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Thread: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

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    Default I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    I know there are a few options out there, but it's slim pickings, isn't it?

    I see that Republic Guitars is about to come out with a travel-sized cutaway reso with a 22 1/2 inch scale . . . wouldn't this make a killer tenor?
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    Me too, and yes -- that would make a great tenor. I'd like a non-tenor one too. Hope something similar comes to the UK before long. I'll keep my eye out.

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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    I have a National Triolian steel tenor guitar ... and you can't have it. Sorry! Wonderful little beastie. Back when I was in a jug band in the mid 80s/early 90s I was looking for a steel mandolin, and there was one hanging on my luthier's wall, but not for sale. This was, though, and it has that instantaneous 20s/30s sound.

    Which reminds me - someday I must see about finding a date for it. Anyone know of a website for this? It's SN 2056W. There is one odd thing about it - the face plate is missing one set of holes for no apparent reason - that is, one segment is just solid metal. Mysterious.

    You could try this website. Probably collector-range pricing, though. Mine looks like the fourth one, with the walnut sunburst finish. At least if you contact him he might have some ideas for you.

    Good luck!
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    I have a Dobro tenor guitar from the '30's, and owned a National plectrum guitar (longer neck) before I traded it in on a Gibson mandolin.

    There are a fair number of the metal-bodied Triolian tenors around, though they're going now for what I'd consider pretty big bucks. You can also find a few of the tri-cone Nationals -- really expensive now.

    Here's a website with a number of National and Dobro tenors for sale; fairly hefty prices, but it gives you an idea of what may be out there.
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    There is one odd thing about it - the face plate is missing one set of holes for no apparent reason - that is, one segment is just solid metal. Mysterious.
    I've finally, finally figured out why so many National faceplates are missing that set of holes. Wanna know?

    That's where the pickguard is supposed to be. National pickguards were, as a rule, not very durable, so you rarely see a vintage instrument that still has one intact. But when you do see one, the pickguard covers that part of the coverplate that doesn't have holes. No sense punching those holes in the first place if they're just going to get covered up anyway.
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    Check out Patrick Arbuthnot ("Chanticleer") resonators. I have 2 by Patrick, a 4 and 5 string reso. I used to own a national style 1, and sold it after playing one of Patrick's. He's based in Norwich, and has instruments for sale direclty or via some dealers. I love my 4-string especially, it's my favorite versatile instrument for Irish sessions (melody or backing).

    Dave King Acoustics also carry some vintage tenors (he's a fine builder of acoustic guitars as well as my go-to setup guy in the UK), and you can often find one or two at Vintage & Rare on Denmark st. Lowell Levinger's vintageinstruments.com also will carry a pretty impressive selection of resonator and non-resonator tenor guitars.
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    I've corresponded with Steven Pyott, the owner of those tenors I mentioned, and he was as baffled as I am about the missing holes. In fact, he hadn't noticed until I pointed it out. I don't think a pickguard is the reason, though - I've never seen one on a steel guitar, and I've also never seen any other steel guitar that has less than a complete array of holes. That doesn't mean they don't exist; I've just never seen them. Why Triolian tenor guitars have been (apparently) singled out for this is beyond me. Even regular Triolians have a full complement.

    He did suggest this website for information on steel guitars - you'll recognize this as one of the sites often used by us types for identifying Gibson products - and I also had a look through http://www.tenorguitar.com which is chock full of info including a page devoted to his collection, including the Triolian, as well as links to a number of major and independent builders and sellers. Vintage tenors go for around $2000, give or take a hundred or two, so this is not the way to go for someone just starting out. Nice to think about, though. And there's always the chance you'll get lucky on ebay ...
    Last edited by journeybear; Aug-26-2009 at 8:54am. Reason: Found the missing link!!!
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    It may be more common to see the funky coverplates on mandolins. Here's a tenor photo that shows the location of the section without holes, as well as a mandolin photo that shows where the pickguard used to be.
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    Could the lack of holes be related to the tenor banjo strumming style? In Buddy Watcher's Homespun DVD, he shows how some strums let the tips of the fingers that aren't holding the pick sort of slide across or just above the head of the banjo. Maybe the lack of holes gives a smoother surface?

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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    I've looked at a lot of steel guitars but the only ones I've seen with that missing section are Triolian tenors. It seems unlikely that a pickguard would go there, as I see no way it would have been attached. As you see in the photo, Mr. Pyott's instrument was played by someone who clearly could have used a pickguard, but none was there. Unless someone can turn up a catalog from the thirties (Triolian tenors were produced from 1929 - 1934) with a photo, I'm assuming there's another reason for this aspect. Furthermore, that steel mandolin has a full set of holes, even under the pickguard section. Somewhat like your theory ...

    Listen. All of this flapdoodle has nothing to do with answering the OP's question anyway - which I'm not sure is really a question. Are you looking for one or just daydreaming? This affects some search parameters.
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    Last edited by journeybear; Aug-26-2009 at 11:51am.
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    IFurthermore, that steel mandolin has a full set of holes, even under the pickguard section. Somewhat like your theory ...
    My theory would be that a batch of 8-punch coverplates were produced for mandolins (some of which DID have pickguards) with the notion that holes weren't needed in that section, since they would be under the pickguard anyway. This is not to say that every mandolin with a pickguard necessarily had an 8-punch coverplate. Some of the 8-punch coverplates wound up on tenor guitars, possibly because the 9-punches weren't on hand at the time. National certainly wouldn't have been the first or last company to build instruments according to which parts were available, even if they deviated from catalog specs.

    Two of the mandolins in the following group photo (center and far right) have the funky coverplates. So much for the idea that they were used only on tenors.

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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    Well, not to continue the "flapdoodle," but here's what Bob Brozman has to say in his book The History and Artistry of National Resonator Instruments (p. 112):

    However, there are two briefly featured items peculiar to the tenor/plectrum/mandolin coverplate:
    First, some batches of coverplates from 1929-36 are missing one pyramid-shaped perforated section (or screened cut-out) where a pickguard would be located -- the area is simply solid. This was presumably to preclude pick wear. These batches were used intermittently with batches of regular coverplates.


    So, pickguard or not, Brozman's "take" is that this was designed to reduce pick wear on the coverplates. My '30's Triolian mandolin still has its bracket-attached celluloid pickguard, and the coverplate under it is perforated.
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    I suspected these cover plates may have been originally intended for another instrument and then used for the tenors - these not being the flagships of the National line - but having no evidence, demurred on proposing such a theory. I can see where mandolin cover plates could be the same size and be used for this purpose. But not all of those have that missing section. I've seen only three Triolian tenors and they all are like that - a really small sample set, but it implies a pattern. This is why I'd like to see a catalogue. My Triolian shows no evidence of any kind of pickguard nor bracket ever having been attached there. We may know what we may know, but without indisputable evidence we are left with a certain amount of conjecture and ... flapdoodle.

    I don't completely agree with Brozman's assessment, as pick wear is going to occur whether there are holes there or not. Does he think they thought picks would wear all the way through if there were holes there? Pyott's guitar shows pick wear down to the metal, but not through it. How hard would you have to punish a metal instrument, even with metal fingerpicks, to accomplish that?
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    Now what? Curiouser and curiouser ...

    This is SN 1114 from 1930. Mine is SN 2056 from 1931. The serial numbers go from 1-1800 in1930, then end at 3350 in 1934. I wonder if they made a bunch that first year, they didn't sell as well as they had hoped, and then started using up previously machined parts, even as early as that second year. Or was there some other reason they switched over?

    I must also point out that there were Triolian six-strings too.
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    Last edited by journeybear; Aug-26-2009 at 1:16pm.
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    The early ones also are the ones with the ridges radiating from the center. Bob Brozman's book covers all the changes quite well.. lots of tenors got made in the first year from National
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    Well, we are through the rabbit hole now ...

    This wonderful site - Note Cannons - and if you've ever played one of these you'll understand where that name comes from - has some extraordinary examples. The second one (you'll have to go to the website to see the front, as well as the sunset-lit surfer on the 1929 back) is SN 2067P, and they are saying it's 1930, which would make mine a 1930 as well, though the other website says 1931. Then again, as we all know, serial number dating is often iffy. Anyway, both have all the holes.

    My jaw dropped when I saw the catalogue page - then I realized it's from 1938 and a Style "O" not a Triolian, which was discontinued in 1934. The pickguard looks to be clear - letting the finish be seen - and covering a set of holes ...

    JPL - you have got to look at that site. Just some extraordinary decorative work. That will whet your appetite!
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    Last edited by journeybear; Aug-26-2009 at 2:00pm.
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    I just ordered a mandola, so I'm really just woolgathering right now. Seems like a good fit for me, though --- I love the New Orleans-style tenor banjo, but I'm also a big Brozman fan.

    I see Tenortropes now and again for $1000-$1500, but yeah, an old single-cone National would be the motherlode.

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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    As I'm sure you know, tenors are tuned the same as mandolas, so there is that. Much wider fret spacing, though ... I'll never get used to that, much as I try.
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    Thinking about the coverplate question (one that's troubled scholars for at least seven or eight hours): I think National, which could be a bit haphazard in its manufacturing processes, manufactured a bunch of coverplates with one section of perforations missing, with the intention of using them on mandolins or other pickguard-equipped instruments. However, they were the same size as those used on tenor and plectrum guitars, so some of them got used on instruments that didn't come with pickguards. After all, the National people thought, what difference does it make? And we, 65 years later, try to sift through the evidence and puzzle out the "reasoning" behind it, when it was probably just "Hey, we ran out of the tenor guitar coverplates!" "Aah, just take one off that pile of mandolin coverplates -- they're the same size."
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    I can vouch for Frank, he is a great guy to deal with and will do what it takes to make you happy with your purchase. I wouldn't have had my Reso Relic tattooed on my arm if I didn't love his guitars.

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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    My Triolian tenor is #596, wood body, from 1929, the first year of manufacture for Triolians, and it has holes in all 9 sections of the coverplate.

    Just thinkin' out loud -- I'd say on an 8-punch coverplate, pickwear would be more noticeable on the solid section, not less. However, your picks themselves might not get torn up so fast -- i.e., your pick experiences less stress from hitting a smooth surface than a bumpy one.

    On a film discussion board where I also hang out, after pages and pages of debate about the meaning of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, some bright laddie opined that the real reason Lynch made the film was to "provoke free thought." If that laddie were here now, he'd probably say the same thing about these coverplates.
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    I know I sure learned a lot about all this today. I'm still amazed by the decorative work displayed at the Note Cannons site. Truly from another era. Mine is pedestrian in comparison. Still sounds great, though ...

    Bearing Lynch and Kurosawa ("Rashomon") in mind ... I've got a feeling pick wear wasn't the deciding factor, and that they probably just used whatever cover plates were handy. Maybe these were priced a little bit lower. As I said, mine shows no indication of how a pickguard would have been attached. Does yours, Martin? The wear shown on the one in post #10 is unusual - the only such wear on any I've seen. I still can't get over that clear pickguard shown in the catalogue. Never seen that, anywhere.
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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    Uh, there's lots of pix of clear pickguards on other guitars - or are you just talking about tenors? Do you have BB's book?

    BTW as soon as you guys have this one figured out, can you move on to the reasons behind Del Vecchio coverplate variations?

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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    In general. Never seen a clear pickguard. Don't need to see one, either, just thought it interesting, and pertinent for this use, thus not hiding the decorative aspects of the guitar. And no, I don't have that book. I do have "The African Queen," though, and also the excerpted dialogue from the movie, which is markedly different. It contains one of my all-time favorite lines - "Nature, Mr Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above."

    I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm done with cover plates. I think we've figured out as much as we can until someone turns up a period catalogue. I can handle only so much conjecture, speculation, and flapdoodle.

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    Default Re: I'd sure like a resonator tenor guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by Ransome View Post
    I can vouch for Frank, he is a great guy to deal with and will do what it takes to make you happy with your purchase. I wouldn't have had my Reso Relic tattooed on my arm if I didn't love his guitars.

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    Every few months, I harass him about making me a squareneck lefty tricone. Frank is always very cool about it, and advises that his people in China are working on it.

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