1949 National 1135 


The National-Dobro Corporation was reorganized into Valco in 1942, just in time for their Chicago factory to be converted for the production for war goods. Valco focused on making lucite nose cones for B-24 bombers while material shortages ensured that only a few instruments could be assembled from existing stock. Although they managed to assemble a few last resonator guitars immediately after the War, it wasn't until 1947 that normal production resumed. By that time, though, Valco's product lines had changed significantly. The National resonator guitars were gone, replaced by more conventional acoustic and electric guitars and lap steels. The Dobro brand was abandoned completely and the previously minor Supro band was elevated to Valco's primary name for slightly more affordable electrics.

The jewels of Valco's new lineup were the higher-end National guitars: acoustic and electric archtops, acoustic flat-tops and a few lap steels. Valco's problem was that it had never developed an extensive wood-working shop and was actually unable to construct a high-quality acoustic body. Dobro had built wooden bodies in the 1930s, but that factory had closed around 1937 when all production was shifted to Regal. National had previously built metal bodies, but these required different skill sets and tooling from a carved archtop. While Valco was capable of building solid bodies (for lap steels only at this point), they had no choice but to outsource their acoustic and electric hollow bodies. This was nothing new; in the 1930s, Kay, Harmony and Regal had all built wooden bodies for National and Dobro guitars. However, Valco decided that while Kay and Harmony were up to the task of building the cheaper models, neither could construct a truly great acoustic archtop for the top of the line.

The solution came from the Chicago Musical Instrument Company. CMI handled distribution of National instruments and suggested that one of their subsidiaries could build the guitars: the recently-acquired Gibson company. In the 1920s and 1930s, Gibson had built instruments for a large number of outside brands; while this re-branding nearly stopped after World War II, they still agreed to build a number of guitars for National. In fact, the 1947 National lineup consisted largely of Gibson products with the National name slapped on the headstock. The N275 acoustic archtop was essentially a Gibson L-12 with different aesthetic features such as triple-parolellogram fretboard inlays; the N150 was similarly related to the Gibson L-7 and the N125 was probably closest to the Gibson L-50. As usually happened in the 1930s, the re-branded guitars lacked a truss rod - the only significant way in which they were inferior to the actual Gibsons.

In 1948 the lineup shifted was renamed: the N275 was gone, never to return, and the N150 and N125 became the models 1135 and 1140, respectively. By 1949 the construction had changed significantly: Gibson now supplied only bodies to Valco, who attached their own "Stylist Hand-Fit" necks using the same bolt-on joint that became standard on most Valco hollowbodies. Around this same time, the electric archtop bodies and cheaper acoustic flat-top bodies were sourced from Kay. By 1954, National's acoustic line was dwindling fast and only the 1155 and 1155E flat-tops still featured Gibson bodies. The last Gibson-Valco hybrids were the Bel-Aire and Del Mar electric archtops, both of which were discontinued when Valco brought out the first res-o-glas series in 1961.

The Gibson factory order number on this 1135 dates to either 1948 or 1950, and the Valco serial number dates to 1949 or 1950. That makes it one of the first guitars to feature a 17" Gibson body married to a Valco neck. The materials and cosmetic appointments are consistent with a Gibson L-7, and the National and Gibson counterparts retailed for the same price: $185 in the 1951 catalog. The earlier N150 was available in a sunburst or blonde finish, but this hybrid version was only available in sunburst. Not surprisingly, it sounds very similar to an L-7. The bolt-on neck joint may not transfer vibrations as effectively as a dovetail, but the effect on the guitar's tone is subtle at most. Though this guitar lacks an adjustable truss rod, the neck has a massive magnesium core that has kept the neck straight. The guitar is generally in good shape, though there is considerable wear to the finish on the body and neck. It is all original, including the plated aluminum pickguard.