Shooting the National New Yorker

When David M. Seigler first showed me his National New Yorker lap steel guitar, I was intrigued by its distinctive, art deco appearance. It is finished in glossy black enamel on the sides and back with black plastic fret board. The trim is white plastic and with the round-shouldered shape gives the guitar a very 20’s feel.

The guitar, introduced as the Electric Hawaiian in 1937, was in production until 1968 in many model variations. This example has engraved position markers and a 3-position pickup selector marked “Hawaiian,” “Chimes,” and “Harp.”

I wanted to try to capture the art-deco design of this instrument and to emphasize the architectural influences on the shape.

The “catalog” picture of the guitar in front of a gray background shows the overall shape and motif quite well, and gives a good idea of the scale of the instrument.

National New Yorker lap steel guitar

As always, I try to find details that illuminate the whole, and in the case of this guitar, the roman numeral position markers engraved into the fretboard, held captive behind the bars of the strings, gives a glimpse of the nature of the guitar.

National New Yorker lap steel guitar

I think the most interesting picture from the session is this one, shot on a black velvet background. Since the guitar body is black, it disappears into the background, leaving only the front of the guitar floating in space.

National New Yorker lap steel guitar

All of these were lit with two strobes in softboxes, one on each side, and a strobe with a 10 deg grid on a boom overhead for accent light. Reflection control is always an issue with instruments with shiny parts, and the New Yorker is no exception. The hand rest over the bridge is bright shiny chrome and required special attention in every shot to ensure that there was nothing unwanted reflected there.

National New Yorker lap steel guitar

Posted by Charles under Electric Guitars on 04/07


Welcome to Guitar Photography by Charles L Webster.

I offer fine art, advertising, and catalog photography of guitars and other stringed instruments.

I will use this blog to discuss my photography and show some of the tools and techniques I use in my work. This will be a continuation of the articles on my blog at

I became intrigued by the visual aspects of guitars a few years ago when my friend Mike Simpson brought a particularly beautiful guitar into our office one day. The guitar was made of wood that had a striking grain pattern in deep reds and oranges. When I asked what kind of wood it was, Mike told me it was cocobolo, a hardwood from Central America. I was immediately attracted to the possibilities presented by its rich and varied colors.

As I learned more about guitars and the materials used to make them, I realized that there was a wealth of visual detail in each instrument. Previously all guitars fell into two categories: acoustic or electric. As I explored, I realized that there is an enormous variety of shape, size, color, texture, finish, and detail in guitars, and in stringed instruments in general.

I began my photographic journey with a small bowl-back mandolin that looks much better than it sounds. It has many of the features of larger, more sophisticated instruments; inlay, highly detailed woodwork, a variety of different woods, and more. You can see this instrument in the Ventura Mandolin gallery here on my site.

I have photographed a wide variety of instruments from many countries, ranging from Alan Perlman’s rare and unusual Kora from Gambia in West Africa to Ben Lewry’s beautiful Dram-yan from Tibet. Each instrument presents a different set of challenges to me. Some are small, some large, some shiny and curved, some illuminated from within; each is unique in its detail and construction. The everlasting challenge to me is to capture the unique visual character in a way that reveals something of the “soul” of the instrument.

Posted by Charles under Miscellaneous on 04/03

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