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Guitar Player
Encore -- 1928 National Style 4 Tricone Guitar: Materials and Technologies of the Modern Industrial Era

February 1997
by Bianca Soros

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esigned by John Dopyera in 1927, the National tri-cone was one of the loudest and most unique-sounding pre-electric guitars. Although best known for their Hawaiian- and Spanish-style resonator guitars, National made over 100 different kinds of resonator instruments between 1927 and 1941, including mandolins, ukuleles, and tenor guitars. In 1928 National introduced a round-neck standard guitar, which became a favorite of prewar blues players such as Memphis Minnie, Son House, Tampa Red, and Bukka White.

   This 1928 round-neck Style 4 incorporates geometric Art Deco shapes framed by a floral design similar to those found in classical architecture. The engraved chrysanthemum pattern was attributed to George Beauchamp, a professional musician who worked for National during the company's early years. The hand engraving reveals a brass layer reflecting a gold and silver floral pattern. National used materials and technologies of the modern industrial era: machine-stamped brass bodies, hand-spun aluminum resonator speaker cones, and engraved pearloid for the headstock. Nickel plating created a shiny reflective surface, and case stamping was used to mass-produce the body. These innovations allowed National to build up to 50 high-quality instruments per day. The allophonic system, which increased volume by magnifying sound waves in phase, consisted of three spun-aluminum cones joined at their apex by a cast aluminum T-shaped bridge support. The National's distinctive holler was employed in myriad ways: with a metal slide for Hawaiian music, with heavy-gauge strings for jazz, and with a bottleneck for blues. Distinctive as a banjo or an autoharp, the National sound is one of the last gems of the pre-electronics era. Guitar courtesy Hank Risan, Washington Street Music, Santa Cruz, California.End

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