Guide to understanding and buying Resonator Guitars. Review of the bestselling resonator guitars.
I’m sure you would have heard of an acoustic guitar but what about resonators?
I doubt you would know if you have not played guitar before.
So here is a brief primer.
Table of Contents
What is a Resonator?
A resonator guitar basically utilizes a metal cone that sits underneath the strings and acts very much like a stereo speaker. The strings connect to the cone via a bridge. When the strings are played, the metal cone vibrates, and you get a completely distinct tone and timbre.
Going Back in Time
The original purpose of designing resonator guitars was to make them sound louder than conventional acoustic guitars. These were the days when amplifiers were not common.
The problem encountered by musicians was that the sound from the acoustic guitars was easily drowned by the sounds from the other instruments in dance orchestras.
This problem gave birth to the resonator guitars, also known as resophonic guitar.
And how was the sound made to be louder?
By using spun metal cones (resonators) instead of the wooden sound board that you find on modern guitars.
How about the body? What is it made of?
The body of a resonator guitar could be made of wood or metal (these are the more common ones), or occasionally from other materials.
Are They Still Popular?
Very much, in spite of the fact that amplifiers are common nowadays!
The original problem for which resonator guitars were designed no longer applies as you can easily amplify the sound of your acoustic guitar.
So why is a resonator guitar still used?
Because of their distinct sound quality!
Every musician / composer wants his/her music to sound great and be distinct. That’s the reason resonator guitars are still being used in several musical styles, more so with bluegrass and also blues.
Used in Which Genre?
As mentioned earlier, this musical instrument allows a musician to add a distinctive sonic flair to an arrangement, without having to plug in any electric instrument. Although most resonators nowadays also come in an electric version.
Several musicians love playing the slide on these guitars, because of the bright and smokey sounds that these produce.
Though the production of these instruments have decreased over the years, these still continue to be made. As far as the brands are concerned, Gibson is the more popular one, though you may also consider the more affordable “National” brand.
Resonator Guitar Styles
To cater to musicians who are used to playing in different styles, resonator guitars are usually available in a couple of styles:
Square necked guitars
These are designed considering the guitar players who play in steel guitar style.
Round necked guitars
These can be played in either the conventional classical guitar style or in the lap steel guitar style.
Types of Resonators
There are 3 main types of resonators: Tri-Cones, Single-Cone Biscuit Bridge and Single Cone Spider Bridge.
While there are exceptions, Tri-cones almost always come in a metal body and Spider Bridge guitars almost always come in wood. Biscuit Bridge guitars are a mixed bag and come in both.
If you want more of a delta blues sound, you want a tri-cone or a single cone biscuit bridge, if you want a bluegrass and country sound, you want a a single cone spider bridge.
Here’s a video on selecting Resonators:
Resonator Guitar Design
Typically there are two main sound holes, positioned on either side of the fingerboard extension.
The body of a resonator guitar is usually made of wood or metal, and is feels solid as a rock.
Though several brands come out with guitars that have a variation of these styles and designs, most Resonator guitars sound loud, are very responsive, and look beautiful.
Metal vs Wood Resonator Guitar
Johnny Winter lovingly described it as the “sound of a garbage can with strings”. Metal body guitars sound very metallic and brash.
There are a few types of metal commonly used – steel, brass and German Silver. They are almost all coated in Nickel, so while they may look similar but each has it’s own sonic properties.
Wood Body Resonator Guitars sound mellow. Wood provides a warmer, more organic sound. Typically the type of wood used in a guitar has a big impact on the sound. The majority of wood resonators are made out of plywood, which is sturdy, durable, and long lasting.
Dobro vs Resonator
So what exactly is the difference between a Dobro and a Resonator?
This is one question that stumps many, especially if they’re new to the world of resonator guitars.
Here’s the answer:
A resonator guitar is a type of guitar that uses a resophonic cone to amplify sound.
A Dobro is a very popular brand of resonator guitar, and because of its popularity many think its a type of guitar. Other common brands are National, Regal, Beard and Gretch.
Recommended Resonator Guitars
As you can see, a Resonator Guitar still continues to be used primarily for their distinct tone quality. Resonators are particularly used for playing in bluegrass and country style of music.
Another thing to note is that Dobro is actually a brand of resonator guitar, although it has now become somewhat synonymous with the entire category. However, there are other good brands of Resonator Guitars as well.
Here are some of the bestselling Resonators:
- Gretsch G9210 Boxcar Square-Neck Resonator Guitar
- Washburn R15R Resonator
- Gretsch G9201 Honey Dipper Round-Neck Resonator Guitar
- Fender FR-55 Hawaiian Resonator, Metal Body – Hawaiian Motif
- The Loar LH-700-VS Deluxe Hand-Carved Archtop Guitar
Great Deals on Dobros and Resonator Guitars on zZounds…
Famous Resonator Guitar Players and their Guitars?
Here are some of the most famous Resonator Guitar players, also take a look at their Resonator Guitars.
- Bukka White: Played a National Single Cone Biscuit Bridge
- Son House: Played a National Single Cone Biscuit Bridge, typically a Triolian, Duolian, or Style O
- Taj Mahal: Played steel bodied nationals (among many)
- Tampa Red: Played a National Style 4 Spanish Tri-Cone resonator
- Duane Allman: Played a Dobro round neck single cone (probably among many others)
- Josh Graves: Played a Dobro 1928 Model 37
- Jerry Douglas: Plays a Beard Jerry Douglas Signature square neck
- Eric Clapton: Owned any played many, including a Beltona Tricone, several Nationals and a Fine Resonphonics
- Keith Richards: Played a National Style O (among many)
- Johnny Winter: Played a National Doulian