As far as electric guitars go, Gibson and Fender may be the first two names that pop into your head; however, when it comes to classic acoustic boxes, nothing says tradition like the National style O resonator.
Since its debut in 1930, the acoustic nickel plated Style O resonator, from the National Reso-phonic Guitar Company (National for short) of San Luis Obispo, California, has shaped popular music with a dazzling image and one special sound.
A sight to behold
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On the visual side, National’s six-string single cone classic has been spotted on a number of album covers from many notable musicians.
The “Complete Library of Congress Sessions, 1941 – 42,” from fire and brimstone breathing Bluesman Son House; 2003’s all-star tribute collection, “Shout, Sister, Shout!,” in honor of the early ground breaker Memphis Minnie; and the monster of 1985, which helped usher in the MTV era, “Brothers in Arms,” from Dire Straits, all feature a National Style O guitar in the album artwork. There it is, the Style O, in all of its historical glory.
With a shiny reflective finish, artistically smooth f-holes and a perforated cover plate, the enduring metallic design of the Style O is a stunning display of image and chronology, metal and wood in the form an iconic dreadnaught outline.
The Blues infused Style O has a singular regional sound. Music celeb Paul Simon named one of his solo anthologies, “Greatest Hits: Shining like a National Guitar,” after the famed instrument. The title originates from Simon’s tune Graceland: “The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National guitar.”
And a unique sound
What does Texas Blues slinger Johnny Winter, Irish axe prodigy Rory Gallagher, the Delta infused Bukka White, Brit Mark Knopfler and contemporary acoustic riffer Taj Mahal all have in common? The answer is a National Style O.
Usually tuned to an open chord and used for slide work, the National Style O offers complex but mellow tones, which in the hands of the right person, lends to a sweet sounding sustain. Initially intended to compete with the loud volume of a Big Band, the Style O resonator has a single aluminum cone mounted under the soundboard that mechanically vibrates as it amplifies the emergent resonance, hence the moniker “Resonator guitar.”
National also makes a Tri-Cone reproduction in which a trio of smaller cones turn out a musical character that’s more intricate and richer than the single cone of the Style O. Johnny Winter’s 1977 release, “Nothing But the Blues,” donned a photograph on its cover of the songster clutching a National Tri-Cone. Some listening enthusiasts insist the Style O resonator was actually used in the studio.
For contemporary sliders, National is still manufacturing the Style O, as indicated on the company’s website:
“Our flagship model, the Style O, recreates the look and feel of the original 1930s single resonator guitars. This brass bodied instrument is polished to a mirror-like shine, nickel plated, and finally etched with the distinctive Hawaiian palm tree design. The maple neck is finished in a traditional sunburst. An ivoroid bound ebony fretboard and vintage-style engraved tuners complete the look of this timeless classic.”
The Style O, which has 12 frets above the bouts and sports a 25″ scale length, weighs in at 8lbs. 14oz. and is offered with different engraving patterns or none at all. 12 string and flat neck options are also available.
Online at National, the Style O lists for $3,100.
Without even plugging in, the Style O from National is one of the few instruments that can deliver the indisputable and gritty “down home sound” of regional Country Blues. Now that’s a legend to be reckoned with.