This page was prompted by Bob Brozman, whose advice on the subject of 'all things National" I highly respect. Bob tells me that NO National ukes were ever fitted with steel strings, I quote his email on the subject here: "You mention steel-stringing National ukes-- but National ukes were built for gut or nylon, NOT for steel strings, that is incorrect advice which could cause cone damage."
So, to clarify my stance on this...
While the early tricone ukes were definitely fitted with steel strings by the factory, the case for steel strings ever being 'factory' fitted on standard single cone ukuleles is not so clear.
Over many years of tracking down National Ukuleles I have encountered 3 that were fitted with steel strings. All were early large body models, and my case for the stringing being original rests on the fact that one had a cast aluminum tail-piece with tiny brass hooks to take loop end strings (no serial #) and a style 2 large body which had holes too small in the tail-piece for new modern uke strings to pass through.
I have never seen a small body uke (which went into production some while after the large body single cone instruments) with anything but gut or, nowadays synthetic strings, so while it is safe to say that any National single cone uke will be happy to be fitted with gut or, synthetic strings, only very early large body instruments , perhaps the first few with step cones(?) probably had steel strings.
I still believe that the downwards tension on the cone from a simple gut or nylon string is hardly enough to get the best out of a cone, no matter how good the break angle over the bridge is. The instruments always seem slightly muted. The 'best' resonator uke of any make/vintage I have ever heard was one of Steve Evans' Beltona's which he had made for Tiny Tim and which he strung with tennis racket strings! (Seems strange, but actually these are very high quality material, think of the pounding they take on a court) and available in different diameters and tensions for free as offcuts from any restringing service)
However, please don't try increasing the string tension on an old, fragile, National. If you do, please remember Marc Schoenberger for the subsequent rebuild!
I have in my posession a Gibson string catalogue which advertises both gut and steel sets of ukulele strings. Since I can't see any sane person puting steel strings on a standard wooden uke, what were they for? I know of one factory Rickenbacher electric uke with a baby horseshoe pickup(!) but apart from that why advertise a string set if no one used them?
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