workshop.

Due to the nature of the "cool factor" of the instrument and all of its wear and tear, I kept repairs as minimal as possible -- I liked the funk of the headstock so I kept it funky but stable with the repair. I'm hoping the owner agrees leaving the history intact is worthwhile up there!

The rest of the repair work was meant to make this into a modern, functional, easy player that would be reliable and rock-steady. To that end when I "re-do" these guitars on the inside, I reset the neck and add a third "mushroom island" wooden block shoved under the dowel and butting the back of the guitar near where the neck attaches. National never did this when they made the guitars and it's crucial to keeping the neck from "moving around" as the guitar gets used and carried from place to place. Most modern resonators still make this mistake in design and it makes me angry whenever I have to reset the neck on a 2-year-old resonator guitar because of it.

In the case of this guitar, I also added a rear-mounted bolt to reinforce this area (just like Nat'l/Dobro would do in the '60s and for the same reason) further because -- frankly -- cosmetic value has been nixed on this guitar. It's pure engine, now, and adding that means that the player won't have to touch the neck angle for setup needs for a long time.

Repairs included: a refret with jumbo/pyramid wire, new binding for the board edges, a headstock repair, new StewMac repro tuners, a neck reset/blocking repair to the interior of the guitar, replacement endblock for the tailpiece mount, new pearl dots for the fretboard extension, a replacement rosewood (compensated) saddle, new bone nut, some soldering work to one broken section at the bass-lower-bout-edge, minor cleaning, and setup.

Setup notes: the saddle is tall which leaves plenty of room for action adjustment. The owner wanted it setup between "normal" and "slide" which translates to 3/32" action overall at the 12th fret. That gives 1/32" more height on the treble to keep the slide from whacking the frets, but it's not so high that it feels like garbage to play. When you're playing this, to be honest, you don't really notice because the jumbo frets give it that "fancy electric" sort-of feel and it has a short, Gibson scale length. The neck itself is more rigid with the new frets but does add a hair of relief tuned to pitch. It was worse before the refret, though -- par for the course with old, poplar National necks.

Scale length: 24 3/4"
Nut width: 1 3/4"
String spacing at nut: 1 1/2"
String spacing at bridge: 2 1/8"
Body length: 18 1/8"
Lower bout width: 14"
Waist width: 8 3/4"
Upper bout width: 10 1/4"
Side depth at endpin: 3 3/8"
Body material: brass
Fretboard: rosewood, new bone nut
Bridge: original maple biscuit, new rosewood saddle
Neck feel: medium-big V-shape, 10" board radius

Condition notes: erm, do we care? The body's been entirely stripped/painted/repainted/stripped again, there are oodles of dents and dings all over, and there are all sorts of old repairs. Structurally and playing-wise, though, it's now a buttoned-up box and good to go. The serial plate from the back of the headstock is missing but I'm imagining that the slotted headstock puts it close to the beginning of production for the Collegian model -- around 1939. Most have solid headstocks.

I opted to leave some of the old wear and tear at the headstock in evidence rather than try to hide it.

Unlike earlier Nationals, the board has a steep 10" radius which makes it feel more like a '60s guitar.

All of the screws for the coverplate are "vintaged" new ones. Most of the originals were stripped or missing.

The tailpiece is not original, but does look killer with the guitar. It was on it when it came in and dates from the '40s.

My not-so-perfect soldering job is still very functional and will look nicer once it ages a bit. You should've seen this before... eek. It had a big busted-out section along those vertical cracks in the side. I had to hammer-out a lot of the bigger dents in the body, but plenty still remain along the edges.

Here's my new rosewood saddle -- showing B-string compensation. Note the little cutout in the middle-bottom of it. That's so that if action height needs adjusting, one can just pull the saddle out without taking the cone out, too.

It's simply slotted-in like a normal guitar saddle -- usually the mounting screw for the biscuit also bites into the saddle and means you have to take the whole cone out to remove or adjust the saddle independently.

This bolt at the back of the heel is non-original. I added it to reinforce the joint. Whenever I've owned old Nationals, I've done this to mine -- it keeps the heel from twisting or moving around (and thus screwing-up the setup all the time) as you play it or tote it around place to place. Under this bolt on the inside is also a block of wood between the back and the dowel which also keeps the heel nice and tight in the joint. Security!

Note that I'm not responsible for the big old dent near the heel. That was there before...

Because the old National tailpiece is no longer in place, I added a longish screw where its mount would've made contact. This runs from the outside, through the replacement endblock, and into the dowel. The endblock was missing on this when it came in and because of that the whole area was previously very convex!


CM said…
Good job on getting this into exactly the shape it should be for some great post-war road band, living out of the trunk of a 32 Buick. Living in a sepia-toned world. Somehow I can hear Josh Graves backin' up Man of Constant Sorrows on the Zenith n my grandma's living room.
Jake Wildwood said…
100% excellent comment above ^^^ :)
Ed Gilkison said…
Beautiful job of bringing this instrument back to life ! :)