Have you ever walked down a dusty, old country road with your arm stretched out and your hand up in the air, hoping that someone will ride down and pick you up? Neither have I. What I have done though is ride on these country roads in my friend’s Jeep, hoping to find the bonfire where the bluegrass band from my college would be playing (I know, but it was an extremely liberal college and a quiet Saturday). Took us a few hours, pitstops and lots of fighting to reach the destination. At one point we even had to stop and ask a man none of us understood for directions. When we finally did arrive the sun was setting and the small crowd was gathered around a bonfire. Out of the strange hush of college students unaccustomed to not talking, as we slowly approached them, rose the sound of a guitar that I did not recognize. It was unique, twangy, something I had never heard a wooden guitar make before. That day, looking to find cold beer and butchered, true American country, I ended up finding my first and best resonator guitar I’ve ever heard live.
It is a shame that resonator guitars are not that often heard in modern music. The unique sound of this instrument is something that is unforgettable when played well. That night years ago the resonator played a long time and we danced a long time. So, in the hopes that maybe some of you will bring the instrument into the mainstream, I have made a list of the best resonator guitars available.
Table of Contents
- Top 10 Best Resonator Guitars
- Gold Tone Paul Beard Signature Series PBS-M
- Regal RC-51 Metal Body Tricone Resophonic Guitar
- Recording King RM-991 Tricone Resonator
- Gold Tone Paul Beard Signature Series PBS-D
- Dean RESCEHB Steel Guitar, Brass Plated Finish
- Washburn R15RCE Resonator – Vintage Sunburst
- Recording King Squareneck Resonator Guitar
- Gretsch G9210 Boxcar Square-Neck
- Regal Studio RD-30MS Series Squareneck
- Epiphone Dobro Hound Dog Round Neck
Top 10 Best Resonator Guitars
|Gold Tone Paul Beard Signature Series PBS-M||(5 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Regal RC-51 Metal Body Tricone Resophonic Guitar||(4.9 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Recording King RM-991 Tricone Resonator||(4.9 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Gold Tone Paul Beard Signature Series PBS-D||(4.8 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Dean RESCEHB Steel Guitar, Brass Plated Finish||(4.7 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Washburn R15RCE Resonator - Vintage Sunburst||(4.7 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Recording King Squareneck Resonator Guitar||(4.6 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Gretsch G9210 Boxcar Square-Neck||(4.6 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Regal Studio RD-30MS Series Squareneck||(4.5 / 5)||Check on Amazon
|Epiphone Dobro Hound Dog Round Neck||(4.4 / 5)||Check on Amazon
The resonator guitar is, in essence, a steel body guitar with a spun metal cord or a few, through which he sound is resonated. Because of its unique build, the guitar produces a sound unlike that of a wooden guitar. There are several designs of the body and resonator of the guitar, which make a distinction to how the guitar is played or what sound it makes. So let’s not be shy and dive into the instrument.
The origins of the resonator guitar, also known as the resophonic guitar, are similar to that of the acoustic-electric guitar. The traditional guitar was often being overpowered by the more booming instruments in the orchestra: the horns, trumpets, percussive instruments, etc.. The little experiment conducted by the creator of the resonator guitar succeeded, the instrument was much more demanding in an orchestra. Eventually the resonator fell short of the virtues of the electro-acoustic guitar and came into disuse as part of the orchestra assembly. Thankfully the very distinctive sound became prized by musicians in the Blues and Bluegrass genres. Today this is where you will find the guitar most often.
The first resonator guitar, the tricone, was made by the National String Instrument Corporation. The design was innovative and something not seen before, the brainchild of John Dopyera. The guitar quickly caught a following once it was developed.
Eventually, because of some differences, Mr. Dopyera and his brothers left the National corporation. They started their own “Dobro” company and started producing the single cone resonator, which, being louder, ended up more popular. Eventually the Dobro company responded with their own single cone, by reversing the cone and coming up with a slightly altered design. This guitar produced a similar sound to the one produced by Dobro and remained single coil.
Today there are many companies manufacturing the resonator guitar but all of them remain true to the single cone or tricone resonator designs.
There are two main types of design that the guitar is built in. The square neck design and the round neck design, which have implications on how the guitars are played.
There are two main types of resonators built: the tri-cone and single cone. Each one of these affects the volume and tone of the instrument differently. They all were also designed by different manufacturers at the time.
The body of the guitar, contrary to popular belief, does not have to be made of steel. Only the resonator itself needs to be made of steel while the rest can be wood as well as steel. The guitar works by having the bridge transfer the strings’ vibrations into the resonator, producing the unique sound you can hear in the resonator.
If you have ever listened to a resonator guitar, you will know that it sound very unique. The tones have a tendency to have a very twangy sound. Something between a Banjo and a wood guitar, which makes it easy to understand why the guitar would find its place so easily in the world of Bluegrass. Whether played fast or slow, the guitar has the quality of heart breakingly beautiful sound. The sounds are very easy to fuse together, with many musicians using metal sliders along the frets to produce a pleasant sound effect.
The choice of your resonator type may also affect the sound of the guitar:
- Tricone resonator is the type of resonator developed. It tends to have a more ambient sound compared to the other two options. It seems calmer and smoother in its sound, as well as slightly less loud than the other options.
- Single Cone is the second type of resonator ever developed. This version was much louder than the tricone. It also produced a more twangy, honking midrange sound, catering more to the needs of blues musicians. This guitar became popular as well, but the Tricone remained dominant in the market.
The resonator guitar has two possible ways of being played, resulting from the two different designs of the guitar’s neck”
- The square-necked guitar has a more comfortable design to be played as a lap steel guitar. The square neck implies that the nut of the guitar is thick and square, meaning it is easier to be nestled in the lap of the player.
- The round necked guitar is designed to be easy to play both as a lap steel guitar or as a conventional guitar. The neck of the guitar remains thick to make the sliding technique preferred for steel guitars easier.
The sliding technique of the guitar implies using the fingers of the left hand (or right, depending on which hand is fretboard side) to slide up and down frets as the strings are played. This produces a unique effect on normal guitars, which is enhanced on the steel guitar to sound much more prominently and pleasantly.
It’s hard to forget the sound of the resophonic guitar spreading through the small field as I stepped out of my friend’s car. After spending a long time suffocating in the cramped space of the car, shared with people and luggage alike, it felt refreshing to finally step out. I did not expect to be welcomed by the beautiful sound of a fast paced resonator guitar though. The sound permeated my body, traveling from head to toe, bringing me back to life faster than I was able to walk through the field, towards the crowd of the wowed students staring, just like me.
Two things happened that night (musically speaking, otherwise a lot of stuff happened). I learned of my love for bluegrass and I embarked upon my tormented journey to find a musician playing a resonator guitar in the modern world. Not that there are none, but there are not many, especially as part of the mainstream culture.
It is a shame that my struggle persists through today. Which is why I hope you will heed my call and accept it, oh brave musician. The resonator guitar, steel guitar, resophonic guitar so and so on, has so much potential for the modern world. Go through this list, pick one of the best resonator guitars, and play it. Maybe I’ll hear you on the radio some day?
Either way, Good Luck!