This "Tonemaster" lap steel guitar was made in Chicago by Valco sometime around 1959. In that era, Valco manufactured a variety of solid-body electric instruments that were marketed under the National, Supro, Oahu, Airline, and English Electronics names. The Tonemasters were mostly branded Oahu and English Electronics, both of which focused more on Hawaiian-style lap steel guitars. That makes sense, too, because the Tonemasters feature a unique pickup that is particularly desirable for slide playing.
Sometimes simply called the "oahu pickup," the Valco string-through pickup gives this Tonemaster rich tone with wide versatility and depth. It utilizes separate coils for the bass and treble strings, and it has genuine AlNiCo magnets that help lend a responsive, touch-sensitive attack. When you roll off the volume knob, the tone is sweet, clean, and musical, but as you push the amp, the pickup gets hotter and hotter. With the volume wide open, it saturates nicely with singing sustain that is perfect for cutting slide solos. Famously used as the bridge pickup on Ry Cooder's "Coodercaster," this pickup covers a wide range of territory and seems to do everything well.
This circa-1959 Valco Tonemaster lap steel is in excellent condition for its age. The pearloid veneer is nicely patina-ed—it has authentic, smoked-out charm. The pickup/playing area is a little worn and corroded, but the guitar is free of severe bumps and bruises, and the painted "fingerboard" guide is not chipped or faded. The electronics function 100% as they should, and the guitar holds tune nicely. It includes the original case as well as the original screw-in legs (that are a bit janky, go figure).
It's hard to beat the sound of this pickup. Big steel swells sparkle, and they sound big and full. More delicate fingerpicking sounds clear and musical. This Tonemaster may truly be the master of tone!