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Thread: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

  1. #1
    Registered User Al Trujillo's Avatar
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    Default Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    I've been intrigued by Rich DelGrosso's fine Blues playing and thinking back on my time here on the Cafe can't recall many conversations about Resonator Mandolins. The sound I'm hearing here screams "Blues"....are there really few of us who play the genre?

    Just wonderin'.....

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqOA2P1OHZg

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  3. #2

    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    You're right, good stuff! Probably because it requires purchasing another instrument to get that sound, I'm guessing. Same with electric mandolin, not to pigeonhole, of course. Obviously, any style can be played on any instrument, but.....the right instrument helps, IMHO.

  4. #3
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Well, I have two, both from the 1930's: a National Triolian steel-bodied with a "biscuit" bridge set-up, and a Dobro with "spider" bridge construction. Totally different construction and sound, but both neat mandolins, IMHO.

    There are actually quite a few resonator mandolins around, but most of them are the Johnson/Republic/etc. Chinese repros of the National design, brass bodied, chrome plated, biscuit bridge construction. These -- at least the ones I've heard -- sound pretty raucous and grating, but they have the virtue of being inexpensive. (And, to be fair, my old National can also be raucous and grating, though it sounds quite a bit better than the Johnsons.)

    The new National Resophonic Co. out in CA makes the RM-1, which is a wood-bodied, biscuit-bridge instrument that gets lots of pluses here on the Cafe. Not cheap by any means, but may be the loudest readily-available acoustic mandolin made, but with a real musical voice. If you search on "National" or "RM-1," you'l probably find quite a few threads discussing it.

    I don't play a lot of blues on mandolin, but when I do, I gravitate to the old National. It's louder than hell, with a real "snarl" when picked aggressively. The Dobro is ethereal and "ring-y," with long sustain, and doesn't seem particularly bluesy to me -- though I love its sound.

    I'm not aware of anyone making the spider-bridge style of resonator mandolin now; most of the ones I've seen discussed here have been older Dobro or Regal instruments. Not sure what the market demand for new ones would be. The Chinese National clones are around, and if someone wanted to get started playing blues resonator mandolin, they'd probably be serviceable.
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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Mando View Post
    You're right, good stuff! Probably because it requires purchasing another instrument to get that sound, I'm guessing. Same with electric mandolin, not to pigeonhole, of course. Obviously, any style can be played on any instrument, but.....the right instrument helps, IMHO.
    I'm with Jeff. I can't really justify buying another mandolin at this point, already having an acoustic, an acoustic with with a pre-amp, and a banjolin, which I find especially good for older blues and ragtime. I considered a resonator mandolin but bought the banjolin, partly because of a major price difference.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

  7. #5

    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Well, isn't that video a little gem! Thank you for sharing that.

    As a musician who was a guitar player BEFORE I played the mando, and a guy for whom the path to the guitar - I'm a sax player by trade - came because of the blues, it never dawned on me to use any other instrument BUT a guitar for that sort of music. Actually, the appeal of the mando for me was that it was a departure from what I normally play / listen to. I mean, how much bluegrass had I listened to before I bought a mandolin? Other than AKUS, that would be a big fat NONE.

    But now I'm intrigued... maybe I'll try and figure out a few blues licks on the mando. Thanks again!

  8. #6
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Quote Originally Posted by mojocaster View Post
    Well, isn't that video a little gem! Thank you for sharing that.

    As a musician who was a guitar player BEFORE I played the mando, and a guy for whom the path to the guitar - I'm a sax player by trade - came because of the blues, it never dawned on me to use any other instrument BUT a guitar for that sort of music. Actually, the appeal of the mando for me was that it was a departure from what I normally play / listen to. I mean, how much bluegrass had I listened to before I bought a mandolin? Other than AKUS, that would be a big fat NONE.

    But now I'm intrigued... maybe I'll try and figure out a few blues licks on the mando. Thanks again!
    For lots of material on and links to blues mandolin, check out the Blues Mando group: https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/group.php?groupid=99
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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  10. #7
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    They work for swing too...


    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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  12. #8
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    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    I really love my RM-1. It’s the most dynamic mandolin I own. Goes from soft, sweet, and pretty, to parting your hair loud in a pick stroke. I also like the wide nut. That said, the others get played much more, and if I could only have 1, the RM-1 would go before the Kelley or Rigel...
    Chuck

  13. #9
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    I can't sort out the question. Is it why don't more mandolinners play the blues, or, why don't more mandolinners play a reso.

    I have an RM-1. (I am a victim of the eye candy that happens once a year hear following NAMM, and the first pictures I saw of the RM-1 in that NAMM thread many years ago was my ruination. Well, not quite, but it sure got me there.)

    I had tried many other resonator mandolins, but the RM-1 was the first to my ears to avoid sounding tinny or brassy. Much warmth, while still maintaining the character of a rez.

    But I don't play blues. Not much anyway. I mess with it now and again, and may improvise on a standard 12 bar blues scaffolding or play a bluesy tune, but for me its a once and a while thing. It is like garlic, delicious, but not all the time.

    I use my rez for whatever I am playing, when i want to be loud. At an outdoor pick up band for a dance, or on a stage, or even just a large crowded jam session.

    If there is a genre that the rez, in my mind, fits better than another, it would be ragtime. I do play a handful of the classic rags. Beaumont Rag, Dallas Rag, Stone's Rag, and of course Pig Ankle Rag and Mandolin Rag (Armstrong Twins version). I would love to put together some kind of ragtime ensemble and just dive in. Not enough interested unfortunately.

    I would bet there are many many more resonator mandolinners than there are mandolinners who focus on the blues. But I kind of do get what you mean.
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  14. #10
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    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    I have a Donmo, which sounds sweet, but I don't play it much these days.

    reasons in random order:
    It's heavy and I have back issues - for the same reason, I don't like sitting and hunching over my instrument.
    sound only comes out the front and, while others can hear you only too well, (I mainly play in pub sessions ) in noisy sessions, you can't hear what you're playing very well at all.
    My wood mandolin gradually developed enough tone and volume to compete
    Bren

  15. #11

    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    i’ve recently bought a Beltona. Haven’t played it at a Session yet as it’s gone back to Steve Evans for a slight adjustment. I previously had an RM1 which was really too loud & made me self conscious. I like to blend in to the overall sound & not hear myself too much. I play better that way. It’s a handsome Thing.

    Click image for larger version. 

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  17. #12

    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Quote Originally Posted by Davey View Post

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    Nice!

    Anyone kind enough to share TAB of Rich Delgrosso’s tune at the top of the page?

  18. #13

    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Love Rich! Nothing like a little blues in C to start the day right.

    For what it's worth, he sounds exactly like that whether what he's playing is a reso or not.

    The big reso advantage is that they're loud—especially Nationals. I have a friend, luthier Joel Eckhaus, who has an old plated brass National tricone. Effortless projection. The newer wood-body National RMs like the one Rich is playing there are mouth-watering but way beyond my pay grade.

    Anyhow, you're right. Why more bluegrass players don't use 'em is a mystery, since volume and speed are what make bluegrass bluegrass. And squareneck bluegrassers have no compunction whatsoever about playing resos.

    My theory: It's not all about sound. Musicians want the instruments the artists they love play. If you're an old player who grew up with Monroe, a boomer who grew up with Grisman, or a young player who grew up with Thile, you'll probably want a mandolin that reminds you of whoever inspired you.

    Likewise, Stratocasters weren't considered highly desirable until Hendrix started setting them on fire. Now they're the most popular electric guitar around. Monkey see . . . .

    PS -

    You might check out the instruments played by the artists who first inspired Rich—folks like Johnny Young and Yank Rachell. Those mandos all look like they came out of Montgomery Ward catalogs.

  19. #14
    Slow your roll. greg_tsam's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Interesting discussion. I've wanted a RM-1 a quite a while and live within 15 miles of Rich Del Grosso but never made the commitment. So, after the weekly bluegrass jam, a fiddler and I end up at the local blues open mic to listen and who comes up to us? None other than Jon Del Torro, Rich's former band mate, who leads the jam.

    We chat about his killer axe and he asks if we're musicians and did we bring our instruments. Next thing you know we're on stage for a quick impromptu set. Spur of the moment that started off rough and ended so well we had several folks coming up and asking questions and giving compliments. (Not many fiddlers and mandolinists at that blues jam, I guess.)

    Well, I contacted Rich and gonna schedule a lesson soon. Here's to expanding the envelope and broadening your horizons. I'm started to get excited both to meet Rich, take a lesson and possibly in the market for a resonator!
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  21. #15

    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I can't sort out the question. Is it why don't more mandolinners play the blues, or, why don't more mandolinners play a reso. . . .
    I read it reso.

  22. #16

    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Quote Originally Posted by greg_tsam View Post
    . . . Well, I contacted Rich and gonna schedule a lesson soon. Here's to expanding the envelope and broadening your horizons. I'm started to get excited both to meet Rich, take a lesson and possibly in the market for a resonator!
    Met him at a music camp in Massachusetts and got to jam with him a bit—me on guitar, a couple other folks on this and that. He'll make you feel right at home, no matter what your level. A real mensch!

  23. #17
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    Anyhow, you're right. Why more bluegrass players don't use 'em is a mystery, since volume and speed are what make bluegrass bluegrass. And squareneck bluegrassers have no compunction whatsoever about playing resos.

    My theory: It's not all about sound. Musicians want the instruments the artists they love play. If you're an old player who grew up with Monroe, a boomer who grew up with Grisman, or a young player who grew up with Thile, you'll probably want a mandolin that reminds you of whoever inspired you.
    Sorry, Charlie, it is mostly about the sound. Traditional bluegrass mandolin players want whatever sound that is closest to what Bill played. He played an F-5, so let's get that sound and as often as that the same look. The resonator sound is as far away as you can get to the more percussive F-5 wooden sound. I frankly think that a resonator in a bluegrass band would sound really odd. I suppose if Bill found one in that historic barber shop instead of an F-5, then yes, all the bg mandolin players might be playing those.
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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Quote Originally Posted by Al Trujillo View Post
    I've been intrigued by Rich DelGrosso's fine Blues playing and thinking back on my time here on the Cafe can't recall many conversations about Resonator Mandolins.
    I’ve done my part, Al.

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    I don’t have a need for it very often, but there are some applications in which it outshines any other instrument I own. And I should probably search out more opportunities for it to do so.
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  27. #19
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    I’ve done my part, Al.

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    I don’t have a need for it very often, but there are some applications in which it outshines any other instrument I own. And I should probably search out more opportunities for it to do so.
    Yes, where it is good, it is very very good, awesome in fact.

    And its not just volume and jangle. For me it is increased dynamic range. I mean, I can get regular volume playing softer, which mean at regular volume my technique is better and faster. And when I mean to play expressively, the dynamic range gives me much more room to play in.

    Second on the list is sustain. I can hammer on up three or four notes of a scale. On a single pluck of a string I can get a lot more done.

    Third, I can kill a fly on the far wall with nothing but a Fm7 chord.
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  28. #20

    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Sorry, Charlie, it is mostly about the sound. Traditional bluegrass mandolin players want whatever sound that is closest to what Bill played. He played an F-5, so let's get that sound and as often as that the same look. The resonator sound is as far away as you can get to the more percussive F-5 wooden sound. I frankly think that a resonator in a bluegrass band would sound really odd. I suppose if Bill found one in that historic barber shop instead of an F-5, then yes, all the bg mandolin players might be playing those.
    You're right. It would sound odd, for sure. That's a piece of how I look at it, too. Folks like the sound, folks like the look. Going too far away from Bill would be too different.

    It's like Strats. People saw Jimi playing one. Can you get a Strat sound with a Tele or a Les or a 335. No. Can you get the look? No. Can you rock? Yes. But people like to emulate.

    So I guess that's what I should've said. Resos aren't as popular because they're too far away from what most players are used to.

    Thanks for keeping me honest!

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  30. #21

    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    I want one.

  31. #22

    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    You likely don't see or read about resophonics because you're probably hanging around too many bluegrassers.

    I have a National RM-1 mandolin that gets played on a couple of blues songs (St. Louis Blues, Beale Street Blues) and a ragtime medley. I don't want to do an entire set with one, however, since the audience would likely move wayyyy back in the room. Those songs also sound good on my Givens A model, so when I have the Givens plugged in (Schertler DYN-M mic), I am bit too lazy to unplug and swap mandolins in the middle of a set. That is why I don't use the resophonic more often.

    Some day, when I find a good spot for outdoor busking, I will do an entire set with just the RM-1.

  32. #23

    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Swing Gitane sound so sweet to me.

    I love that stuff.

    Haute busking.

  33. #24

    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    So few resonators about?
    -why, there’s plenty of them on the Song a Week Social Group.
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/g...645&do=discuss

  34. #25

    Default Re: Why So Few Resonator Mandolins?

    Quote Originally Posted by Al Trujillo View Post
    I've been intrigued by Rich DelGrosso's fine Blues playing and thinking back on my time here on the Cafe can't recall many conversations about Resonator Mandolins. The sound I'm hearing here screams "Blues"....are there really few of us who play the genre?

    Just wonderin'.....

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqOA2P1OHZg
    I have a Republic reso and learned most of the songs in Rich's blues mandolin book - the two go together very well.

    Many of the old resos [and the Johnsons/RecordingKings] don't have neck reinforcement or truss-rods so they are really only playable for slide because either the neck has warped or there's no way to get a descent action happening. The old ones are expensive, as is the RM-1.

    The Republic, if you can find one, is the only reso of this type with an adjustable truss-rod.

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