1957 National Town and Country

Hard to believe its been a year since my first Monthly G.A.S. Attack. That means 12 new instruments have appeared in my collection. Some still reside there and some have already moved on to the G.A.S. Graveyard. Looking back it was a good year for acquisitions with some great players, rare birds and most importantly, a few steps outside my elitist collecting box. I now like to think of myself as "reformed"; a believer in the spirit of American guitar manufacturing that doesn't always mean the BIG 3 (Fender, Gibson & Martin). I've also decided its time to repent my ways and allow solidbody guitars to reside in my collections for more than just an "open and close" of the case. So what does this all mean? Looking back to that first Monthly G.A.S. Attack, a 1938 National Silvo, the direction was clear!

This is the first solidbody that has earned my admiration since a 1980 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe in natural who hung out for a few years. We parted ways and she now resides in the G.A.S. Graveyard for me to lament on occasion (sigh). I wanted an alternative to 1950s Les Paul, Tele or Stratocaster and I was very familiar with National lap steels guitars. Of course research was initiated. I began to hone in on a few models that I felt could be good players and still provide all the aesthetics National and its house brands are known for.



I guess I really shouldn't say National since the company officially became Valco in the early 1940s. The roots, of course, were the National and Dobro companies from the west coast who merged and moved to Chicago. Primarily considered a budget brand manufacturer along with Kay and Harmony, the other big Chicago music houses, Valco supplied instruments under various house brand names to the catalog giants, Sears and Montgomery Ward, as well as smaller mail order houses.

National was Valco's flagship line and offered such unique features as "gumby" headstocks, map shaped bodies, alternative Res-O-Glas (molded fiberglass) bodies and lots of knobs! They even developed an innovative pickup design named the "Silversound" which was built right into the bridge. Kinda like an early piezo except with a coil! With not much in the way of output, the pickup has never been highly regarded and fortunately only offered on a limited number of models.

Names like Supro, Airline, Custom Kraft and Oahu graced the headstocks of Valco manufactured instruments and found their way into the homes of many budding rock stars! Jimmy Hendrix supposedly started out on a Supro Ozark as well as countless other guitar gods and rock stars. Along with Kay and Harmony, Valco become part of the 1960s mass production effort to keep up with demand. In the end Valco purchased Kay and then went out of business in 1968.

Like the other Chicago manufacturers, my experience with their professional grade instruments has been limited. I started out with a beautiful 1962 National Westwood 75 with a map shaped woodbody and Silversound pickup. Great neck and very similar to a '60s SG but with only the neck pickup putting out much in the way of volume, it was very limited. Although an excellent player, I wanted something with either 2 or 3 pickups none of which were a Silversound. I also felt stepping back a bit further in time to the 1950s and their version of a humbucker would be my best bet and sure enough, I found a winner on the second try!

National released their first solidbody guitar, Solid Body Electric Spanish (how original!), in 1952. It was renamed the Cosmopolitan in 1954 which is the first year of manufacture for the Town & Country or a full 4 years after Leo Fender introduced us to the first solidbody guitar. With a body width of 12 1/4" and two (2) metal covered pickups, the Town & Country was National's answer to the Gibson Les Paul released 2 years earlier. By 1958 the Town & Country, with a larger body, offered three (3) pickups just like Gibson's Les Paul Custom.

Of course the Town & Country had to add some unique touches so butterfly tuner buttons grace its Klusons, six (6) little knobs on the bass side of the guitar and a white plastic back plate (no buckle rash!). Its natural top finish is supposed to be contrasted with black sides but mine continues with the natural which is okay by me. Trapeze tailpiece, adjustable rosewood bridge and single parallelogram inlays complete its list of features. The double pickguard is in excellent shape proudly displaying the Town & Country logo. Of course the raised National logo appears on the peghead which is covered in a black laminate. Very classy looking guitar!
When it arrived my wife commented on how small the box was and there wasn't really a guitar in there. See what years of collecting archtops will do! I already knew the condition was quite good and case candy was included so I dispensed with the "oohs and aahs" and got right down to business. She didn't need much besides a wipe down and set of new strings before I plugged her into my new GF5 (Guitar Fuel) tube amp. It only took a few minutes to fall in love with the guitar as I put her through the paces. Of course she's not a Les Paul but then again, she's not suppose to be. She cost a fraction of what a 1957 Les Paul fetches even in these tough economic times. Overall a solid guitar with an excellent range of tones for just about any style of music. A jack of all trades? Maybe not but she's another example of the fine guitars that came out of the Chicago music houses.

In typical G.A.S. fashion, a three (3) pickup version is on the way (yes, the one pictured in the red rocker!) which means a mid-month update is a definite. The model has serious cool factor, lots of "mojo" and the unique Valco art deco design which today lives on in Airline reissues by Eastwood Guitar of Canada. Just goes to show that the baby boomers want the instruments of their youth and for most, its name wasn't one of the Big 3!

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