1940 National New Yorker

The National New Yorker lap steel underwent an enormous number of changes in its first two decades of production. The most substantial, from an electrical point of view, was the abandonment of the three “hidden” pickups that characterized the New Yorkers of the 1930s. In late 1939, National unveiled a new version with a single pickup, as shown above. Since the hidden pickups were never mentioned in company literature, the public would only have been aware of the cosmetic changes that occurred at the same time. However, in practice, this version of the New Yorker sounded very different from its predecessors.

Not only did the New Yorker now feature a single pickup, but that unit was of a completely different design. There were now individual coils for each string, staggered forward and backward to fit, with magnets on each side and steel plates to spread the magnetic field around the strings. This same pickup was used in my 1942 New Yorker, but with two twists: in this 1940 example, the pickup is about 5/8” closer to the nut, and the pickup is upside down compared to the later instrument. The coils in this guitar are actually above the strings, which makes adjusting the poles a little more convenient once the brass cover is removed.

While National continued its black and white color scheme for this new version, a few substantial changes were made. The Roman numeral fret markers were abandoned in favor of abstract parallelograms (the numerals would reappear around 1942, but in color) and the fretboard itself was made of aluminum with the frets applied by silk screening. There was no longer a need for a pickup selector, but the rotary tone control still selected between “Hawaiian” (slightly bassy), “chimes” (essentially no filtering) and “harp” (very bassy). This particular steel is all original except for the tone pot and knob. Most of the finish wear consists of paint loss on the brass pickup cover; paint did not adhere very well to bare metal, as demonstrated by the number of Duolian and Triolian bodies out there with substantial paint loss.