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.
A 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:
- Square necked guitars designed to be played in steel guitar style.
- Round necked guitars, which may be played in either the conventional classical guitar style or in the lap steel guitar style.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.