Metal machine music: The history of guitars made from metal –

Let’s get something out of the way before we begin. If you’re expecting some wise words about the kind of metal associated with big hair and extreme shredding, please leave now while there’s time. In this feature at least, we’re all about metal as a guitar-building material alone.

Most guitars are largely made of wood. This you know. Usually, the only metal you’ll see is contained in the frets and the pickups and some of the hardware, such as the bridge and the tuners and the strap buttons. And perhaps a few plates, and maybe the knobs. And there’s the strings, of course. Best not to forget them.

Some brave souls throughout the history of our instrument have gone further, and in some cases much further. Our story starts in California in the 1920s, where John Dopyera set up the National company in Los Angeles in the middle of that decade with several of his brothers. It’s likely that he and George Beauchamp collaborated to design the resonator guitar, National’s contribution to the search for more volume.

National Resonator
Nearly a century after their introduction, resonators are still the most popular and recognisable type of metal-bodied guitar. All images: Eleanor Jane

George was a Texan vaudeville guitarist and a keen tinkerer, by now living in LA and working for National. Like many performers