As regular readers know, each month we’ve looked at a different guitar that’s closely associated with the “blues sound.” Now it would be difficult to say that one specific brand or model of guitar typifies “the blues”—there are simply too many different sounds & styles within that broad term to pin things down. & besides, if we’re talking about the blues that’s been recorded after World War II, we’d almost certainly be discussing some famous electric guitars; when talking about pre-War blues, the acoustics of course ruled the scene.
Of course, one has to acknowledge right up front that in any list of great acoustic blues guitars, there’d be a few listed that might have an asterix next to their name because they are in fact amplified—by ingenious construction, rather than by electric charges & magnets: the resophonic guitars. & while there have been competing brands, the archetypal blues resonator guitar is a National single-cone guitar, either a duolian model or the slightly more expensive triolian. For the purposes of this post, I’m including both models simply because some well-known performers used them somewhat interchangeably, & one would need a very fine ear (& actually, even a careful eye in some cases) to tell them apart. Here’s a quick description from the National site:
Duolian was a lower priced National w steel body, mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard w no binding, stamped Duolian headstock, and the crystalline Duco paint finish. It's seen in catalogs for $32.50.
The Triolian came in several flavors, and was more expensive than the Duolian at $45. It had a steel body w maple neck, died maple fingerboard w binding, nickel plated engraved tuners, and a Triolian decal on the headstock.
As you can see, the main difference is appointments & the wood used for the neck & fingerboard. Also, given that new Nationals retail for anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 & up, what would that $32.50 early 1930s Duolian cost in today’s dollars? Actually, $513.74, which is about the cost of a Recording King or a Regal now; $45 in 1932 would have equalled $711.34, which would bump that guitar up one level in today’s market to something like a Republic.
The list of musicians who used these instruments is impressive to say the least (& this excludes those who used National Tricones or other models—this is just players of Duolians & Triolians!)
- Arvella Grey
- Blind Boy Fuller
- Booker T White Ethel McCoy
- Robert Petway
- Scrapper Blackwell
- Sister O.M. Terrell
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe
- Son House
The brittle but loud sound of the single cone National is closely associated with blues from the Mississippi Delta region especially, & so for your listening pleasure I have video clips featuring two great Delta performers, Booker White playing “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues” & Son House playing “Levee Camp Blues.” Although both performers were past their primes when these recordings were made in the 1960s, they were still masterful musicians.
Enjoy—this is the blues, folks!
Both pics link back to their source