1928 National Triolian 

National was never afraid to try something new. The company was founded specifically to build a new kind of guitar – the resonator – and it spent the next four decades creating utterly unique instruments. National’s restless experimentation, combined with a willingness to disregard catalog specifications on a regular basis, lead to a number of rare and sought-after varations.

National’s first instruments were the “silver” series: Styles 1 through 4, all tricones with German silver bodies plated in nickel. Guitars (Hawaiian, Spanish, and tenor), mandolins and ukuleles all initially shared this construction. However, the expense of building tricones and competition from the newly-formed Dobro company quickly forced National to consider single-cone designs. Ukuleles and Manolins were probably the first to be redesigned, followed in 1928 by a totally new National model: the Triolian.

It’s primarily known as a steel-bodied guitar (still cheaper than copper-based German silver), but for the first year of production, the Triolian was National’s first and only wood-bodied instrument. The body was made of 3-ply “hardwood” – probably birch or maple – and the neck was a single piece of maple. A catalog actually shows one with a small cover plate over a tricone setup, but none are still known to exist with this configuration. At $45, it was less than half the price of a Style 1 but still a moderately expensive instrument.

In the absence of shining nickel plate, the entire instrument – body, neck, and even the fretboard – was painted in a yellow-mustard burst with hints of blue and red providing accents. Early examples, like this one, sometimes lacked fret markers but had bursts of color in their place. The first Triolians had a peaked headstock, but this was changed to a squared-off shape before the body was changed to steel. To complete the look, National applied a large floral decal to the back of the body and a smaller one between the fretboard and cover plate; this was soon replaced with a Hawaiian-themed image of a woman commonly called the “hula girl” decal. Steel-bodied Nationals are notorious for shedding their paint, as can be seen on this guitar’s steel cover plate, but these wood-bodied examples retain their finish much better. Later Triolians have a primer underneath the paint that helps with adhesion, but it appears that this guitar predates that innovation.

This particular guitar is quite well-preserved. It has endured a neck reset, which resulted in replacement of the screw plugs in the fretboard extension, but otherwise it remains remarkably clean. Wood-bodied Triolians are relatively scarce, as they were only built for a year.