Restoring a 1935
National Steel Guitar
maternal Grandmother purchased various musical instruments for the
grandkids and passed them around from child to child to promote
interest in music. I remember seeing a National Steel guitar in the
early 1960's when it spent some time at our house. It was rather beat
up and I refinished it before it moved on again to parts unknown. In
2006 when my sister came to visit, she brought the guitar with her. The
poor thing had obviously languished in environments both too dry and
too wet for many years, fully strung, was tarnished, rusty strings and
hardware and the neck was warped from too many years under tension in
I left the guitar for three years before considering rebuilding and refinishing it
course, if I was going to re-do it, I wanted to know something about it
and began researching National resonator guitars. to my puzzlement, I
couldn't find an identical guitar - similar but not quite the same. I
suspected the guitar dated from around 1960 but I finally found a match.
Maple veneer body,
upper F-holes, trapeze tailpiece, bound top, 14 frets clear of the body,
slotted peghead, shaded walnut finish. Introduced 1934.
Rating: Roundneck: D- (not too many collectors want wood body Nationals).
In 1937 Trojan specs
changed to Dobro-type tailpiece, ebonoid pickguard with stripes and letter
"N", bound top and back, rosewood fingerboard, solid peghead, bound ebonoid
peghead veneer. Discontinued 1942.
The poor old guitar was MUCH older than I suspected. The serial number
(T062) supports the suspicion that the guitar in indeed a National
Trojan and likely from the first year of production, 1934.
the guitar was worth saving both as a family heirloom and due to its
age, I decided to have the nickle plated resonator and tailpiece silver
plated and the brass tuning mechanism gold plated.
The neck was already loose and came out with the help of an electric kettle and some steam.
1960's re-finish was removed with Circa 1850 paint stripper and a razor
blade in about 4 applications. The surface was then sanded with
progressively finer grades of paper to restore as much of the original
wood as possible,
The next task was to sand and file the dovetail to bring the neck flat and parallel with the body which, with a little care, proved to be easier than expected.
The neck was reattached to the body with hide glue and left to set overnight.
I rebuilt the National guitar in 2009, I didn't know much about
resonator guitars but I learned that resonator guitars were originally
built not only to play as a steel guitar but to be fingered as
well - the action on this one was FAR too hight to be fretted with
one's fingers! It took a great deal of study to determine what had
changed to cause this. Using straight-edges and squares, I managed to
determine that the body had actually distorted and become concave on
the front surface. The block into which the neck fits had also
compressed and twisted slightly. The two factors together resulted in a
string height of almost 0.400" rather than the 0.100" that it should
have been and either/both problems would have been virtually impossible
Since the instrument has no collectors value, I
decided to shim the neck with wedges to bring it back to the correct
angle and try to restore the scale length. The required
thickkness of the wedge was 0.100"