National Silvo Lap Steel Electric Guitar (1938)

National  Silvo Lap Steel Electric Guitar  (1938)

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Item # 7515
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National Silvo Model Lap Steel Electric Guitar (1938), made in Chicago, serial # C-1296, nickel plated finish, German silver body, hardwood neck with ebonoid fingerboard, original black hard shell case.

One of the more unusual of National instruments (and that's saying something!), the Silvo Hawaiian Guitar is also a perfect example of a creative re-purpose that's more than the sum of its parts! In the late 1930s, National's resonator guitars were becoming passe due to the increasing acceptance of the electric guitar, particularly among Hawaiian style players. While National offered several different models of purpose-built electric guitars starting in mid-1935, the Silvo series are more of a hybrid, consisting of a resonator body fitted with a special pickup assembly instead of a cone and coverplate.

The Silvo Hawaiian is a particularly clever combination of Silver tenor guitar bodies with a wooden Hawaiian neck and the Silvo pickup unit. By this point there were likely piles of leftover bodies for the expensive Silver Tenors sitting around in stock, and someone had the brilliant idea of making electric steels out of them to clear them out!

The square wooden neck is painted black and faced with black & white Phenolic on both the headstock and fingerboard, to a rather striking effect. The same material is used over the large circular area of the top where a resonator and coverplate would originally have been fitted. All these pieces feature cut-through Art Deco designs, black into white, and the overall look of two-tone plastic on the silver metal is quite dramatic.

The Silvo Hawaiian is also a unique-sounding guitar. The combination of the hollow metal body and wooden neck is most unusual for a lap steel, and gives the Silvo an extra resonance. The pickup has a flat coil with a blade polepiece. It is fitted under a plated handrest with a integral bridge/tailpiece and a control knob on either side. The Silvo unit has a fairly low output but is rather sweet-sounding, and the guitar definitely has a more classic 1930s Hawaiian sound than many lap steels. This lovely example looks to have seen some play time, but is still as fantastic-looking and sounding as it was at the height of the Deco era it was conceived in.
Overall length is 33 1/2 in. (85.1 cm.), 12 3/4 in. (32.4 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 23 in. (584 mm.). Width of nut is 1 7/8 in. (48 mm.).

Overall very well-preserved, this guitar appears to have seen only marginal use since it was built in 1938. There are some scratches to the plated finish and corrosion to the pickup cover, but only fairly light signs of use. The original owner's initials are scratched into the underside of the square neck. The rest of the guitar is original except the jack has been changed to a more convenient phone plug from an Amphenol style, and the strap button appears replaced. Including a lovely original shaped HSC specific to the instrument. Excellent - Condition.