Frets Magazine – November 1987
During the nearly nine years I’ve been sharing these columns with you, most of the instruments we’ve discussed have dated from the middle of this century, or earlier. This month, however, we will look at a finely crafted, historically interesting instrument of more recent vintage: an NBN Limited Edition guitar, made about 1975.
NBN was a small company (employing just five or six people) located in
Nettesheim dropped out shortly after NBN was established. An old schoolhouse building located at the intersection of
Monty Novotny seems to have been the driving force behind NBN. He originally worked as a master craftsman for the Ode Banjo Company in
NBN’s basic steel string guitar line consisted of three grades of ornamentation – styles 1, 2, and 3. Styles 1 and 2 were offered in mahogany or rosewood, hence the model names M-1, R-1, M-2 and R-2.
The Style 1 was quite plain in ornamentation, although very well made. The Style 2 featured more trim, while the style 3 featured a bound peghead, scroll pearl inlay on headstock and fretboard, and a carved heel. Ranking above the Style 3 were limited-edition or custom guitars, such as the one illustrated here. The body size and shape of the guitar featured in this article was NBN’s standard – 16 ¼” wide, 4 13/16” deep. The company also made a few smaller guitars, slightly smaller than a standard classical guitar.
NBN instruments were relatively expensive by the price standards of their day. About 1975, the Style 1 rose to a price of about $650, and the R-3 went to about $1,500, while some of the limited-edition models were in the $3,000 to $4,000 range. By contrast, in 1975 a Martin D-28 with case cost $770.00, and a Martin D-45 cost $2,010.00.
The Limited Edition model pictured is an excellent example of typical NBN design features. The top is
The truss rod in the neck is of a special NBN design, adjustable in both directions so it can counteract forward or back bowing. The neck is fairly wide at the nut – 1.726” – but it has a very shallow depth. The result is a fast-action neck that feels almost like that of an electric guitar. Thin it may be, but it has stood the test of time, enduring years of pressure from the guitar strings.
The neck itself is mahogany, with an ebony fretboard. The catalog specifications indicate ebony fretboards on all models, but call for a rosewood neck on the Style 3. Beautiful carving decorates the neck heel, rivaling the best work of the great banjo carvers of the ‘20s. Most of NBN’s carving was done by Art Frans, an employee of the
The arrangement of bridge pins was designed to prevent splitting of the bridge along the line of the bridge-pin holes – a common problem on standard design bridges. The bridge saddle is compensated for accurate intonation. The guitar features ornate abalone inlay on the headstock, on the fretboard, and around the soundhole, as well as abalone trim around the edge of the top.
NBN took pride in being self-sufficient. Even the molded, vacu-formed fiberglass hardshell case, with plush interior, was a special NBN design produced at the company by John Cowen. With the exception of the Grover Rotomatic tuners, virtually every component of NBN instruments was made in their own shop.
While aesthetics are a matter of personal taste, and NBN designs may not appeal to all players, those instruments are without question highly innovative, and made with the highest skill. NBN’s corporate career was brief, but it earned its place in the history of American guitar making.
20th Century Guitar - March, 2006