Up for sale, a 1957 National 1155E one-off custom model made for singing cowboy, Eddie Dean, complete with signed headshots, vintage records, and assorted ephemera. Known as “the Golden Cowboy” for his golden pipes, Dean was deemed the best cowboy singer of all time by his contemporaries Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.
This custom National 1155E was a visual representation of Dean’s prolific and comprehensive impact on the singing cowboy tradition, boasting custom gold-finished back, sides, and neck, custom gold hardware, unique upscale inlay, a distinctive headstock overlay, and a custom pickguard, all features that make this vintage dreadnought utterly distinct from National’s catalog specs for this model.
As National didn’t have the facilities to produce acoustic and hollowbody instrument’s in-house, parent company Valco contracted with Gibson who supplied complete J-45 bodies for the 1155E model (complete with Gibson factory order number on the heel block) which were then paired with National’s bolt-on neck and a P-90-style pickup which was mounted through the last fret, with the pole pieces sitting flush with the Brazilian rosewood fretboard.
This guitar represents a totally custom one-off instrument for *two* of the heavyweights of guitar manufacture in the 1950s, Gibson and National, with the upscale inlay, custom Gibson Goldtop-gold finish, and premium hardware befitting its singing cowboy provenance.
Eddie Dean’s career spanned decades, performing as a regular on the National Barn Dance radio program as well as Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch. He moved to Hollywood in 1934 and would feature in 55 Westerns, 20 of which billed him as the lead, as well as appearing on a number of TV programs of the era including the Beverly Hillbillies. A standout among the singing cowboy pantheon for writing most of his material, Dean’s most notable hit was “I Dreamed of a Hillbilly Heaven,” which would later gain more widespread acceptance as a Country Music standard with Tex Ritter’s cover in 1961. And as a founding member of the Academy of Country Music, Dean’s influence truly touched every corner of the industry.
Tonally, this National delivers everything one expects from a Gibson J-45, with traditional slope shoulder dreadnought power and kick. The guitar offers a focused, rich bass register with excellent string-to-string clarity and a powerful, punchy sound. The trebles sparkle and the guitar has a woody snap, simply a rich strummer and rewarding picker in every respect. The original pickup is warm and sweet with dynamic cut and barking bite when you dig in. This National 1155E weighs 5lbs 7oz, professionally setup here at Mike & Mike’s Guitar Bar with 12-53 strings and comfortable action.
The mahogany neck has a substantial V neck profile carve, measuring .945” deep at the 1st fret and .980” at the 9th. The Brazilian rosewood fretboard features one of National’s most resplendent inlay patterns (also mirroring the inlay seen on National’s Belaire model), with pearloid blocks framing abalone diamonds, eschewing the simple dot inlay seen in production examples of the 1155E. The original slender frets show virtually no wear with well-rounded crowns, and the guitar plays well up the 24 3/4” scale. The carved bone nut measures 1 5/8” in width. The headstock features a mahogany overlay framed by multi-ply binding, inlaid with the National logo and a shield with contrasting quarters of pearloid and abalone, in contrast to the simple raised plastic badge typically used on the 1155E model. The gold-plated Kluson Deluxe single line tuning machines feature the large white tulip buttons distinct to National’s tuners, and these gears still turn smoothly and hold pitch well.
On the body, the Brazilian rosewood bridge sits flush with the top, fitted with a modern tall carved bone saddle. Given the bolt-on adjustable neck, action can be adjusted to taste, yet to achieve the best possible low end response and also retain ideal fret height on the original fretwire, action has been set to a medium height and can be fretted without effort all the way up the neck. The pickup has been recently professionally rewound, and the wiring harness features original pots and a paper-in-oil capacitor, with mini Dakaware Volume and Tone knobs on the bass side of the body to govern the overwound single coil. Visible through the soundhole the Gibson U-prefix factory order number is stamped on the heel block.
The pickguard is the only modern component on the instrument, and with the guard removed, the UV ambering of the nitro lacquer top shows the shadow of Eddie Dean’s signature which aged less than the surrounding lacquer. As the guitar was received here at Mike & Mike’s Guitar Bar without its original signature pickguard, a custom font file was made, matching Eddie’s signature, and three custom pickguards were commissioned via Quick Guards. These back-painted lucite guards come in gold (currently mounted to the guitar), gold sparkle, and tortoise. As the original pickguard was screw-mounted and not glued on, any guard can be substituted with ease.
The body is crack-free and the nitro lacquer finish is 100% original with no touchup or overspray. This particular shade of gold has a hint of a yellow/green cast, ostensibly the same nitro lacquer paint mixture used by Gibson on their Goldtop models produced in the same year. Cosmetic wear is limited to some scattered dings and finish scratches across the body consistent with light, careful use.
The Eddie Dean signature National 1155E comes with three vintage Eddie Dean LPs, a hand-signed card, hand-signed “I Dreamed of a Hill-Billy[sic] Heaven” sheet music, a pair of Dean’s headshots, and the three custom-made pickguards.
The guitar comes in a vintage Guild hardshell case of the same era. As Eddie Dean was known to play Guilds (he’s pictured with a custom Guild X-350 on his Hillbilly Heaven album cover), this case is another integral part of this unique vintage guitar.