Considering all the styles of guitars National offered, it remarkably offered only three different body types.
The basic single resonator style which encompassed the Style O, Duolians, Triolians, and the Style N. The same basic shape was used for the Tricones, these only differing in the pan and the grill work. The third variation was the 14 fret models of the Style O, Collegian, Duolian, and The Don.
In general, if it’s plated it is likely to be nickel plated brass. If it’s painted it’s likely to be steel.
There are exceptions to this, however. The first Style O’s were nickel plated steel bodies, and the first Tricones were nickel plated nickel silver. On the Tricones the cover plates matched with the body as far as composition. This does not always hold true for the single resonators. I’ve often seen steel coverplates on brass bodies and brass coverplates on steel bodies. (Why? Because it’s a factory, and you use what you have lying around.)
I’m often asked which I like better, brass or steel. The simple answer is that I love them both. Steel tends to hit you harder around mid chest and brass has a softer blow but a lilting afterglow to the tone. A little like the difference between maple and rosewood guitars. Is one any better suited to a particular style of playing? That’s hard to say. I’ve seen great delta blues played on a Style O and classical guitar played on as Duolian. Can’t decide....get one of each...HA!
With a few exceptions, the majority of wood bodies that come through are either El Trovadors or Trojans. These guitars have to be taken on a one by one basis. The reason being that the bodies were made by Kay or Harmony.
Often they didn’t put enough pitch to the body to ever make the guitar work correctly. Another down side is that they attached the necks in the conventional way (dovetail joint).
This is fine except for the fact that they used cheap wood for the neck blocks, so the stability of a neck reset is, in my mind, questionable. I have converted some of these to standard National necks with impressive results. My advice when purchasing one of these guitars is to take a straight edge and check the amount of pitch the guitar has.
Please don’t get me wrong, I think wood bodied Nationals are marvelous. My favorite National is my wood body. The wood bodies have a warm wonderful tone, with just the right amount of crispness for my finger style of playing.
Can’t find an old one? I’d recommend trying one of the new National Reso-Phonic wood bodies.
Practically all Nationals have dents and dings and open seams. For the most part I’d say live with it. The exception to this would be a seam that was buzzing or a dent that interferes with the function of the instrument. It’s notable to mention that most 14 fret Nationals also have side fractures that run from top to back. This apparently was caused by the combination of a slightly thinner brass getting brittle from the stamping process and the vibrations inherent in a musical instrument.
Pulling dents and fixing seams on tricones tends to be an invisible repair due to the plain metal bodies. Because of the delicate sand blast pattern, Style O’s can’t really be sanded or buffed after the dent has been pulled or seam resoldered. So I’d say if it don’t buzz...don’t fix it.
However, if you want, (and people have) the guitar can be totally taken apart and rebuilt from the ground up. The degree to which you choose to have your National restored is largely a matter of finances.
A large number of Nationals that I see have a tweaked coverplate. Usually this is limited to the strap (hand rest) on the coverplate being dented, pushed down (often not apparent to the novice), becoming unsoldered or missing altogether. Needless to say I’ve gotten good at those repairs. Other problems with coverplates include loose screens or the underbraces of the Tricone coverplate, stripped screw holes and the ever popular missing gasket on Tricones. Coverplates cheerfully repaired and I offer beautiful hand cut gaskets.
From time to time I get requests to have guitars replated. I try to discourage this. Would you have your 1936 Martin refinished because it’s finish got hazy or dull? Well I’d hope not. But if you want to...it can be done. The process isn’t cheap. You are looking at stripping charges, polishing charges and plating charges. Quotes on request. The other popular request for plating is to have steel bodies nickel plated. Steel just doesn’t plate well, period. It has too many pits and imperfections to get a really good finish. As far as painted finishes go, I’d advise leaving those alone too. They’re old. Leave them be...it’s called character.
Replacement tailpieces are available; or I can fix your old one.