Best Resonator Guitars

Best Resonator Guitars

My first ever introduction to a resonator guitar was from the Dire Straits track, “Money For Nothing” from that first hearing, I was hooked. I could not understand how that amazing sound could be produced from an instrument that looked like it does. It is basically a 6-stringed instrument, (many of which look like) stainless steel acoustic guitars with little to no sound holes.

 But the tone is amazing, well, you don’t need me to tell you that. Let’s face it you’re here because you’re intrigued by the resonator too. Let’s get down to it then,

Resonator Guitar Buyers Guide

So we know what resonators are, but is a certain type better than another? Let’s take a look through the types, their makeup and what is best for which type of playing.

How Many Types Of Resonator Are There?

There are only 2 types of resonators out there, Round neck and square neck.

Square Neck Resonators

These are usually played as steel stringed guitars, using a slide. Best known for slide bluegrass music. They are played sitting down with the resonator perched on your legs. They have a particularly high nut that keeps the strings high above the fretboard. They are played by sliding a steel bar (Stevens Steel) over the strings.

Round Neck Resonators

Round necks are the type that are held and played more like guitars. The neck and nut are more like a standard guitar but are easy to convert to a slide guitar without too much drama. So of the 2, the round neck is more versatile and easier to change.

How Do Resonators Produce Their Sound?

Instead of having a sound hole in the front of the guitar to produce the sound, the resonator uses a system of steel plates much like speakers to increase the sound. Without getting into too much detail, there are 3 types of sound production system:

  1.    The Single Cone
    Prefered by Delta Blues Players due to their louder, more metallic tone, the cone looks like an upside down, speaker cone. The single cone can be found in both wooden and metallic resonators.
  2. The Tri-Cone
    The tri-cone is made from 3 cones,held together with a T- shaped bridge. As they are more intricate to build, tri-cone resonators tend to cost more money than single cones, They make a better, fuller overall sound and are favoured by slide players,Robert Johnson used a Tri-Cone Resonator.
  3. Spider Bridge Single Cone
    The spider gets its name from its shape, it is designed to look like a spider’s legs. Due to its shape the sound it produces is much more tonal in quality. Of  the 3 it has the most popular tone for bluegrass players, and is usually used in square necked models but they do offer round necked versions too.  

Resonators Body

The body of a resonator is not important when it comes to sound quality. Unlike acoustic guitars where the wood the body is constructed from and the overall shape of the design will all affect tone, this is not the case in a resonator. Over 80% of the tonal quality from a resonator is directly due to the cone (or cones).  Many of the manufacturers who make wooden bodied resonators do so for purely cosmetic purposes. 

Resonators Cone(s)

Many resonator players who have dabbled in cheaper imported versions, will often tell you that they are just fine once they replace the cones with decent makes. So there is nothing inherently wrong with buying a cheaper imported model as long as you are prepared to do the odd replacement once you have it to improve the tone.

Fret Board

Some resonators are built with only 12-frets, this can become quite limiting when playing, there are 2 ways to combat this, you can:

  • Buy a 14-Fret Resonator to start with
  • Buy a model with a cutaway to allow access to those other 2 frets.

How Much Does A Resonator Cost?

Prices for 6-string resonators seem to start at around £150.00 for a round neck with 20-frets, spider bridge, with a classic single cone resonator design.Perfectly suited to blues guitar playing, this model can easily be converted to a lap guitar if you purchase a separate nut extender.

For just shy of £850.00 (£8.49.00) You can purchase a Gretsch Electro-Acoustic Bobtail Steel Resonator. With a round neck, 19-frets, Fishman Nashville pickup, all steel bodied the perfect resonator for Delta Blues.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are resonator guitars any good?

If you are seriously trying to recreate the sound and feel of the original Delta Blues, then a resonator guitar is definitely worth it.

Can you play a resonator like a regular guitar?

You can play many resonator guitars like regular guitars, depending on the type of resonator you are playing. Some are designed to be played as lap guitars, like steel guitars. Others can be played as regular guitars.

Are resonator guitars hard to play?

Resonator guitars are no harder or easier than any other kind of guitar to play. It depends on your tenacity and commitment levels.

What’s the difference between a resonator and a dobro?

A Dobro is a type of resonator guitar, there are many different makes of resonator guitar but only one of those makes is Dobro. Resonator guitars are designed to be louder than acoustic guitars.