National Resonator Guitar is Not The Only Resonator Guitar

For a long time, I thought all resonator guitars were a “National Resonator Guitar“.  It soon became apparent that several other manufacturers produce resonator guitars, but I believe the first ones were produced by National.

A well used National Resonator Guitar

National Dobro, Hound Dog, and Gibson

After much legal action, the Dopyera brothers gained control of both National and Dobro in 1932, and subsequently merged them to form the National Dobro Corporation. However all production of resonator guitars by this company ceased following the US entry into World War II in 1941.

Emile Dopyera (also known as Ed Dopera) manufactured Dobros from 1959, before selling the company and trademark to Semie Moseley, who merged it with his Mosrite guitar company and manufactured Dobros for a time.

In 1967, Rudy and Emile Dopyera formed the Original Musical Instrument Company (OMI) to manufacture resonator guitars, first branded Hound Dog. In 1970 they again acquired the Dobro trademark, Mosrite having gone into temporary liquidation.

OMI was acquired by the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1993, which announced it would defend its right to exclusive use of the Dobro trademark, which had come to be commonly used for any resonator guitar. As of 2006, Gibson produces several round sound hole models under the Dobro name, and cheaper f-hole models both under the Hound Dog name and also its Epiphone brand. All have a single resonator, and many are available in either round or square neck.

[edit]Other National instruments

After the formation of the National Dobro Corporation, the term ‘National’ was often used to mean an instrument with a non-inverted cone, to distinguish these designs from the inverted-cone ‘Dobro’. Makers particularly used it for single-cone biscuit designs, as the relatively elaborate and expensive tricone was for some time out of production. Players and collectors also used the term for the older tricone instruments, which despite their softer volume and rarity were still preferred by some players.

In 1942, the National Dobro Corporation, which no longer produced Dobros or any other resonator instruments, was reorganized and renamed Valco. Valco produced a large volume and variety of fretted instruments under many names, with National as its premium brand. By the early 1960s, Valco was again producing resonator guitars for mail order under the National brand name. These instruments had biscuit resonators and bodies of wood and fiberglass.

In the late 1980s, the National brand and trademark reappeared with the formation of National Reso-Phonic Guitars. As of 2006, it produces six-string resonator guitars of all three traditional resonator types, focusing on reproducing the feel and sound of old instruments. Its other resonator instruments include a 12-string guitarukuleles and mandolins.

[edit]Non-USA instruments

Czech Republic

In the late 90’s Amistar, a Czech Republic manufacturer, began marketing tricone resonator guitars.

Australia

Wayne Acoustic Guitars produced a spider bridge resonator guitar in the ’40s and ’50s in Australia. They were crudely made out of what was at the time cheap Australian timber using a tone ring rather than a tone well but their biggest problems were no neck reinforcement and a very different pressed (rather than spun) cone. This is often called a pillow cone due to the shapes pressed into the face to strengthen the cone. Many examples exist today and if the neck is straight and a good cone is used can give a reasonable sound.[2] As of 2010 Don Morrison is producing highly regarded resonators under the Donmo brand name.

Asia

Many Asian brands such as Johnson, Recording King, Republic Guitars and Rogue also produce or import a wide variety of comparatively inexpensive resonator guitars. Johnson has also produced resonator ukuleles and mandolins.

South Africa

A company called Gallotone in South Africa is also known to have produced resonator guitars in the 1950s and ’60s.

(courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resonator_guitar

So as you can see, there are several resonator guitar makers.  Hard to beat an old vintage National Resonator Guitar for it’s unique “steel” sound.  But as far as I’m concerned they all sound pretty darn good it the right hands.

National Resonator Guitar – Resophonic Guitar, Acoustic Guitar

I love a good National Resonator Guitar, especially older models in great shape.  So let me tell you a little bit about these great guitars.

Jimmy Dillon plays a National Resonator Guitar

Jimmy Dillon and his Resonator Guitar

resonator guitar or resophonic guitar is an acoustic guitar whose sound is produced by one or more spun metal cones (resonators) instead of the wooden sound board (guitar top/face). Resonator guitars were originally designed to be louder than conventional acoustic guitars which were overwhelmed by horns and percussion instruments in dance orchestras. They became prized for their distinctive sound, however, and found life with several musical styles (most notably bluegrass and also blues) well after electric amplification solved the issue of inadequate guitar sound levels.

Resonator guitars are of two styles:

There are three main resonator designs:

  • The “tricone” (“tri” in reference to the three metal cones/resonators) design of the first National resonator guitars.
  • The single cone “biscuit” design of other National instruments.
  • The single inverted-cone design of the Dobro.[1]

Many variations of all of these styles and designs have been produced under many brands. The body of a resonator guitar may be made of wood, metal, or occasionally other materials. Typically there are two main sound holes, positioned on either side of the fingerboard extension. In the case of single cone models, the sound holes are either both circular or both f-shaped, and symmetrical; The older “tricone” design has irregularly shaped sound holes. Cutaway body styles may truncate or omit the lower f-hole.

National tricone

The resonator guitar was developed by John Dopyera, seeking to produce a guitar that would have sufficient volume to be heard alongside brass and reed instruments, in response to a request from steel guitar player George Beauchamp. Dopyera experimented with configurations of up to four resonator cones, and cones composed of several different metals.

In 1927, Dopyera and Beauchamp formed the National String Instrument Corporation to manufacture resonator guitars under the brand name National. The first models were metal-bodied and featured three conical aluminum resonators joined by a T-shaped aluminum bar which supported the bridge, a system called the “tricone”. Wooden-bodied tricone models were originally produced at the National factory in Los Angeles, California. These models were called the “Triolian”, however only 12 were made and the bodies meant for tricones were changed to single cone models, but the name remained.

Dobro

Main article: Dobro

In 1928, Dopyera left National to form the Dobro Manufacturing Company with his brothers Rudy, Emile, Robert and Louis, Dobro being a contraction of Dopyera Brothers’ and also meaning “goodness” in their native Slovak language. Dobro released a competing resonator guitar with a single resonator with its concave surface uppermost, often described as bowl-shaped, under a distinctive circular perforated metal cover plate with the bridge at its centre resting on an eight-legged aluminium spider. This system was cheaper to produce, and produced more volume than National’s tricone.

National biscuit

National countered the Dobro with its own single resonator model, which had previously been designed by Dopyera before he left the company; while also continuing to produce the tricone design which many players preferred for its tone. Both the National single and tricone resonators remained conical with their convex surfaces uppermost; the single resonator models used a wooden biscuit at the cone apex to support the bridge. Both companies at this stage were sourcing many components, and notably the aluminium resonators themselves, from Adolph Rickenbacher.
(Courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resonator_guitar)

I know three guitarist who play a resonator.  All have different styles, all sound really, really good when playing their brand of music.  So if you get a chance to hear a National Resonator Guitar, pay attention and you will hear the distinct sweet sound piercing the airwaves.