National's Map-Shaped Electrics

George Gruhn
Guitar Player Rare Bird, December 1984
THOUGH THEY WEREN'T inexpensive guitars when they were new, they're sometimes referred to as "cheapos" these days because of their hollow Fiberglass construction and the fact that their prices haven't appreciated much in 20 years. Nevertheless, Valco's National brand map-shaped electrics, offered briefly in the early '60s, have recently enjoyed a surge in popularity.

Most musicians are first attracted to them, no doubt, by the way they look. The body shape resembles a map of the United States. These guitars were introduced in 1961 (they first made a catalog appearance in '62) and were made, to my knowledge, only through 1964. The examples pictured here--an early bottom-of-the-line Val-Pro 82 and a late top-of-the-line Glenwood 99--are representative of the two basic styles of map-shaped Fiberglass Valcos.

The guitar's finish was sprayed first into a mold, which was then sprayed with Fiberglas before the finished half was unmolded. The two pieces (front and back) were screwed together with five screws entering from the back and going into blocks of maple glued to the inside of the body. Valco called the material Res-O-Glas--a combination of polyester resin and glass threads.

With the help of Steve Soest, a California luthier/ repairman who has Valco catalogs and price lists from 1962 and '64, we were able to trace the changes that Valco made to this line during its short history. In 1962, the Val-Pro style came in three models--the Val-Pro 82, 84, and 88, along with the Val-Pro 85 bass--that were identical in hardware and ornamentation, but differed in the pickups and controls offered. The 82 (pictured here) had one single-coil pickup in the neck position. The 84 had the same, plus a transducer-type pickup built into the base of the bridge. The 88 added a third lead pickup and additional tone controls.

The 3-way tone switch on the 82 operates in similar fashion to that of a Gretsch Tennessean--in the first position, the treble is rolled off; the second is wide-open; and in the third, the bass is rolled off. There are three volume knobs, one for each tone setting, and a master volume. The pickup appears to be a humbucker at first glance (with the pole bars set to one side); however, it is actually a single-coil unit, somewhat smaller and less powerful than Valco's standard design. Pieces of maple run from the neck joint to the endpin on both the top and back inside of the body, serving to stiffen the body as well as provide bracing for the bridge, pickup, and tailpiece. The 82 measures 16" wide, 19" from the neck joint to the endpin, and 1-3/4" thick, making it the largest of Valco's map-shaped bodies.

By 1964, the Val-Pro's name was changed to Newport, but the respective model numbers remained the same. The body was made a bit smaller (14" x 17-3/4" x 1-3/ 4"), and a slight outward curve was added to the horns at "Maine" and "FIorida." Also, the tone switch and knobs were moved to the bass side of the body, in the "Great Lakes" region.

The fancier Glenwood models also underwent some changes between 1962 and 1964, although the name, size, and shape remained the same. In 1962, only two different Glenwoods were offered, the 95 and the 99. The 95 had two pickups, a tone selector switch, three tone controls, and three volume controls. The 99 added a built-in bridge pickup and one more volume control. By 1964, the Glenwood 98 had been added to the line, with two single-coil pickups, a bridge pickup, tone selector switch, three tone controls, and three volumes. A Bigsby vibrato tailpiece became standard on the 98 and 99.

The Glenwood 99 pictured here is a typical 1964 model. Its body shape is a bit more stylized than the Newport's, and slightly larger--15" x 18" x 1-3/4"--though not as large as the earlier Val-Pro's. The Glenwood's 3-way tone switch is used as a pickup selector--rhythm pickup, lead pickup, bridge transducer--similar to an old Stratocaster's selector switch. For each position, there is a tone control (next to the switch) and a volume control (below the pickguard). The master volume is located next to the jack and tailpiece. All of the pickups on the Glenwood were labeled "deluxe" in the Valco catalog.

The sleek, space-age look of these guitars is enhanced by brightly colored finishes that do not wear or chip. The Val-Pro 82 shown here is a striking bright red with white trim. The effect of the 1964 Glenwood is even stronger--seafoam green, about the color of a '57 Chevy Bel-Aire. All the hardware, trim, and Grover Roto-matic machines are gold-plated. The pearloid-and-abalone fingerboard inlay is what Valco called its "butterfly pearl" pattern. In short, these guitars look like nothing else before or since.

The single-pickup Val-Pro 82 has a midrangey, throaty sound well-suited to slide playing, while the Glenwood 99, with built-in bridge pickup, has a bluesier, twangy sound with more treble. The Glenwood is closer to a Fender sound, but without the sustain, which makes it ideal for the reggae style of David Lindley, who has probably done more to popularize map-shaped Nationals than any other artist.

When Valco introduced this line in the 1962 catalog, the prices, though certainly not premium, were not dirt cheap, either. The least expensive model, the Val-Pro 82, listed for $159.50, while the top-of-the-line Glenwood 99 went for $295.00. (Gibson's 1962 SG/Les Paul Standard sold for $290.00.) By 1964, the Newport 82 retailed for $192.50, while the Glenwood 98 and 99 listed at $350.00 and $450.00, respectively. (A Gibson SG Custom was then $480.00.) Today, although these guitars have in a sense become collectibles and are by no means plentiful, they are still well under current market prices for comparable Gibson, Fender, and Gretsch models.