1964 National Glenwood 98

 

The Valco company was hardly averse to unconventional manufacturing processes. Having evolved out of the original National and Dobro companies, its roots included metal bodies in the 1920s and some of the first bolt-on necks in the late 1940s. In 1961, after about 15 years of relatively conventional wood bodies, Valco embarked on yet another project: the manufacture of fiberglass guitar bodies.

The top and back of each body was molded separately. A gel coat with embedded pigment was sprayed into a mold, followed by layers of glass fiber and resin. Once the halves had set, they were screwed together with a solid wood block down the center to provide physical support and an anchor for screws. While the process was originally conceived as a way to limit the costs of production (an objective it signally failed to achieve), the new material did have its advantages. The thick outer layer did not discolor when scratched, since the pigment went deep into the material. No additional finishing was required, just some buffing to remove imperfections. The resulting bodies were light but sturdy. While the sound was different from their wood-bodied equivalents, the fiberglass guitars still sounded very good. In an effort to convince guitarists of the sonic benefits of the new material, Valco referred to it in catalogs as “res-o-glas” because it supposedly resonated well.

A number of res-o-glas models were produced under the National and Supro brands, and a few were built for outside brands such as Airline, Atlas and Tonemaster. In some cases, nearly-identical models were available with wood bodies, which allows some close comparisons to be made. The reso-o-glas models are really semi-hollow, closer in construction to an ES-335 than a true solidbody, and they sound like it. The attack is slower on both single notes and chords, the sustain is very slightly lessened, and the overall tone is less aggressive and a little darker.

The first Glenwood dates back to the mid 1950s when it was a deluxe version of the Town and Country. In 1959 it was further differentiated from that model by gaining a third pickup, and in 1961 it was expanded into a range of two completely new res-o-glas gutiars, the Glenwood 95 and 99. Aside from the color (red and white, respectively), the Glenwood 99 featured Valco’s Silver-Sound pickup in the bridge. Often mistakenly called a piezoelectric pickup, the Silver-Sound unit is actually an unconventional electromagnetic pickup: the coil is encased in the bridge base, while three poles hang down into it from the saddle. The resulting sound doesn’t compare well with modern piezo pickups, but in 1961 it was absolutely revolutionary. Around 1963, the Glenwood 99 became a seafoam green guitar with gold hardware, a Bigsby vibrato and a master volume. The new Glenwood 98 was largely the same as the old 99 but with a Bigsby, which upped the catalog price from $295 to $350 - the same price as a new Jazzmaster or ES-335. A form-fitting case was a whopping $52.50 on top of this, so it’s not surprising that the cases are considerably rarer than the guitars themselves.

While the Glenwood series were considerably more expensive than other National electrics, they did have some features that were unavailable on the cheaper models. The Bigsby was a significant upgrade over Valco’s own vibrato, which graced the less expensive models. The Grover tuners on the Glenwoods were also a step up from the Klusons found on other Valco guitars. And, of course, there’s that body; any resemblance to the shape of the United States appears to be entirely coincidental, and certainly the word “map” was never used to describe them officially, but there were few instruments at the time that were as visually striking as the Glenwoods.

My guitar is almost entirely original, the only exceptions being the plugs that cover the neck bolts and angle adjustment screw. This screw works quite well and allows for an easy setup without the need for shims. The neck remains perfectly straight due to the massive magnesium core that prevents warping, and even the silkscreened designs on pickup covers are mostly intact. The guitar still resides in its original case.

 

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