1942 National New Yorker
Few instrument brands were as restlessly innovative as National, and few models were as frequently refined as the New Yorker lap steel. One author notes fifteen distinct versions, and that doesn’t even account for the 7- and 8-string versions. Ignoring purely cosmetic variations, I count eight distinct pickup/control combinations between 1935 and 1959. This means that you have to do your research before purchasing a New Yorker, but it also means that you can own half a dozen without having truly redundant tones.
The post-War New Yorkers are the most common and well-known, but the earlier versions have distinct charms of their own. For one thing, they were offered with more than six strings: the 8-string was gone from catalogs by 1941, and the 7-string appears to have gone when production stopped for the War. I believe this was done to simplify the range of pickup parts that were needed. National would introduce an 8-string steel in the late 1940s, but it would not carry the New Yorker name.
Mine was most likely built in 1942, which makes it one of the last 7-string New Yorkers. It features the first generation of the “string-through” pickup used on later Valco steels, which is actually quite different under the cover. Both versions have adjustable poles accessible through holes in the top plate, but this first version can be identified by its alternating, offset poles (instead of the 3-and-3 arrangement of the later version). This offset is necessary because each string has its own coil and bobbins, as opposed to the two coils in the later version. This difference means that the two string-through designs actually sound very different, and that the 7-string version is not actually a humbucker.
The pickup on mine is moved toward forward relative to the bridge unit on my ‘30s New Yorker, which prevents the sound from being too bright and thin. With only a single pickup, there is no need for the selector knob anymore. It has been replaced by a potentiometer that allows the pickup’s natural tone to come through in the center position and blends in two different capacitors when turned to either side. The tonal variety of the instrument is therefore still pretty wide, and the steel has strong output unless the tone control is turned all the way to either side.
This New Yorker has a number of cosmetic differences with my earlier one. The fretboard still uses Roman numerals, but now they are multicolored. The inlayed headstock logo has been replaced with a painted metal badge, and the National logo has vanished from the tuner covers. In place of the earlier chrome bridge cover, this steel has a painted wood cover over the pickup. Because the body has not been heavily routed to accommodate hidden pickups, the later New Yorker weighs more and has slightly better sustain and quicker attack. This guitar is all original, including the tweed hardshell case, and shows only minor wear.