Posted in GUITARS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2012 by Joseph Allen Popp's Cellular Multiverse

I’ve wanted a National Tricone guitar for years.  They sound like God.  I’ve seen photographs of the old blues players with them since I was a young teenager.  I didn’t know much about them, but they certainly looked amazing.  I could only imagine what playing one would be like.  Over the years I began to see them in the hands of more contemporary players.  Living in San Francisco during the 1980s I worked at Guitar Center for a while.  We didn’t carry them there, but a guy named Gary Brawer had a little shop around the corner at 15 Lafayette Street, called Real Guitars.  He’s a top-notch luthier, and he was doing work even back then for people like Joe Satriani.  Besides building killer instruments and doing fabulous custom work on guitars he also sold used gear.  He had the cool shit in there.  Old acoustics, electrics, lap slides, all kinds of amazing stuff.  Hanging on the walls with the rest of his merchandise were several beautiful old Nationals and Dobros.  This is where I got to hold a National Tricone for the first time.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by how much they weighed, being that the bodies are made of either steel or nickel plated brass.  They are hefty.  Some of them came with regular guitar necks, or round necks, as they’re called.  Others have square necks and are made strictly to be played lap style, lying on your lap and played with a heavy slide.  These square necks have the strings on them elevated so high over the frets that you can’t play them at all without a slide.  Being that I didn’t play much lap slide, I naturally gravitated toward the round necks.  I fell in love with with them immediately.  The Tricones were totally different sounding than the single cone resonator guitars.  The sound was unlike any other guitar I’d ever played, simultaneously brightly metallic and deeply rich in tone.  They were also very expensive.  Being a young starving artist, they were way out of my price range.  I eventually sought out an affordable resophonic guitar and discovered that Regal Guitars offered a model that was being made right in South San Francisco by a company called by Saga Guitars.  I called around town until I came across Peacock Guitars over between the Castro area and Noe Valley, actually right near downtown.  I talked to George Peacock, the luthier who owned and operated the place.  He told me he had one there and asked what style of guitar I played, standard or slide.  I told him I played a little of both and he said to give him a day to make a new bridge for it that would accommodate my playing, and that I could have it for $350.  New.  My kinda deal!  I’ve had it ever since, and I still really love it…but it ain’t no Tricone!  That was 30 years ago.  National Tricones have done nothing but gone up in price since then…and I still can’t afford one.  I had been talking about them with my good friend Lon over the past year or so.  Lon likes guitars, too, and he’s got a very nice collection which includes a Fender resophonic acoustic, though he hasn’t got a Tricone.  Knowing how much I love them, he mentioned it to me when he ran across a company (one I’d never heard of) online called Republic Guitars that offer a couple of Tricone models.  I was happy when I looked at the website and saw that Johnny Winter is an endorser.  Good sign.  They had several variations, including a couple with cutaways, that came with your choice of  a steel body or a nickel plated bell brass body.  And all of them were priced at under $700.  My kinda Tricone!  I read a few reviews and they looked worthy.  This was about a month before my birthday, and I kind of decided that my wife Karen was going to splurge and get myself…oops, I mean “me” one.  Over the course of the next month, while looking around online, I discovered another Tricone on eBay; from yet another company I never heard of called Lightnin’ Bug Guitars.  Upon further investigation I found out that this luthier named John Cook, owner of Lightnin’ Bug Guitars, was buying Republic Tricone guitars and replacing the Korean made necks on them with ones he hand-made, calling it a serious upgrade.  He said that Republic bodies are as good as any Tricone body available on the planet, and that his replacement necks were the equivelent of what you find on an old National, including a nitrocellulose finish on the back.  I sent a note to him asking about the one he had up for auction on eBay.  He said he was testing the market on eBay for his instruments, and that this one was actually one he had built for himself.  There’s even has a video of him playing this specific instrument on his website.  He told me that his upgraded models sell for around $1650, and that they are every bit as nice as a new National which sells for around $3600.  The starting bid on the eBay model was less than the new Republics sell for.  I put it on my watch list.  I was drooling all over my computer looking at how beautiful John’s work looked.  He said he hadn’t kept track of how many hours he worked on this one because it was for himself, but that he had never done finer work.

It has his lightning bolt inlay on the headstock, plus something I’ve never seen anyone do; a lovely little scoop of shell inlayed right up against the nut on the fretboard side!  Very cool!

There aren’t position markers on the fretboard, only on the side of the neck, except for at the twelfth fret, where he did a beautiful little triangle with a watch gear inlayed in the middle of it, “To help keep time,” he said.  Man.  This is just WAY too cool.

The fretboard is ebony, and there is a gorgeous ebony veneer over the face of the headstock.  Tortoise celluloid binding adorns the neck all the way around the fingerboard and the headstock.  The shape of the neck and headstock is based on John’s favorite old Martin guitar, and he finished it off by using Waverly banjo tuning pegs.  A true work of beauty from a very fine craftsman.

The body is, as I said, nickel plated bell brass, and he’s right; it’s just fantastic.  It’s set up perfectly for my playing style, which still is a mix of standard and slide.  I’ve been attempting to use a National metal thumb pick on it because it sounds so nice.  I’ve tried about ten different slides on it; brass, steel, porcelain, glass…even aluminum.  Strangely enough, the one that works the best for me is the steel one I’ve been carrying in my left pants pocket for nearly 30 years.  My favorite, by far, on every guitar I play.























I can’t tell you what a fabulous instrument this is.  I would be just as happy having paid John his $1650, but I was able to win the eBay auction at $800 + $50 shipping.  Only about $150 more than I was about to pay for the stock model Republic.  I feel kinda bad for getting it so cheap…except that I can’t imagine it going to a better home!  John said he will never post another guitar on eBay.  I don’t blame him.  He deserves his regular asking price, easily.  I highly recommend you visit his website, and place an order immediately.  Even if you’re Johnny Winter!  You won’t be disappointed.  And while you’re there, check out the nice little video of him doing a fingerstyle tune on MY guitar!

here’s the link for you…  Lightnin’ Bug Guitars

…coalescing thoughts from the Cellular Multiverse