In the world of oddball vintage guitars, there are few that deserve the term “quirky” more than the infamous National Res-O-Glas map guitars of the early 1960’s. While some claim that the USA shape was purely coincidental, this author is not convinced; some crazed, madman designer at Valco, National’s parent company, must have thought this one up after a three-martini lunch on July 4th.
Res-O-Glas was a type of fiberglass consisting of glass fiber and resin, which in the case of these guitars, was sprayed into a mold that contained a colored gel coat. The advantage to Res-O-Glas was the finish was impregnated into the body, so it was nearly impossible to scratch it off from heavy use. These sturdy guitars seem indestructible. The bodies were formed in two halves and then joined together with screws, with a wooden center block and a rubber gasket that encircled the body and hid the seams.
National Res-O-Glas guitars were originally marketed in red and white, but around 1963 turquoise foam green was added to the line, along with gold hardware on the top of the line Glenwood 99 models.
This all original, good condition Glenwood 99 features a chunky bolt-on neck with a rosewood fingerboard, beautiful stylized diamond inlays, 21 small frets, including a zero fret just below the nut, Grover tuners, and National’s ubiquitous “Gumby” headstock. All hardware is gold plated and is now highly tarnished, with much of the plating gone. The Bigsby still functions smoothly. There are three volume and three tone controls, a master volume, and a three-way switch that allows the player to choose between the neck pickup, bridge pickup, and a third pickup with the clever name of “Silver-Sound” that was encased in the plastic bridge base. Three poles protrude from the base into the wooden saddle unit. At the time, this was considered a groundbreaking development in guitar pickups, and is actually the forerunner of the modern piezo pickup. The Silver Sound sounds absolutely puny by today’s standards. Then again, music was a lot different in 1963 than it is today.
Valco’s Vista-Tone brand neck and bridge pickups sound smooth and demure when played clean, but growl and bark when overdriven. Although sized like humbuckers, Vista-Tones are actually large single coil units that put out quite a bit of volume, and are being recreated today by the new Supro Company of Long Island, NY.
In terms of playability, this Glenwood 99 was almost perfectly in tune after being mounted on the wall of Lark Street Music for what must have been months, if not years. I tuned the D string and tweaked the others, and it played beautifully and stayed in tune. The neck does not have a truss rod, but does contain a very large magnesium core that has kept the neck dead straight for nearly fifty-four years. Not too shabby, I’d say. Maybe those wild visionaries at Valco were onto something after all.
Back in the day, Glenwood 99’s sold for $350, and a form-fitting case was another $52.50, which was a lot of money back in ’63. The Gibson ES-335 and the Fender Jazzmaster were the same price and were more conventional looking instruments, so it’s no wonder that the Res-O-Glas map guitars were not big sellers. Production totals must have been small; the true numbers are unknown, and it’s no secret that Glenwoods are rare guitars, although they do come up for sale fairly often.
Perhaps the most well known user of National Glenwood map guitars was Bob Dylan, who played one on his Rolling Thunder Revue tour, and then was never seen with it again. Robert Smith, of The Cure, also used a Glenwood, and blues guitarist/educator Arlen Roth was pictured with a Res-O-Glas National on the cover of one of his solo albums.
This Glenwood is on permanent display at Lark Street Music in Teaneck, New Jersey, and is part of the owner’s private collection. If you want to add a Glenwood 99 to your arsenal, prepare to spend upwards of $4500-$5500 today.
The author wishes to thank Buzzy Levine of Lark Street Music once again for his cooperation in the preparation of the article.