Restoring a 1935
National Steel Guitar
November 2009

Our 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 damp conditions.

I left the guitar for three years before considering rebuilding and refinishing it

 Of 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.


When 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 to repair.

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"