1937 National Amp


Drowning in lap steels
This one just arrived from another TGP member:


National had a flair for visual design in the '30s; their steels and amps embodied the art deco style set in working instruments. Their first amps were clearly inspired by their resonator guitars, with stamped metal cover plates over the speakers. The next generation took a different approach, with speaker cutouts in the shape of the company's shield logo and bi-colored grill cloths behind the brand name.

These amps don't show up too often in good condition. They're about as flimsy as most other amps of the '30s, when nobody gave much thought to the rigors of the road. This cabinet design was also only produced for about 3 years, and the models that replaced it reached a wider audience of players. This is one of the first "shield grill" National amps, probably from 1937; the serial doesn't fit with National-Dobro's numbers at the time, and probably was assigned by Webster Electric (who built the amp for them). The model was simply called the National Electric Amplifier - no need for a fancy name when you only have one amp in the line. Within a year or so, it was replaced by the models A and B, which bore a similar shield logo but had differently-sized cabinets.


The design of this amp is notably different from the next generation of National amps, which were actually built by National-Dobro. Instead of a Rola or Jensen, which would almost always be found in a later National amp, there's a 12" Utah. The volume knob also clicks the amp on/off, while the toggle is a pad for both inputs to help prevent that vile distortion that nobody wanted to hear. Even as a one-knob amp, the princely 10W of output made this a high-powered piece of gear. Some of the single-ended amps of the time weren't even loud enough to drown out pleasant conversation, but these metal-cased push-pull 6L6s could just about compete with a brass section supported by tenor banjos. Arguably the coolest aspect of this amp, however, is that it transforms from a combo into a primitive stack (albeit with the speaker on the top):


One set of clips held the two parts together for transport, while another set held them in place for playing on stage. The person pictured in the catalog would either have to be 4 feet tall or standing on their knees:


This might be the earliest "modular" guitar amp design on the market, predating the removable head of the Gibson EH-185 and National's own Model B. Not exactly a Marshall stack, but someone was thinking ahead. The sound of the amp is surprisingly clear and hi-fi for the 1930s, which is still a bit warm and woolly by today's standards. While most other manufacturers were pairing bright instruments with dark amps, National seems to have gone the other way; my '36 New Yorker, a very warm and bassy instrument, has never sounded so good with another amp.



Man that’s in incredible condition!

I’ve come across a few shield amps - always covered in a dark gray ‘elephant hide’ looking coveting. Those were always really dark and kinda muffled sounding - I’m guessing they needed work or new tubes.

Beauty amp!



According to the inflation calculator, that 75 bucks would be about 1300 today. Actually a pretty decent price for a good amp.
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Silver Supporting Member
That is awesome. I love the early industrial design of the actual amp itself combined with the deco externals.

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