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Thread: Resonators

  1. #1

    Default Resonators

    Something tells me I might like a resonator mandolin. Iím sort of a low intermediate player , like to jam with friends, think this might be fun. Any thoughts about what to look for, and what to avoid? Looking under 1K. Thanks

  2. #2
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Resonators

    Quote Originally Posted by NYmando View Post
    ...I’m sort of a low intermediate player , like to jam with friends, think this might be fun...
    Maybe check with your friends to see if they think it might be fun for a "low intermediate player" to show up with a reso.

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  4. #3
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Resonators

    Under $1K you either buy one of the nickel-plated brass Chinese instruments, by Johnson, Recording King etc. -- or look for a used US-made Dobro or National (here's one at Guitar Center). The best new one available is the National RM-1, but it's substantially above your budget.

    There are two types of resonators: the "National" style, which has the bridge fixed to a wooden "biscuit" that's glued to a cone (circular aluminum diaphragm) which rises in the center to meet it, and the "Dobro" style, where the bridge saddle fits into an aluminum "spider" that contacts the resonator cone at its edges, and through a central threaded post. The two types sound different. The National "biscuit" bridge is louder, more raucous, not as sweet; the Dobro "spider" bridge is more "ring-y" with longer sustain, not as loud. At least that's been my experience, and I own one of each, both from the 1930's: a National Triolian steel-body, and a similar vintage wooden Dobro mandolin.

    I should mention that Stuart Wailing in the UK also makes a "biscuit"-bridge, guitar-shaped, metal-bodied mandolin. I've never played one, but they seem well-made on his website.

    What to avoid? Well, I've heard a few of the Johnson/Recording King instruments, and have not liked the tone all that much -- sort of "snarly" to my taste. All the "biscuit"-bridge mandolins I've heard have been quite loud, so this might be an issue if you're planning to jam with others. The old Dobros (quite a few of them are labeled "Regal," since Regal and Dobro had a co-manufacturing arrangement in the '30's) were not all that well-made, and can have neck-body joint issues; make sure you check them out carefully, or be prepared to spend some repair money.

    Also, be careful about instruments that appear to be resonators, but just have a metal cover-plate attached to a regular wooden body, with no resonator underneath. Quite a few of these show up on eBay etc. and sometimes the wooden top is painted silver under the cover-plate just for looks. Dobro, Regal and National instruments will have real resonators, as will the Chinese imports.

    If you run across one on-line, and are considering buying, you can post a link in this thread and get some opinions. I really like my two resonator instruments (I also have resonator guitars with both "biscuit" and "spider" resonators, as well as a Johnson resonator ukulele). Somewhat specialized instruments, but really fun to play, with their distinctive voices.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Resonators

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    Under $1K you either buy one of the nickel-plated brass Chinese instruments, by Johnson, Recording King etc. -- or look for a used US-made Dobro or National.
    I would look for one of the later OMI Dobros ó I still kinda want one of those myself ó but I couldnít find one currently on the market in the usual spots to look.
    1924 Gibson A Snakehead
    2005 National RM-1
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  8. #5

    Default Re: Resonators

    Ha! My guitar friends play like me, so no worries there.

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  10. #6
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    Default Re: Resonators

    Hey- I've owned several resos', and they're great fun. Still own a few. Have had both classic models and newer ones. The Wailing I owned, while very well built, was smaller and kind of tinny sounding to me. Had a 1935 Dobro model with a pickup that I kick myself occasionally for selling. I had a newer National RM- 1 that I just couldn't bond with, so I moved it along. If I was you, I'd look for one of those classic 30's Dobros. They're sweet. Good luck.
    Chief. Way up North. Gibson 1917 A model with pickup. JL Smith 5 string electric. 1929 National Triolian resonator mandolin with pickup. National RM 1 with pickup. Ovation Applause. Fender FM- 60 E 5 string electric (with juiced pickups). 1950's Gibson EM-200 electric mandolin. 1954 Gibson EM-150 electric mandolin. Custom made "Jett Pink" 5 string electric- Bo Diddley slab style. Jay Roberts Tiny Moore model 5 string electric.

  11. #7

    Default Re: Resonators

    I have an older Dobro type resonator that I had made into a cutaway because that dobro shape makes it difficult to play up past the 10th fret. It’s now a much more functional instrument and has a really sweet sound, though not loud. I had an older piezo pickup that my luthier attached to the cone which is really funky but it solves the volume problem. It’s for sale if anyone is interested.

  12. #8
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    Default Re: Resonators

    If you’re looking for loud and nasty, the Johnsons, at least based on the couple I’ve played, will fit the bill. If you buy from a Cafe sponsor it will come well set up, just let them know if you’ll be playing traditionally or doing slide work on it. I have an RM-1 that I really like. Played with a pick it sounds nice, and is very dynamic. Playing with a slide gives me a little more of that “Stank” factor. I don’t do much slide work (usually just when I’m playing around at home), so I have mine set up just a smidge higher than my acoustics, but still very comfortable to fret. As Alan points out, though, even used RM-1s bust your budget...

    Good luck in your search! I’ve toyed with selling or trading my RM-1, because my wooden instruments get most of the play time, but every time I start seriously considering it, a situation pops up that makes me very happy to have it. It’s a niche instrument, but, nice to have when you need it.
    Chuck

  13. #9
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Resonators

    Bernunzio's got a '30's Dobro in stock fot $650, which is a surprisingly low price, about $50 more than one of the new Chinese instruments. A word of caution: John B's description mentions some "forward relief" in the neck; he says it's playable, and I generally trust his descriptions, but as I mentioned above, the '30's Dobro/Regal instruments ain't marvels of construction. Mine needed a neck re-set (not prohibitively expensive, IMHO, but significant); the neck block was made of very soft wood, my repair guy told me.

    I really like my '30's Dobro mandolin, so passing this one in case you're still interested. I've done a lot of dealing with John -- maybe he'll give you a buck or two off if you tell him I referred you, I dunno.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  14. #10

    Default Re: Resonators

    thanks, Allen. I did see that a few days ago and spoke to someone at the store. Very nice, helpful, although I didn't catch his name. He said it would probably need a neck re-set, and offered to have his tech guy call me back and discuss that and anything else it might need in more detail. I know a very good luthier out here in so ca and might try to get a ballpark figure on expense. I do wish I had a store around here that stocked resonators so I could get a feel and sound. Anyway, thanks for pointing out that listing.

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  16. #11
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Resonators

    If you can find "a store that stocked resonators" anywhere on this planet, let me know. If you find a couple (Bernunzio had a National as well as the Dobro, but the National recently sold) at one dealer at one time, it's a blue moon or some other unlikely event.

    Frankly, there's not enough current demand for resonator mandolins, to motivate anyone to build them in significant numbers -- other than the Chinese Johnson/Recording King/Republic nickel-plated brass biscuit-bridge ones. National Resophonic out in CA does build a number of the RM-1's, but those are $1.5K and up. The 1927-40 vogue for acoustic resonator instruments was a singular era, now approaching a century ago. Back then, you could find not only resonator guitars and mandolins, but ukuleles, tenor guitars, plectrum guitars -- with wood and metal bodies, and with not only "biscuit" and "spider" resonator construction, but the earlier "tricone" models, with a three-legged bridge assembly and three small resonator cones.

    Them daze am past and gone, I fear. Which is why it can be advisable to jump on any decent vintage resonator instrument that comes up for sale, if it's affordable and can be made playable at reasonable cost. Nobody's making new ones, or nearly nobody.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  17. #12
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Resonators

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    National Resophonic out in CA does build a number of the RM-1's, but those are $1.5K and up.
    And by up, we mean occasionally more than twice that figure:

    https://www.elderly.com/collections/...-mandolin-case
    1924 Gibson A Snakehead
    2005 National RM-1
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  19. #13

    Default Re: Resonators

    Not to hijack, but locally there is a used, mint condition Johnson JM-991 tri-cone resonator guitar with hardshell for $400. Normally, I don't get excited about Johnson instruments, but I read that it is now marketed as the Recording King RM-991 which retails for $949 at most of the big online stores. Supposedly, a chrome-plated bell brass body, FWIW.

    Just wondering if anyone has any experience with this model. I have owned and played many resonators, but never had a tri-cone, so the price is right, if it is any good....

  20. #14

    Default Re: Resonators

    Thanks, but thatís resonator guitar, right? Iím looking for a mando

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  22. #15
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Resonators

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Mando View Post
    Not to hijack, but locally there is a used, mint condition Johnson JM-991 tri-cone resonator guitar with hardshell for $400. Normally, I don't get excited about Johnson instruments, but I read that it is now marketed as the Recording King RM-991 which retails for $949 at most of the big online stores. Supposedly, a chrome-plated bell brass body, FWIW.

    Just wondering if anyone has any experience with this model. I have owned and played many resonators, but never had a tri-cone, so the price is right, if it is any good....
    Yeah, I owned one for about a year; I talk about it in this current thread. I played it a bit, including a couple gigs, but was underwhelmed. Decently made, but didn't have the sound I wanted. I traded it on a Deneve (Syracuse-area builder) Dobro-style square-neck guitar.

    Decent neck, good tuners (Grover Rotomatic clones, as I remember). I found the sound a bit harsh -- similar to the quibble I have with the sound of the Johnson resonator mandolins. Plenty of volume, but since I have two old National single-cone guitars, a Style 0 and a Havana wood-body, I thought the Johnson's voice didn't measure up (in fairness, it was also much less expensive; I paid $4-500 or so on eBay).

    I had heard a lot of good stuff about the tricone vs. the single-cone sound, but I didn't find a sound from the Johnson that I liked better -- or as well. I'd say, since you've plenty of resonator experience: give it a try, see what you think. The price is really quite reasonable. I've heard, with no actual evidence to back it up, that Recording King sources their cones differently than Johnson, perhaps from the Czech builders who used to sell the "Continental" brand of resonator guitars. And, as I have found, it's the quality of the resonator cones that really determines much of the instruments' sounds.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

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    Registered User Strabo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Resonators

    I have a 1930s Dobro that is quite wonderful. With Thomastik strings it has beautiful, clear tone and very good sustain. It did require a neck reset but it now plays easily and intuitively. I use it for classical music and some old time tunes. I am currently working my way through JS Bach’s cello suites, which pretty much lack specific instructions, dynamic markings, etc. The Dobro is a perfect instrument to take advantage of this ambiguity and try out various interpretation approaches. It is the easiest and most fun to play of my four mandolins. It is very different from the other loud, jangly resonators.

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  26. #17
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Resonators

    I also recommend me of the 30's era Regal/Dobro models. I was given one a few years back. It needed a little work to fix the intonation.

    I followed Allen's advice/caution about soft wood neck blocks and have only strung it with .008's or .009's. It has a beautiful sweet tone, rings like a bell.

    If I could find a round neck guitar with the same tone I'd snatch it up.

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  28. #18
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    Default Re: Resonators

    I tried the new National for a while, having previously owned a Fine Resophonics resomando, but I ended up selling them both as I found them brash and not particularly pleasant to listen to when playing. The National is superbly made, no question, and perhaps in the right hands - not mine - it would work better with some styles of music, but I have an opinion that the cone technology works far better on longer scale length tenors and guitars, in my experience. the cones seem to ring more, more overtones and warmth somehow. Just not my kind of mandolin.

  29. #19

    Default Re: Resonators

    I have two resonators. A Recording King and a National RM1. They both have a different sound and a place for that particular sound. I think that most of the responses here that didn’t like the sound of a resonator are playing a style of music that is not conducive for a resonator. If you want to hear what a master can do with a resonator look up Rich Delgrosso and Bottle neck John.

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  31. #20
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Resonators

    Rigel made a few, Dobro Spider type..
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  32. #21
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    Default Re: Resonators

    Quote Originally Posted by mandroid View Post
    Rigel made a few, Dobro Spider type..
    There’s actually one of the few in the classifieds now (and has been since March 20):

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/152396#152396
    1924 Gibson A Snakehead
    2005 National RM-1
    2007 Hester A5
    2009 Passernig A5
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  33. #22
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    Default Re: Resonators

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    There’s actually one of the few in the classifieds now (and has been since March 20):

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/152396#152396
    I used to have one of those- it was very cool. With a pickup. I can't remember why I passed it along, but I sure wished I would've kept it. I don't remember what I sold it for, but that price seems a bit high to me.
    Chief. Way up North. Gibson 1917 A model with pickup. JL Smith 5 string electric. 1929 National Triolian resonator mandolin with pickup. National RM 1 with pickup. Ovation Applause. Fender FM- 60 E 5 string electric (with juiced pickups). 1950's Gibson EM-200 electric mandolin. 1954 Gibson EM-150 electric mandolin. Custom made "Jett Pink" 5 string electric- Bo Diddley slab style. Jay Roberts Tiny Moore model 5 string electric.

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  35. #23
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Resonators

    Quote Originally Posted by Chief View Post
    ...that price seems a bit high to me.
    Given OP's description of what they're looking for, $2.5K might be over the budget.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  36. #24
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    Default Re: Resonators

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    Bernunzio's got a '30's Dobro in stock fot $650, which is a surprisingly low price, about $50 more than one of the new Chinese instruments. A word of caution: John B's description mentions some "forward relief" in the neck; he says it's playable, and I generally trust his descriptions, but as I mentioned above, the '30's Dobro/Regal instruments ain't marvels of construction. Mine needed a neck re-set (not prohibitively expensive, IMHO, but significant); the neck block was made of very soft wood, my repair guy told me.

    I really like my '30's Dobro mandolin, so passing this one in case you're still interested. I've done a lot of dealing with John -- maybe he'll give you a buck or two off if you tell him I referred you, I dunno.
    That's a pretty clean Dobrolin, Allen. But whoa, if John B thinks that neck is "playable" he's got mightier fingers than I.
    Lucky to play an octave on that without grimacing.

    Not sure why he wouldn't just do the neck reset and sell it for $1K instead of pretending. I might even buy it.

    Even with the "Hopkins Discount" that's a pig in a poke.

    Mick
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  38. #25
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Resonators

    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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