I use National Reso-Phonic guitars, made in San Luis Obispo, California. They’re resonator instruments that use either a single, or (in the case of a tricone guitar) 3 separate resonating ‘cones’ like speaker cones made of a thin, spun alloy, to produce their chacteristic loud, metallic tone. The arrangement is similar to a banjo – with the strings running over the bridge which sits in a wooden ‘biscuit’ on the narrow end of the cone, the wide end of the cone sits in a soundwell in the guitar body. I started using these type of guitars back when I used to perform in the street as they have a lot of cutting power to be heard above traffic noise etc (the same reason a lot of street singers from the 20s and 30s used them), they also work well played to a microphone since their volume is so good which saves on carting around amplifiers, leads, and the other bits and pieces, because my other instrument is tenor banjo (also very loud) I manage to get around with just my instruments.
The National guitars have been very popular with blues artists (and Hawaiian and hillbilly musicians as well) since they came out in the 20s, artists who used Nationals include, Son House, Bukka White, Blind Boy Fuller, Scrapper Blackwell, Sol Hoopii, Cliff Carlisle, Riley Puckett, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Peetie Wheatstraw, (if you don’t know these artists check them out).
National Guitars – ’Custom’ Style N / Style 1 Tricone ‘Replicon’ / El Trovador / National NRP/ 1931 Duolian
The Style N was custom built for me by National and is based on the earliest Style N Guitar models from around 1930. Though some of the plainest looking National guitars, the Style N was the top of the line single-cone model of it’s day. This guitar has a nickel-plated, German silver body with the old style un-ribbed coverplate with soldered on handrest, mahogany ‘Tricone’ style neck with old style fixed bar instead of a truss rod and a straighter than usual neck width, un-bound ebony fretboard with old style pearl dot marker layout.
I purchased the Tricone ‘replicon’ in New York City shortly after losing my old 33 model Dobro in a NYC Yellow Cab, this guitar has a nickel-plated brass body and some cool vintage looking features, it also has an artifically aged finish, meaning that the folks at National make a perfect, shining, Style 1 Tricone and then do bad things to it to cram 70 years of wear into it, this guitar has made a few rounds with me now and has quite a bit more wear than it did before. This guitar is the one pictured on the front of the Jungle Blues album. (Note: I sold this guitar in 2010 to a fellow by the name of Dave Diprose whose now taking her around doing shows).
The El Trovador is the first National Reso-Phonic guitar I purchased, it’s a reissue of a model that was only manufactured for about 1 year in 1933. This guitar has a cool old parlour guitar type shape and a deeper than usual mahogany body also a slightly narrower neck than the other National guitar models, sounds real good and loud.
The National NRP is a painted finish steel bodied single cone guitar, I have the ivory finish one, it’s basically a duolian which is the archetypal blues resonator guitar used by artists like Bukka White, Son House, Tommy McClennan, Blind Boy Fuller.
My 1931 Duolian is waiting for me in London right now, I bought it online from the States during my last UK/European tour and it arrived after I’d come back to Australia, it’s the classic model (in my opinion) flat cut f holes, frosted crystalline paint finish, ebony nut etc.
Dobro D33(1974 model) This is the guitar on the cover of the King Hokum album, it was my first resonator guitar purchased back in 1997. This guitar was Dobro’s answer to the metal bodied National guitars, it has a nickel-plated brass body and a biscuit style’ 10 1/2 inch resonator cone, this one had a cone made by National which I put in it and was a very loud guitar. I played this guitar alot in the 11 years I owned it – it was lost in New York City, left in the trunk of a Yellow Cab one night after a show.
Kalamazoo KG 31 (or 32)
This was my first ‘blues’ guitar bought in 1993, a 1938 or 39 Kalamazoo archtop, these guitars were made by the Gibson guitar company as a budget line during the depression, this particular one had some unusual features, it had a sunburst Gibson 16″ archtop type body with Spruce top (with fancy checkered binding around the top like an L-10), flame maple back and sides with sunburst finish, and the fancy ‘pointed top/ Recording king’ headstock shape. This guitar was traded for an amplifier when I was playing electric guitar in a zydeco band in 1996.
Vega Style M Tub-a-phone Tenor Banjo
This is an American made Tenor Banjo from 1920s, has a larger than usual head on it about 12 inch diameter, and features my very first attempt at putting a skin on a banjo – did a good job, but accidently put the rough side out, don’t think it affects the sound, just gets dirty quicker. I bought this Banjo in 2008 to replace my lost Windsor banjo
Windsor Ideal Model 8 Tenor Banjo
This is a very old (I think 1905) English made banjo from Birmingham, I bought this banjo back in 1993 from Balmain Market in Sydney, wrote all my banjo songs on it and used it on the King Hokum and Jungle Blues albums, unfortunately it was lost along with my Dobro in that famous NYC taxi cab shortly after the Jungle Blues album was recorded.
Windsor Artiste Model Banjo This is the banjo I use when I’m in UK/Europe, it’s a beautiful old English banjo, actually a 5 string though I use it as a tenor. I went on a banjo buying binge in England and have two of these from different years as well as a ‘Lady’s Model’ which I intend to have a tenor neck built for to replicate my beloved old Windsor tenor banjo that was lost in NYC.
Some other guitars, amps…
Gilchrist telecaster copy
My first ‘real’ electric guitar, got it in 1987, made by the famous mandolin maker Steve Gilchrist (a family friend – I sanded the body and neck), back when he was still making electric guitars and things. I’d very much like to upgrade from this to a Gilchrist L5 style archtop acoustic…anyone wanna sell me theirs?
Fender Jazzmaster (American & Japanese reissue)
I always liked the look of the Jazzmasters once I got over how ugly they are, I have two of them, an olympic white USA version with mint green pickguard, and a 60s sunburst Japanese reissue with tortoise pickguard, the Jap one I completely upgraded with USA parts (tremolo tailpiece, Mustang bridge, pickguard, electrics, pickups), the only remaining Japanese components being the body, neck, and tuners. Both guitars have Antiquity II pickups by Seymour Duncan and are strung with 13 – 54 flatwound strings.
Gibson ES 330 (1968 model)
Got this hollowbody thinline Gibson in 2009, I like these cherry red guitars, back when I was 11 years old this would have been my absolute dream guitar. It has a completely hollow body and P90 pickups, Gibson’s version of the Epiphone Casino that John Lennon favoured.
Teisco Top Forty Super Twin
Got this one for 40 bucks quite a few years ago, still haven’t got round to fixing the crackly jack on it, a cool looking thing, I once owned another of this brand with one pickup, these pickups are mighty good sounding little things.
Clark ‘Tyger’ Amplifier
I picked this amp up in the States in 2009, it’s a bonafide replica of the old 35 watt tweed Bandmaster with the addition of a tube reverb unit and an attenuator in the back of the cab. Sounds real good.
Harmony H306A Amplifier
I bought this amp from a junk shop in Clarksburg, West Virgina back in 1994, the guy tried to sell me the guitar that went with it (a Hound Dog Taylor lookin thing with flatwound strings that was bent up like a banana), I managed to get out of there with only the amp, 40 bucks, it used to sound pretty good, now I think it needs a good cleaning out (and a new handle), crackles and pops too much.