View Full Version : 30s National Mando

Mar-23-2006, 9:25pm
There is a 1930s National Mandolin at a local music store. It needs a neck reset before it will be playable. I am really interesed in this instrument, but have not had the oppurtunity to play one yet... Do any of you folks have one? If so, what do you think? I tried to find some on the net, but failed miserably. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mad.gif What do you think the range of values should be for something like this? There is significant wear on the back and where your arm would rest. I guess I just want to know if I stand a chance at getting ahold of this one!

Assuming that it is priced reasonably, what are some common things that go wrong with these types of mandos? I imagine that they have similar issues as their dobro brothers? I appreciate any info you can give me! Thanks! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif

Paul Hostetter
Mar-24-2006, 6:44pm
I love Nationals and have several, including one I actually made. The old ones fall into two categories: steel and brass. The steel ones were usually painted. They sound brash. The brass ones sound sweeter. Theyíre usually plated. They are extremely different than Dobros: different cone arrangement, very different sound.

1) Check for condition on the cone. So many people take them apart (because they can, I guess) and mess things up inside. And they strip out the coverplate screws, which is easy to do and rather problematic.

2) Check for neck straightness. A reset will not straighten a bowed neck, but a plane and refret will. So make sure you have someone do the neck work who really knows what they're doing. Resets are tricky.

3) Check for condition of frets (see 2, above).

4) Check condition of the tailpiece - they often tear right where they go over the edge of the top, and itís a difficult repair.

Youíll have to commit to bankrolling this thing to get the details dialed in, so if it needs a reset and a refret, make your offer on it based on how much you think itís worth once youíve paid for the repairs and setup.

They also have a 15Ē scale, so you need to use light strings on it. Normal J-74s break at that tesion, and they donít sound good either. But with lights, these things sound fabulous and theyíre a lot of fun to play.

BTW, the ones I made (a series of 3 prototypes made for National that they never took anywhere) had a wood body. These had an even sweeter voice than the brass ones. Hereís my keeper from that batch:


Mar-24-2006, 9:50pm
Is that the prototype for the new National reso, Paul? I remember seeing an article on the net somewhere about the prototype, but I don't remember the luthier credited with building it. Regardless, I really like the looks of yours. What's on the peghead?

I've been thinking of trying to build one (like I have a clue what I'm doing). What size cone did you use? Is the ring ported or solid? How come there are no screened holes or f-holes in the top? Just curious....

Jim Garber
Mar-24-2006, 10:57pm
Was this a silver mandolin or a polychrome (painted one). Paul is right about the long scale. The other weak point is the tailpiece. My style 2 silver's tailpiece cracked along the seam after awhile. I found someone to do some silver solder and it is stronger than ever.

I didn't like it tuned to mandolin pitch, so I set it up with ocatev strings on the two lower courses and tuned it down to E for blues playing. Sounds great that way.


Paul Hostetter
Mar-24-2006, 11:20pm
There's a new National mandolin but it has nothing to do with mine. Itís a cone in a machined solid wood rim, not an open hollow body. It has the Gibson scale. There's a guy out there who's claiming it's the first wooden one since some rare prototype made in Chicago in the 30s (which no one ever saw), and that he's responsible for ďbringing it back,Ē even though it has nothing to do with the prototype and nothing was really brought back. I finally saw some photos and itís virtually identical to mine. He was a bit embarrassed when he heard my story and saw the evidence, especially after he checked with Don and Mac from National and found that not only was my story true, but that they had the other two prototypes Iíd made.

The mandolin was the only National instrument that was never offered on the market in a wooden version. I never knew about the Chicago item, and at the point when I was making the prototypes, Don and Mac had never heard of it either.

In any case, thereís no connection between the current National mandolin and the old ones. Mine was an attempt to duplicate the metal ones in wood, and I finished three and had another 20 in process when Don and Mac suddenly found they could get dies made to make metal-bodied guitars, and they dropped the mandolin project altogether and went into making the guitars. This was all back in the mid-80s. Their current mandolin is pretty cool, especially aesthetically, but Iím partial to the old design.

Mar-25-2006, 6:29am
So, Paul, anything stopping you from making these on your own? Does National have you locked out with patent rights or design ownership. Did you sign anything with the company when you made these prototypes.

I am not personally in the running for one, but it is a nice niche in the mandolin market and you sure have a fine example.

jim simpson
Mar-25-2006, 7:28am
I love the way your wood body model looks. I wish I would have thought of using light strings on the National that I had. I couldn't figure out why I couldn't tune it up to pitch.

jim simpson
Mar-25-2006, 7:32am
Here's a photo of it taken apart. There was nothing wrong with it, I just wanted to see how it was constructed. Unlike the toaster I took apart as a kid, this one worked when reassembled.
This Mandolin had "National" carved in the headstock. It looked original but I don't know if I've ever seen another with the name carved in. I am used to seeing the decal.

Paul Hostetter
Mar-25-2006, 2:24pm
Just go easy on the coverplate screws! Maybe you can find an appropriate set of gears for it.

I guess I could finish up some more of these mandolins. They take a special cone, but that's in regular production now. I couldn't market them as Nationals, of course. One more project.


Mar-25-2006, 6:36pm
Paul, is it possible to compensate the bridge (bisquit) for proper intonation? Or, is it less of an issue with the longer scale?

Mar-27-2006, 4:29am
Kevin McLeod has a "Fine Resophonics" one with a wooden body- very sweet sounding. Yours is very nice Paul! The necks seem to be the most common problem on them, they cant forward over time. They are extremely sensitive to setup and cone placement, cone slipping, contact on the shelf, string gauges.. but once set up correctly they really can sing something special!

Jim Garber
Mar-27-2006, 9:37am
Their current mandolin is pretty cool, especially aesthetically, but Iím partial to the old design.
I certainly understand the vintage vibe of Paul's. For comparison, here is the new one (from Folkway Music site):



Paul Hostetter
Mar-27-2006, 2:39pm
Thanks for the kind words. I gotta say I have always really liked Don and Mac's aesthetic sense, the new one looks really nice. But I like the resonance of a real hollow body.

Intonation on the old ones was always dicey, but I made my new ones play really well in tune with a compensated saddle in the biscuit. The cone was rotated slightly so the whole saddle was on a slight angle, then compensated a la Gibson. And the neck placement was planned around that. If you take an old one and rotate the cone, the E will play way sharp. I ooched the neck out so the E played right with the cone already rotated, which enabled the desired compensation all the way to the G.


I usually push the point of contact for the G farther back than the standard G on a Gibson template bridge.

One advantage to the longer scale is you can have lower action at normal pitch. With lower action, you have less deflection, hence you need less compensation.

When I reset old National necks to get a better neck angle, I usually add a tiny wedge to the end that contacts the body that will push the scale away from the cone, rather than subtracting from the heel. Itís usually still not enough to allow for cone rotation and perfect compensation, but it makes things better rather than worse than they were to begin with.

Mar-28-2006, 7:43am
I'd fancied a reso-mandolin for a while, and eventually found a Donmo mandolin in Aberdeen, which I bought off luthier Marshall Dow. It was good, but I wasn't overly in love with it's looks. It did work well in sessions, and I sold it on to mandolinist Peter Thoumire, who plays it constantly and to great effect.

I'd seen that Mike Lewis, of Paris based Fine Resophonics, made metal bodied reproductions of the original Nationals, and, given the price considerations, availability and the inherent vagueries of the older Nationals, I chose to meet Mike in London and have a look at the metal mandolin.

When I met him he had a second, maple laminate bodied wooden National shaped mandolin there as well, a prototype he'd had in mind for some 12 years, and had just made. Dan Beimborn was with me as well, and we sat and played them both at the guitar show, and, right from the outset, I preferred the wooden one. It's loud, sweet, delicately honky and looks stunning. It's on the eye candy if you look there. The metal one was wonderful too, but I just preferred the "mandolin" part of the sound in the maple one.

I recently restrung it with J68's instead of J74's, which I tend to like on my Sobell, and it is even nicer, looser and even more resonant, but, crucially, does not have any odd or dissonant overtones. I recorded it quite recently in Castlesound Studios and it was fabulous. I hope to do a full set ot two with it on my new cd this year, and have used it with Dan too recently.

It is like Paul's beautiful mandolin above, and I can only imagine that these two class luthiers have independantly looked at and loved the old National shape, and devised a wooden version at a similar point in time, with similar results, unless someone knows better. It would be fascinating to compare them! unfortunately, mine's here in Edinburgh, Scotland! I don't know if Mike's made any more.

I was slightly disappointed that National didn't revive the original design. I'd have liked to try that too. You can never have enough mandolins! Their new one looks interesting, though, but I don't know of any in the UK to try. Anyone got one here?

They are great fun and loud, and you never fail to have a conversation about them with someone!


jim simpson
Mar-28-2006, 7:45am
"Just go easy on the coverplate screws! Maybe you can find an appropriate set of gears for it."

Good eye, Paul! I must confess to putting those non-period tuners on back in the day when I seem to change out tuners on everything. I did come to my senses and changed them back to the originals that it came with. I wasn't so mando obsessed back in those days and ended up swapping it for a black face Super Reverb.

Mar-28-2006, 8:16am
Kevin's fine resophonics wood-body is indeed a very nice instrument. The whole idea of resophonic instruments appeals to me, they all have a delightful hybrid sound, a simpler tone in terms of harmoics etc, but a very nice feel to it.. halfway between acoustic and electric tone I guess. The warmth of the tenor and it's guitar-like tone coupled with the sharper electric-style tone.. very cool and handy in a session.

As it happens I have a Rigel Resophonic now too. Also very nice tone, focused on the lower and mid registers rather than the treble (In my opinion, the metal bodied vintage nationals can be a bit piercing on the E). A very cool little box, though I find I take the reso-tenor guitar to sessions instead. Looks like a very similar idea to the new nationals, wood body, large cone. The rigel has a spider bridge (so an upside-down cone Dobro style), thin body and the "horns" like the stratocaster type body. I find that I'm not really using it much though, so I would sell it on if anyone is interested.

Paul Hostetter
Mar-28-2006, 12:18pm
Mike Lewis is a genius.

Mar-28-2006, 1:32pm
I have one of the new Nationals (took 9 months to get). I sent it up to Carl McIntyre and he installed a "feather" pickup made for Resos. He did it without cutting or drilling, so the input jack is velcro connected to the edge of the coverplate (works great!). It is in mint as is the case. Would let it go at the present for $1450 and shipping. John http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/blues.gif

Mar-28-2006, 4:27pm
Are there any resonator octave mandolins around? It seems like it would be a really nice sounding combination.

For those of us that cringe at $1450, has anyone tried the Johnson resonator?

Mar-28-2006, 4:54pm
Following up to myself is bad, I know, but does anyone have any opinion on this one? It's a Beltone with an internal resonator, and there is a similar "Blue Comet" available on Ebay.


Jim M.
Mar-28-2006, 4:58pm
Are there any resonator octave mandolins around? It seems like it would be a really nice sounding combination.

For those of us that cringe at $1450, has anyone tried the Johnson resonator?
Tyler Mt. makes an octave resonator. I see them on Ebay occasionally. I doubt they are very good. There's one now:
<a href="http://cgi.ebay.com/NEW-TYLER-MOUNTAIN-CHROME-ENGRAVED-OCTAVE-MANDOLIN_W0QQitemZ7350513074QQcategoryZ10179QQss

PageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem" target="_blank">Tyler Mt.</a>

Crafters of Tennessee did a custom, spider octave resonator mando. You can see some small pics on their website. If you want a long-scale resonator tuned in 5ths, I'd suggest getting an old National tenor.

I've played a couple of Johnson resonator mandos. I don't think they are worth the low price or I'd have bought one. If you want a lower priced alternative, you can't go wrong with: Commodium (http://www.keithcary.com/commodium/) . It really is a seriously good instrument, jokes about its manufacture aside.

Mar-28-2006, 10:11pm
Paul, since you have owned several 30s Nationals, what do you think I should expect to pay for one? Thanks! This is gonna be fun! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

Paul Hostetter
Mar-28-2006, 11:35pm
I'm a bad person to ask, I think the most I ever paid was $300. I have a sweet Style 1 (German silver body, shiny) from '29, a really beat-up steel Triolian from sometime in the 30's, that looks like this:


Banana wants $2195 for this! Mine cost $95! It's so loud it hurts.

. . .and a '39 or '40 Supro which is sometimes known as a Collegian: steel body painted a weird green, clear pickguard and tuner buttons, round holes in the coverplate. A true National and one of the last. And I have the one I made, which is the one I like to play most.

Paul Hostetter
Mar-28-2006, 11:39pm
KWW - That Beltona is a "resonator" mandolin in a totally different sense than the resophonic ones we've been talking about. No metal cone, its "resonator" is basically what you see there: a mimic of a banjo resonator. They're pretty cool though. Plywood top.

Mar-29-2006, 3:39pm
Remember that show on TV awhile back where people would bring their junk to a loft in NYC and they'd auction it off on the air? When the final bid came in the seller could say, "SOLD!" or (sheepishly) "Thinking about it..." I think this was before the US Antiques Roadshow, but could be wrong..

Anyway, I remember one day a woman brought in one of those Beltones, but it was a mandola. It was in good shape and pretty cool with all the portholes, lol. I actually bid on it. I think it got up to around $300, but the owner thought about it and decided it was a family heirloom. The "expert" there said (no joke) since it wasn't a Gibson it wasn't worth anything. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

Mar-30-2006, 3:26pm
Thanks Paul, that gives me some idea as to where I'm at. I'll let you all know if I end up with another mando to play around with!