1938 National Electric Grand Console

 

When the competition began making double-necked steel guitars in the late 1930s, National wasn’t about to be left behind. Gibson introduced their Console Grande in April of 1938, and by the end of that year, National had begun production of their Electric Console model. The console steel was a brand new style of instrument, and National’s entry was typically quirky.

The Electric Console was effectively two New Yorker lap steels joined at the hip. The comparison was more than just cosmetic; each neck had a separate output jack, and the evolution of the model’s pickups mirrored the New Yorker as well. The earliest examples had the same arrangement of hidden pickups as contemporary New Yorkers; the six pickups in one production-model instrument might be a record. These were soon replaced with two first-generation string-through pickups with individual coils for each string hidden under the hand rest. The use of these pickups on my 1938 Console indicate that they were used first on this model; New Yorkers didn’t get them until the following year. Interestingly, the body contains empty routs under the fretboards for hidden pickups. The first catalog picture, published in 1939, show a Console with hidden pickups – in other words, the picture was obsolete before it was ever published.

Each neck had its own volume and tone control, and a special cord was provided that allowed both necks to be hooked up to the same amp. There was no switch or physical mute system, so the unused neck needed to be turned off via the volume knob. These features were probably due to lack of experience with double-neck instruments, though at least National did have the foresight to raise the far neck higher than the near one. The post-War Grande Console that replaced this model rectified many of these quirks, though it wasn’t until 1953 that legs were catalogued as an option. This particular example bears the scars where aftermarket leg sockets were once mounted. It also sports replacement bridges; the originals had a tendency to warp under string tension.

Although the Electric Grand Console was catalogued for several years starting in 1939, it was never built in large numbers. Instruments just a few serials apart often differ in details such as the construction of the hand rest, indicating that their design remained something of a work in progress. Mine is the only example I have seen with factory-installed spacers under the hand rest, which are necessary to give sufficient clearance over the strings. The fretboards were updated with parallel-line markers in 1939 and multi-colored markers in the early 1940s, but very few instruments were produced like this. It’s entirely possible that all Electric Consoles were built on a special-order basis until after World War II.

 

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