The series of articles titled "More Magnatone" originally appeared in the March, 1998, and April, 1998, issues of Vintage Guitar and are reproduced here by permission from the publisher and the author. The first series of articles covers Magnatone MOTS amplifiers and the second series of articles covers Magnatone steel guitars. Article section identifications have been enhanced for clarity. © John Teagle and Vintage Guitar.
While all the other MOTS models had wood beneath their coverings, an advanced/experimental model was released ca. '51 that used a formed sheet of steel for its endoskeleton. Even more interesting is that the tailpiece was where the nut should have been and the tuners were at the bridge - and adjustable only with an Allen wrench! To quote the Magnatone ad man, "Revolutionary new tuning bridge eliminates cumbersome geared machine heads. No gears to slip. Positive - Self locking - Strings Stay Pul. No arduous tuning sessions before classes or public appearances. Simplified changing of strings."
These instruments were also marketed by the Natural Music Guild of Santa Ana, California as the Natural "Sta-Tune" guitar, along with the matching MOTS "My Pal" amp and telescoping stand to connect the two.
We looked inside serial no. 45540 (ca. '54). Removing the back exposed the hollow insides, which were covered with "Special Sound Deadener" to "…prevent rattle and reverberation." The handrest (carved from a block of wood) and pickup were both wrapped in MOTS to match the body. Restringing this baby was actually not too bad once the holes in the tuner posts were lined up with the holes behind the bridge. Not having gears makes for 1:1 tuning; as much fun as a ukulele or violin without fine tuners (especially since the all-metal assembly hadn't been used for some time and was in dire need of lubrication). See Gruhn and Carter's Electrics (pg. 39) for a pic of an earlier version.
"Revolutionary new electronic Guitar advances the steel Guitar to a place of honor along with the heretofore more perfect instruments, such as the piano. Full chord harmony is now possible with the eight different tunings in the Multimatic. Smooth, instantaneous cut-over from one tuning to another at your fingertip. Feather touch push button action permits cut-over on the fastest numbers. No gadgets to operate, no foot pedal contrivances. No heavy multi-neck Guitar to carry around."
Featured on the cover of the ca. '51 Magnatone catalog, the six-string Multimatic Model No. MG-100-6 appeared to be the final answer to the problem of accessing different tunings, a brilliant solution to the steel player's dream. Designed by Delbert Dickerson, the man responsible for the MOTS phenomenon, the Multimatic expanded on the idea behind Epiphone's Pre-WWII Varichord; that of a single-neck with the ability to quickly change to a number of tunings. We must remember; pedal steels were designed to silently change to different tunings, and not really intended to do the controlled, lazy slurs we associate with the instrument today.
Multi-neck instruments were awkward and heavy, 10 or more string necks were confusing or limiting, and early pedal steels didn't play in tune (think Multicord), plus your foot had to stay on the pedal while playing in any tuning other than the basic. All these problems were apparently solved with the $289.50 Magnatone. Compare the price with Gibson's $425 Multi-Harp, Fender's Custom triple-neck at $286.50, Epiphone's Triple Neck Console at $275, etc. Only National's Triplex Chord Changer, at $185, should have been competitive, and it was limited to three pre-designed choices.
So, why didn't the Multimatic become a huge success? Perhaps the electronic motors, relays, solenoids, etc. available at the time were not advanced enough ("the product of 10 years of research and engineering" implies Dickerson was not satisfied with early versions). The workings were reportedly smooth and accurate, but deemed too noisy for the recording studio, as discussed in The Hawaiian Steel Guitar (see pgs. 128 - 130, note photos). Reliability has also been suggested as to why Magnatone gave up on the Multimatic; perhaps with today's technology, a silent, perfectly functioning/MIDI controllable model could be made..
Dating to ca. 1950, serial no. 14363 (pots 140024) has many of the Standard features of the era, such as sheet steel nut and bridge, rectangular over-the-strings pickup cover, recessed jack cup, white plastic knobs, and enclosed Klusons. Deluxe appointments include the asymmetrical shape of the outside body and the fancy black fingerboard, as seen on the high end models from the late '40s.
A totally new version appeared in the ca. '51 catalog, with the clear knobs and tuners of the single-neck deluxe models. A boxy two-tone hardwood body with squared off necks and headstocks shows a direct link to the late-'50s models described below, with none of the guitar-like similarities of the previous MOTS model. The heavy duty nut and bridge, as well as the Lucite fingerboard, were borrowed from the Jeweltone described above, although the plastic coverplates for the tuners were brand new. See The Hawaiian Steel Guitar (pg. 128) for a photo of an extant model, ca. '51-'52, serial no. 23129.
Same as the double-neck, save for the third neck, 50 percent more heft and possibly a different switch. Still only two controls.
1956 saw the introduction of the short-lived Model G-105-QW Four Neck Steel, following Fender's Stringmaster lead. Many of the features of this instrument, featured on the cover of the '56 catalog, were shared with rest of the steel guitar line, such as a new fingerboard to go with the new, longer scale length (241/2?), new height adjustable pickups (two on the multi-necks), and black knobs. The chrome all-in-one bridge/tailpiece/pickup/controls/jackplate was slightly longer/thinner on the multi-necks, to accommodate the second pickup and behind-the-bridge controls. The Four Neck, as well as the Double and Triple Necks, still featured two-tone blond and walnut bodies, as on early-'50s models, but with slight cutaways on the bass side of each neck.
Completing the '56 Magnatone Steel guitar line were a pair of instruments similar to the Four Neck, the Lyric double eight-string G-85 DW and Maestro triple eight-string G-95 TW, plus the Single Neck models G-70 and G-65. Gone for the '57 catalog was the Four Neck, after a very short stay in the line. The others remained essentially unchanged for the remainder of their life. Coinciding (approximately) with the merger of Magnatone with Estey, the entire line of steel guitars was retired, ca. '60, ending one of the more interesting chapters in Hawaiian/steel guitar history. With interest in Hawaiian music minimal by the late '50s and the steel guitar's popularity stable at best, the company concentrated on amplifiers, with only scattered releases of Spanish-neck solidbodies (a whole 'nuther story) carrying on the instrument lineage into the late '60s.Vintage
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