1965 National New Yorker

The New Yorker was the top of the National lap steel line from its introduction in 1935, and it remained the brand’s flagship steel model until its discontinuation in 1967. By the mid 1960s, the market for steel guitars was nearing rock bottom and several of the big names in lap steels – especially Gibson and Rickenbacker – were revamping their product lines for the rock and roll era. National was forced to do the same, with the result that fewer steels were built (or even offered) as the 1960s wore on.

While the New Yorker underwent at least seven major changes in its pickup(s) and wiring between 1935 and 1956, its final decade of production saw only minor, mainly cosmetic changes. Around 1956 it was fitted with two “focused power” pickups, probably as a reaction to the new Fender Stringmaster design. This “dual unit” system, while not visually obvious under an opaque black cover, allowed a range of sounds to be achieved with a blend knob rather than a conventional tone control. The twin-pickup arrangement remained unchanged until the New Yorker was discontinued in 1967.

Cosmetically, the model continued a tuxedo color scheme, eliminating the multi-colored fret markers that were characteristic of 1940s and early 1950s New Yorkers. The Lucite fretboard was identical to those used on other models, probably as a cost-saving measure. There were minor changes made to the headstock shape in the early 1960s, but National’s use of old photographs in catalogs did not reflect them. Also not reflected in catalog pics was a change in tuners; the New Yorker was the only National model ever to use open-backed Grovers, but these were swapped for cheaper Klusons by the early 1960s. The top of the body was also changed from semi-transparent Lucite to a thinner, opaque plastic.

This particular steel was built in 1965 and sports the features indicative of a very late New Yorker. While it lacks a bit of the model’s earlier art deco charm, it is still an excellent-sounding instrument. The dual-pickup system doesn’t give quite as much tonal variation as a conventional treble roll-off, but the sounds it does produce compare quite well with anything else Valco ever built. The output is very strong, making it better-suited to rock music than most earlier New Yorkers.