Playing the blues doesn’t get much better than this. Alun Lower gets slidin’…
In comparison to other types of guitars, resonators haven’t really changed all that much since the instrument was first introduced way back in the 1920s. Sure, there are a few variations and quirks in the form of 12-strings and baritones, along with variations in neck shape, body materials and of course the style of cone(s) used, but compared to their acoustic and electric cousins the humble reso tends to play it pretty simple. They are what they are, which is probably why they are the seen by so many as the guitar embodiment of the blues.
Of course, simplicity and tradition are both traits that us acoustic aficionados tend to adore, so really when you close your eyes and start siding up and down those strings, there’s really only one thing any of us are concerned about – tone. Pure, unadulterated tone that rings out clear and true, completely unique from any other stringed instrument. National is a company that knows this better than most, and after refining its formula through generations has distilled all that knowledge into its latest ‘Style 1’ Tricone.
As you’d expect with a Style 1 Tricone, we’re looking at a solid brass body, nickel plated for that glorious shine. For unfamiliar players it’s a pretty daunting first impression; the body itself is a weighty beast that will soon tip off to one side if you’re not careful. But chances are that most first-timers won’t be locking horns with £2,700 of National, so it’s something of a moot point. For those in the know this is a reassuring sign of quality and a proud statement of what a serious instrument this is. The body itself is crafted to absolute perfect, from the flawless, gleaming mirror of the nickel-plating to the obvious construction quality of the three 6” cones nestled away under the strings. These cones connect to National’s much-admired ‘T’ bridge, with the strings resting on a maple saddle.
If you are new to the genre and are reading this wondering what the difference is between triple- and single-coned resos, the simple answer is that three smaller cones should produce a more balanced tone, where a single-cone model should produce more volume and a stronger kick. Which you prefer will ultimately come down you your particular playing style and preferences on tone, but we’ll come to that later.
This example doesn’t feature any electronics, but naturally there are various options available depending on your needs, all the details of which can be found on National’s website, including other embellishments such as engraving, inlay and neck options and even an upgraded case. Another small omission to note is the lack of a second strap button, so stand-up performers will have to bear this minor point in mind and compensate accordingly.
The Style 1 features a gorgeous Honduras mahogany neck, satin finished to an immaculately smooth and consistent standard that naturally makes playing slide all the more comfortable and accessible. It’s a vintage-feeling cut with a full, rounded profile, but not so intimidating as to put off those used to slimmer proportions. Fret access all-round is easy as you like, with the quality of finishing also exemplary in every instance. The ebony fingerboard is bound very tastefully in ivoroid also, with a simple-yet-elegant array of mother of pearl inlays. The slotted headstock further enhances the vintage vibe, and is finished off with the iconic National shield decal. It’s an understated package but one that truly evokes the spirit of the resonator in its purest form, much in the same way that Martin does for the acoustic dreadnought. The charm and heritage is undeniably powerful, and simply begs to be played.
If there ever was any doubt that this guitar wouldn’t sound every bit as sublime as it looks (and there shouldn’t be), a first strum of the strings is all that’s needed to blast those foolish doubts into the farthest recesses of your consciousness. I’m a big fan of open G as a tuning myself and constantly keep my single-cone reso tuned in this way at home, and so couldn’t resist going for that option initially. Hitting that first open chord, I think what struck me most about the Style 1’s utterly enveloping tone was the sheer balance, clarity and shimmer of the tone. Where I sometimes have to adjust my attack on my own single-cone resonator to compensate for its boomy, aggressive nature, the Style 1 translates every nuance with perfect accuracy and greatly increased harmonics. Don’t get me wrong – the single-cone tone is a marvel for its own reasons, but the difference is refreshing here and worth noting for those who might be undecided about what style they should go for.
The flipside of that balanced tone is that you lose a bit of volume compared to a single-cone model, and the guitar reacts to more your attack in a very different way. Single-cone resos tend to require a little bit of aggression in order to coax out that little extra bit of tone, whereas the Style 1 is happy to give you everything you’re looking for no matter what your approach, making it a far more versatile instrument that is just as happy being thrashed about as it is gently ringing out a fingerpicked passage or even a more traditional acoustic style of playing.
The resulting tone is always sweet to the ear, and that’s to say nothing of the hugely impressive sustain, which seemed to go on forever, never dulling but getting richer and simply singing with harmonics at every turn. At once mellow and calm yet also zingy and full of life, this feels very much like one of the most versatile and rewarding resonators I’ve ever has the pleasure to play, which is remarkable considering the traditional, simplistic nature of the instrument.
The whole experience of playing the Style 1 has reminded me how much I love resonators and exactly why National enjoys one of the most enviable reputations in the business. For a company with the heritage of National, this is exactly the kind of guitar that deserves to be leading the company’s image and reputation, a talisman for all that makes the resonator great. In that regard it really is faultless. Oh, apart from the fact I can’t afford one. Still, if you’re in the enviable position where you can, you need to check one out right away. Just don’t brag to me about it, please.
Build Quality 5
Sound Quality 5
Pros: A fantastic reminder of why slide playing, and reso guitars are a must
Cons: Not much to grumble about… There’s no pickup, but just use a mic
Overall: A truly excellent instrument that defies any and all expectations
Model: Style 1 Tricone
Retail Price: £4095
Body Size: Parlour
Made In: USA
Neck: Spanish cedar
Back and Sides: Brass
Resonator: Three 6” cones
Tuners: National brand
Nut Width: 1.825mm
Scale Length: 25-21/32
Strings Fitted: High quality USA
Left Handers: Custom order
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hard case