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1999 National Reso-Phonic Style 1
 
Teja Gerken demonstrates his National Tricone, which used to belong to the late Dale Miller.
February 8, 2021
 

“National started making Tricones again, and I’m getting one.” That’s what my late friend, San Francisco Bay Area blues fingerpicker Dale Miller told me sometime in the late ’90s, and eventually, a shiny new National Style 1 began replacing the 1936 National Style O I’d become accustomed to seeing when we played together. Equipped with a Highlander pickup, the guitar became a regular part of Dale’s performances, and he ended up using it on his albums Azzurro Verdi and Time Goes By. Sadly, Dale’s life was cut short by lymphoma, and he left us in 2013. A few months after Dale’s passing, his widow, Terry Helbush, called me to ask whether I could assist her in selling some of his instruments. Of course I was happy to help, and several of Dale’s guitars continue to make music in the hands of some great players. But as I was going through Dale’s instruments to determine their condition and value, one thing became clear: I really wanted his National Style 1. Fortunately, Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, California, had a similar Style 1 in stock at the time and, using that guitar’s selling price as a guide, Terry and I came up with a deal that was fair to both of us. To my astonishment, when it was time for me to put the guitar in its case and take it home, she offered me one of Dale’s cherished Borsalino hats to go with the guitar. 

Introduced in 1927 as a way to create a loud guitar before electric amplification, the National Style 1 was available with a standard round neck or square neck for Hawaiian lap-steel playing. With a nickel-plated brass body, the Style 1 has three spun-aluminum cones (giving it the “Tricone” designation, as opposed to the later “single-cone” design), which are excited by the strings via a saddle connected to an aluminum T-bar. The original National company stopped building metal-body guitars in the early ’40s, and it wasn’t until the brand was resurrected as National Reso-Phonic in the late ’80s that new versions of the classic designs became available again. However, National Reso-Phonic started out with various single-cone models, and the Style 1 wasn’t reintroduced until 1994. Dale ordered his Style 1 through the store he co-owned, San Francisco’s Noe Valley Music, and the guitar’s label says that it was manufactured in October of 1999. 

Unlike Dale, I’m not a blues guitar player, but in the six years or so that I’ve owned the guitar, I’ve not only enjoyed playing it immensely, I’ve also discovered that the Tricone’s sweet voice can fit into many musical contexts. I used the guitar on my recent album Duets (with Doug Young); it’s been great to have on my tonal palette when playing shared bills with other fingerstyle guitarists; and it has helped me refine my chops when playing with a slide. Naturally, I think of Dale often when I play the guitar, and in this video, I use it to play his tune “Noe Valley Sunday.” nationalguitars.com

Dale Miller playing his National Style 1 at home.

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    ● Courses
    ● Live Workshops
    ● Instructors
    ● Sample Lessons
    ● Notation Guide
    ● For Beginners
 
 
    ● Vintage Vault
    ● New Gear
    ● Fine Lutherie
 
 
    ● Workshops
    ● Advice
    ● Repertoire
 
 
    ● Recordings
    ● Events
    ● Breaking News
 
 
    ● In The Studio
    ● Live Onstage
    ● Backroom
 
 
    ● New Products
    ● Inside Look
    ● Performances
    ● Partner Pages
 
 
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