Paul Reed Smith Custom 24 Guitar Review

This is a guest post by Cailyn Lloyd.

PRS Custom 24 Review

PRS Custom 24 ReviewAs guitars go, the Custom 24 is virtually perfect. This guitar, introduced in 1985, is Paul Reed Smith’s signature guitar now available in a 30th anniversary model that does not differ much from the original. The only problem with the Custom 24 is the price tag, which for most players represents a major investment or is simply out of reach. However, if you are serious about your craft, your tone, your sound, a guitar like the Custom 24 is an essential element of your gear line-up. If your budget is limited, the good news is that PRS has now made the Custom 24 available in their SE series. I haven’t played one but the reviews online are very positive and emphasize this is not a cheap Korean guitar and that no shortcuts have been taken in production.

The Custom 24 as the name implies is a 24 fret model spanning two full octaves (they also make a Custom 22). The neck comes in two shapes, pattern thin and pattern regular and the difference between the two is something you really must feel with the guitar in hand. (I really don’t know how people buy guitars online!) I play a pattern thin, which fits my hand size perfectly and is very conducive to faster play and shredding. For rough comparison, the pattern thin is narrower than a Les Paul but a shade thicker than a R-series Ibanez.

PRS Custom 24 ReviewThe Custom 24 comes with a choice of pickups, either the classic HFS bridge/Vintage bass pickups or the 59/09 pickups. There are single volume and tone controls and a five-way blade switch that allows the following configurations: bridge humbucker, bridge humbucker with neck singlecoil (in parallel), bridge and neck humbuckers, neck singlecoil with bridge singlecoil (in parallel), neck humbucker. I like all of the positions but gravitate often to the bridge humbucker for the hot fat tone the HFS pickup puts out. One of the great features of this guitar is the ability to dial the volume down a notch or two and still have the bite of full volume. On the other hand, I’ve seen some reviews that compare the neck singlecoil to a strat and while they sound similar, I wouldn’t call it a strat sound. For that tone, I have a maple neck strat! Just a note, the Custom 24s built prior to 2011 have a 5-way rotary switch not a blade switch–probably the only design flaw in the earlier models–I find it awkward to use on stage.

The guitar is fitted with a single piece bridge and whammy bar (with a simple handle that can be inserted or removed in seconds) that is very functional and unremarkable except that it works very well. The bridge is also fitted with multiple fine tuning elements to adjust string height and intonation.

Besides the stunning craftsmanship, there is another brilliant feature exclusive to Paul Reed Smith guitars and that is the “locking tuner” machine heads. Changing strings with these tuners is a two minute breeze, not ten minutes of tedium. You pull a string through the post, tighten the set screw and tune the guitar. Slippage is zero and the tuning is very stable once the strings have stretched. String breakage with this guitar is exceptionally low, even with rough live play.

Nothing is spared in wood, color, and finish–this guitar is beautiful to behold. Without fear of exaggeration, the Custom 24 is really the best factory-made guitar in the world, in looks, in sound, in playability. This has been my go-to guitar for ten years and I do not see that changing. Hope this PRS Custom 24 review is useful to you!

View the PRS Custom 24 on Musician’s Friend.

Nash S-68HX Strat Review

Today’s guitar review will be on the Nash S-68 HX that I recently acquired and I’ve had now for about a month. As a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix, it is only natural to want to play an upside down stratocaster for not only added mojo, but a unique sound due to the reverse headstock and pickups. I already own a lefty Fender MIJ ’68 reissue (read the review of that here) which I flipped upside down to play righty. So now I can definitely compare the two guitars which have very different price points; the Fender MIJ costing $600 used, and the Nash S-68HX at $2000 new.

Nash S68 HX Review

First a note about the purchase of the Nash. I bought it from Prymaxe Vintage and found that their customer service was quite bad. I received the guitar without a whammy bar which it is supposed to come with. When I brought this up to Prymaxe, they basically said they didn’t have one for me, nor did they offer to get me one. I then emailed Nash directly and got a response right away from Bill Nash himself who sent me a whammy bar the same day. Now that is service. Thanks Bill! Now lets get to back to the review.

Fit and Finish

I must say, I was very impressed. A big reason I got the Nash over a Fender is because of the thin nitrocellulose finish. In my opinion, this allows the guitar to breathe and has more resonance and sustain, unlike many thick poly finishes found on Fender guitars. I also liked the look of the relic, which I’m not usually big on, but this one was a light relic and done tastefully. The neck feels really great as well and the back of it has the finish completely taken off. This results in a smoothness that makes it easy to go up and down the neck very quickly without any sticking. While the guitar has a slight bit of buzz, which is to be expected when getting a guitar shipped, the rest was flawless. Action nice and low, intonation spot on, lots of sustain, and all the good things you expect from guitar at this price point. I’ve played some custom shop Fenders and IMO the Nash is right up there with them. The only complaint I have is that using the whammy results in the strings going out of tune. In doing some research and speaking with another Nash owner, this is due to the tusk nut which I will promptly be changing to bone as soon as I can. All in all, the Nash in fit and finish is miles ahead of my MIJ strat.

Nash S68 HX and Fender MIJ 68 strat
The Nash S68 HX next to my Fender MIJ ’68 reissue strat.. The Hendrix guitars! White one used at Woodstock and the black used at the Isle of Wight Festival.

Sound

Now for one for biggest factors… how does she sound? Very very sweet and beautiful. There is quite a lot of low end likely due to the strat being upside down, which is welcome since many strats can be thin sounding. In my opinion, sound is due to a few factors.. 1) how well it is in tune and intonated 2) the quality of wood, how its put together and finished, and 3) of course the pickups. So the wood quality, its build and the intonation are all incredible and meet my expectations. The pickups are excellent. They are Lollers and are the dirty blonde set. To my ear, they have a late ’50s/early ’60s sound which is what this set is going after. I was hoping the Nash would have a ’68 spec set of single coils to go in. Though not a big deal, I currently have Slider ’68 pickups in the MIJ strat which I plan on putting in the Nash. I also noticed that the tone controls are wired for the neck and bridge pickups, whereas most strats have the tone controls for the neck and middle pickup. I do enjoy this feature, though it it not true to a vintage spec strat. When it comes to the reverse headstock, the sound is definitely altered a bit. It still sounds like a strat, but a very unique one which has a more of a Jimi Hendrix kind of sound.

Conclusion

I am very happy with my Nash S-68 HX strat. It plays beautifully, always sounds good and just feels like a very quality instrument, unlike my Fender MIJ strat. If you are planning on buying a Fender Custom Shop, I would highly recommend to consider a Nash as they will not only save you some coin, but also give the custom shops a run for their money!

Gibson Elliot Easton “Tikibird” Firebird Review

This is a guest post by Stephen Rose

Gibson Elliot Easton “Tikibird” Firebird ReviewThe Gibson Firebird is an iconic guitar from a legendary manufacturer. First introduced in the 1960s, the Firebird’s shape and sleek lines were created by an automotive designer who Gibson hired to add to the already unique shapes like, the Flying V and the Explorer. Players such as Warren Haynes and Stephen Stills have been known to use a Firebird, but no one is more associated with the Firebird than Johnny Winter. Given the guitar’s rich history, I was excited for the opportunity to review the Gibson Elliot Easton “Tikibird” Firebird. I was also looking forward to playing a Firebird because it is one of the few guitars that I have not played before.

When I took the guitar out of the case, I knew I had made the right decision. The paint job is not one that I have seen on another guitar, and that alone is enough to make it stand out. The color, Gold Mist Poly, is really striking and stands out because it is a color not seen on any other guitar and I hope Gibson considers adding it to other models. Prior to getting this Firebird, my favorite color that Gibson offered was Pelham Blue, now I can add Gold Mist Poly to that list. Aside from this impressive color, the Firebird has some features that are specific to this instrument like: a Bigsby vibrato, ’57 Classic Humbuckers, Steinberger gearless tuners, and four tonal switches placed below the bridge humbucker.

All of these features work well with this guitar and instantly make it a go to instrument for the player who only has room for one guitar. The Bigsby works well with this guitar and there is also a Vibramate Spoiler string loader, which helps when changing strings. Anyone who has used a Bigsby and fuddled around with getting the ball end of the string to stay on the little peg knows what I mean. I like that this guitar comes with 2 Classic ’57 humbuckers instead of the mini humbuckers. Most of the Firebird models that Gibson offers come with the mini humbuckers, but I prefer the regular ’57 Classics. These pickups work well with this guitar and with the tone woods selected for this instrument.

Gibson Elliot Easton “Tikibird” FirebirdOne of the main highlights of this guitar are the four tonal switches. The first switch splits the coil of the neck pickup when in the neck position; the second splits the coil for the bridge pickup when in that position; the third switch engages the pickups to be reverse wound and in reverse polarity of each other when in the middle position; and the fourth, when engaged, routes the bridge pickup straight to the output jack. This is helpful when you need to switch to the bridge pickup and not worry about getting to the selector switch.

Looking at pictures of the Firebird prior to ordering, I was concerned with the switch placement, however the location of the switches does not interfere with strumming or playing. Another feature common to Firebirds, but new to me, was the Steinberger gearless tuners. I really liked these and they keep the guitar in tune very well, even when liberally using the Bigsby. For this demo I used my Mesa Boogie Mark V combo without any pedals. This guitar excelled in every different setting I tried on the amp, from a clean bright setting to an extreme crunch/distorted one.

Gibson offers a number of signature guitars with a wide range of features and appointments. Some are very artist specific, like Zakk Wylde’s famous Bullseye or Buzzsaw Les Pauls, while others are slightly less ostentatious like this model. Aside from a small Elliot Easton signature on the back of the headstock and the Tiki graphic on the pickguard there is nothing artist or band specific. I look for versatility and reliability when purchasing a guitar, and this Firebird fits those requirements and then some. For those with similar standards, you will not be disappointed with its features, playability, or tonal varieties. The Gibson Elliot Easton “Tikibird” Firebird is a limited edition guitar, so try and check one out while they’re still in production.

Check prices for the Gibson Elliot Easton “Tikibird” on Musician’s Friend

Taylor GS Mini Acoustic Guitar Review

taylor gs mini reviewThis is a guest post by Freddy Charles

The logic behind a travel guitar has always peaked my interest, mainly because I’ve traveled to nearly 80 countries thus far, and have spent chunks of my life on the road.  When inspiration strikes, having the proper tools on hand can go a long way for us creatives.  While the idea of a carry-on guitar is good in theory, the products available over the years have really fallen short.  The Martin backpacker for instance, quite compact in its design, but barely an acceptable instrument to practice or really play on.  Other companies have made some attempts in this space as well, but in my opinion they all miss the marker.

Taylor introduced the GS Mini a few years back, taking the shortcomings of their “Baby” model and turning them into a “real” guitar.  The Mini is the answer for the guitarist who travels extensively, and needs to keep his chops sharp.  While it is a tad bigger than your typical travel guitar, once you get a feel for it, you’ll understand why this instrument is worth every penny.

Technically speaking the GS Mini is a 23 1/2″scale guitar.  The body is comprised of a solid Sitka Spruce top, with laminate Sapele back and sides.  The guitar has 20 frets with an overall length of just over 36 inches.  It’s a well made instrument, and seems to have been designed to take a good beating.

The Taylor GS Mini in my opinion is a functional acoustic guitar that can be used in a performance or rehearsal setting.  I think it would be unfair to call this a practice instrument.  The sound from this smaller scale guitar will shock you.  The low end is what initially captured my attention, and its big fat tone resonates like a guitar twice the price and size.  The mid range sounds are perfect, as are the highs; crisp and tight.  Playability on the guitar is quick, smooth and accurate- very similar to higher end Taylor guitars.  As with most Taylors, Elixir Nanoweb strings are standard, and medium gauged are recommended to achieve the bigger sound.  The guitar doesn’t need much breaking in; Taylor does an excellent job of setting the action just right, out of the box.  I found the guitar extremely comfortable from the gate.  Even though the body is smaller, it feels secure while your seated, or even when you stand and attach a strap.

The GS Mini also comes in a few different configurations.  You can opt for a Mini with or without electronics, and choose between the spruce or mahogany tops.  For me, the spruce suits my needs better than the mahogany.  It’s much brighter as you would expect, but I also feel that with a guitar this size, you’re better off opting for the wood that gives you better projection.  In this case the spruce top wins.  Volume-wise, it’s loud enough to compete with full-sized guitars.

Lastly, the Taylor GS Mini comes with a convenient soft travel case that can be worn as a backpack, or carried in traditional fashion.  It’s also thoroughly paded, you need not worry about dropping the guitar or banging it while in its case.  For a retail price of $499, the GS offers everything you’ll need to rehearse, travel and perform in any musical setting.

Check prices for the Taylor GS Mini on Musician’s Friend

PRS 305 Guitar Review

PRS 305 guitar reviewThis is a guest post by Freddy Charles

For nearly 18 years I played Fender Stratocasters exclusively.  Obsessed with that signature bell-like Strat sound, I never really had any desire to change it up.  A few years back though, while recording my third album, I was looking for a guitar with humbuckers that could deliver that chunky dirty rhythm sound.  I assumed a Les Paul was the answer, but the guitar wasn’t a comfortable fit for me.  Enter PRS!  A friend loaned me a custom 24 to finish tracking, and I wound up being pleased with the results.  It was my first encounter with the instrument and it left a mark.  I went back to playing and recording with Strats until just recently.

The guitar I’m using now is a PRS 305, which is based on the 513 model, yet slightly modified.  The body, unlike other PRS guitars is carved alder with a maple neck.  It’s a single coil PRS with the same configuration as my trusty Fender, but with a completely unique sound.  I’d been searching for a guitar that could deliver those clean Fender tones, and have the versatility to offer thick rich sounds as well. The PRS 305 knocked me off my feet!  While the guitar is stocked with Paul’s signature single coil pickups, this is no Strat, and sounds like no other single coil guitar I’ve heard.  The pickups have a bite to them, and are ultra responsive to the pressure of the pick.  The tone is generally fatter than other singe coil guitars in all of the settings as well.  PRS keeps things simple by utilizing just one tone knob, and I for one really enjoy the simplicity. Out of the box the guitar is set-up with low action and equipped with PRS 0.10 gauge strings.

To experience the tonal possibilities of the 305, lets begin with the neck pickup.  When selected, you’ll be able to emulate some of those super clean signature coil sounds, but the attack and resonance are far superior.  You’ll get a more rich sounding tone, with more mid-range than a Strat.  The same goes when you split the neck and middle pickup- you get that fat Texas sound- perfect for any blues scenario, but with more pop and power.  The low end, unlike other single coil guitars is tremendous, and confirms why this is such a fantastic instrument.  You need not worry about those thin-sounding chords when the gain is cranked up either.  The bottom end delivers humbucking power, quite impressive for this type of pickup configuration.  As you continue to toggle the pick-up selector, flip it to the middle coils and crank up the overdrive.   The guitar growls-giving way to any hard rock music you may be playing.  In my opinion, the middle pickup  functions and sounds more like a humbucker rather than a single coil.  This setting is great for smooth leads or heavy riffing, and even when played clean has endless sustain and punchiness.

The final two settings, middle/bridge and bridge can also pull in those familiar single coil twangy sounds, but again different than what you would expect.  The overall warmth of the guitar is astounding even as you use the settings closer to the bridge.   These setting work well for funky chord phrases or chicken-picking licks.

As far as playability goes, it’s hard to beat a PRS.  The 305 has a slightly thicker neck than the Custom 22’s and 24’s, but it’s an easy transition for a Fender or Gibson player.  The maple fretboard is smooth and fast, you won’t have any issues running up and down the neck.  The body is the traditional beautifully carved PRS shape allowing for high register playing and chording with incredible ease.  It’ an extremely adaptable guitar as well- it doesn’t take more than a few minutes for you to get comfortable playing it for the first time.

If I had to sum it up in one word-versatile.  The ability to channel all of those tonal nuances makes the 305 a rare find.  I can’t think of any musical setting that the PRS 305 couldn’t handle.

Fender 60th Anniversary Stratocasters

This is a guest post by Stephen Rose

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Fender Stratocaster — an iconic instrument in not only shape but also sound. Countless recordings tell the tale of this classic guitar played only by the most discerning musicians. The Fender Stratocaster was released in 1954 offering players a solid contour body guitar with three single coil pickups. This innovation took the world by storm and generations of players are still looking for its classic and timeless tones.

Fender-American-Vintage-Series-1954-Stratocaster
New Fender American Vintage 1954 Stratocaster announced this year at NAMM 2014

Fender has released 3 models celebrating the 60th anniversary Stratocaster: Classic Player, American Commemorative, and American Vintage. The Classic Player Strat comes in Desert Sand, has a soft V neck shape, gold anodized pickguard, gold hardware, a special engraved neckplate, and medallion on the back of the headstock. The American Commemorative and American Vintage series guitars are both U.S. made and have similar appointments to the Classic Player Strat. The American Commemorative Strat comes with a two color ash body, maple neck, modern C compound radius neck, specially designed 1954 pickups, gold hardware, pearloid tuning buttons, and the same neckplate and medallion as the Classic Player. The American Vintage series is the most accurate representation of a 1954 Strat you can buy without going through the Custom Shop. This guitar recreates the specs and even the paperwork of the instrument as if it were purchased in 1954. Fender will only be making 1,954 of these guitars, with the first 54 of these containing a special certificate and designation on the neckplate. The American Vintage Strat is far and away the crown jewel of the three 60th anniversary guitars being offered. In keeping with the original design, I wish this guitar came standard with the 3-position switch instead of the traditional 5. The 3-position switch is included should the player want to make the swap.

Fender-American-Deluxe-Plus-StratocasterIn keeping with Fender’s motto to create a guitar, “as new and different as tomorrow,” they have released the Fender American Deluxe Plus Stratocaster. Fender is known for finding ways of balancing its tradition and history with innovation, and this new addition is the epitome of that way of thinking. The American Deluxe Plus comes in both SSS and HSS configurations offering the player the ability to use interchangeable “personality cards” to further add to the tonal options of this fine instrument.

There is a slot in the back of the guitar that can support one of three solder-less cards with plug and play capability. Standard is the standard configuration and pickup sound, Cutter cuts the bass and treble, and Splitter splits the humbucker sound of the pickups. This is a highly innovative design by Fender and comes with some updated colors new to the American Deluxe series: Mystic 3 color sunburst, Mystic Ice Blue, and Mystic Black. These guitar feature Noiseless pickups, a modern C compound radius neck, a wallet for the personality cards, and a maple or rosewood neck depending on the version.

Fender has found a way to capture its timeless tone and history with their anniversary models, while pushing the envelope of innovation with its American Deluxe Plus guitar. They have now opened the door to numerous tonal possibilities with the advent of the personality cards, which afford players the ability to save time and the hassle of soldering, while expanding their ever-changing tonal palette.

Gibson Frank Zappa Roxy SG Review

This is a guest post by Stephen Rose

The Gibson Frank Zappa Roxy SG is a faithful recreation of the guitar that Zappa played throughout the early 70’s, and most notably, the Roxy concerts in December of 1973. This guitar is equipped with some modifications that, while minor, do a great deal to enhance the playability and tone. The Roxy SG is comprised of a Grade A mahogany body and neck, pearloid dot inlays, a Maestro vibrola tailpiece, and two toggle switches for coil tap and out of phase options that adds to the tonality of the over-wound 57 classic pickups.

gibson-sg-frank-zappa-roxy

I demoed this guitar through a Fender Hot Rod Blues Jr. with a Tube Screamer clone and a Fender Mustang I to try out a variety of presets. First, through the Fender tube amp, this guitar sounded flawless and had an overall warmth and the classic Gibson tone that is expected and sought after. When I added some overdrive, I felt the guitar come into its own, especially with both toggles engaged and the pickup selector in the middle position. I have found that this is the sweet spot for the guitar in both clean and overdriven settings. The guitar stays in tune quite well when using the vibrola to accentuate notes. It really is not intended for dive bombs and you will find yourself retuning the guitar shortly after going bar crazy. Next I tried the guitar using the Fender Mustang to see how it held up through a number of different amp models and effects. I dialed in a scooped Mesa Boogie type setting and the guitar sounded great. The next setting I tried was a clean shimmery chorus sound and I very much enjoyed the sounds I was able to get while adjusting the toggles with both the bridge and neck pickups. The placement of the toggle switches do not interfere with playing and I never found myself turning them off or on by accident.

It is important to note that this guitar is easy to play. It has very low action and, along with the slim, unpainted neck, you will be flying up and down the fretboard. The only other guitar I have owned that had this sort of low action and fast neck was an Ibanez Jem. Fret buzz is always a concern when playing a guitar with low action, but luckily there was not any fret buzz to be concerned with and this one was set up very well out of the box.

If your amp setting is bass heavy, I would suggest dialing down the volume on the guitar in the neck position to avoid a loss of desired tone or an added muddiness to your sound. Every player will have their preferences when it comes to “their sound” and I have found that this guitar is versatile enough to be considered an addition for anyone looking to expand their arsenal with a well built guitar full of tonal variety. This guitar is limited to 400 pieces worldwide and, while they are still available, I do not expect that to last through the end of the year. It is already listed as Out of Production on Gibson’s website. As a bonus, a copy of Frank Zappa & the Mothers Roxy & Elsewhere CD is included with each instrument.

Re-imagining Softwoods in Electric Guitar Construction

Ancient Kauri TeleThis is a guest post by Jordan Grunow of Ancientwood LTD

This is an interesting time for tone woods in lutherie. Environmental, political and price considerations, as well as good old curiosity are causing a resurgence in alternative tone woods.

Conifer trees, i.e. softwoods, are rightfully claiming their place in the new paradigm.

It is worth remembering that the first Telecaster prototype was built with a pine body. Indeed, the Squier line’s “Vintage Vibe” series is a good showroom example of what conifers can bring to the party.  A/B comparisons between Ash, Alder and Pine bodied Tele’s are fun and easy. The exercise is valuable sonic training for any guitar player. After market bodies are becoming available as well.

High end builders are enjoying the use of soft woods as well.  Solid Spruce, Redwood and Cedar bodied guitars respond very well to both magnetic and under saddle pick up systems.

My own fascination with soft wood construction began with my tenure as Director of tone wood sales at Ancientwood LTD.  We import 50,000 year old Kauri from New Zealand, the oldest workable wood available.  It is in the Pine family and still grows today. In New Zealand, it is a protected species. To understand the capabilities of the product, it was necessary to build a couple test instruments.

Being a tele guy, the simplicity of design and ease of construction made the choice easy. I also happen to have a great G&L Swamp Ash example to compare to. To make the comparison as scientific as possible, I should have used a similar pick up system. The fact that most of the bars I play in have dubious AC caused me to go to a stock filter tron for a sense of twang and air with quieter performance. Well?

The G&L remains one of my favorite all time guitars. It’s the first guitar I wore the frets out in under 5 years. It has all the “pop” and “air” that Swamp Ash is famous for. The Kauri guitar not only has great flame figure, but presents a vastly bigger voice. There is a profound low midrange punch with a more solid initial attack. For fronting a rock trio, it is a much more satisfying tone. The Kauri guitar fills more space in the mix, giving the player access to smaller chord voicing options with outsounding “small”. This is a trait I have found with other conifer species as well.  Another way to imagine the tone is similar to the warmth of Basswood but not as “hollow” sounding as a Strat copy I used to play.

Given the success of the first Tele prototype, I wanted to experiment with a different recipe.    Thinner guitars, such as Melody Makers, frequently will have less bass content. So how would a conifer, such as Kauri perform in that format? Once again, we collaborated with the great John Gray, our go-to luthier. We concocted a set neck Gibson scale instrument 1 1/4” thick. The result is what can be called a very “live” sounding guitar. The attack is very quick and punchy. Compared to my ’62 Melody Maker, the tone is quite similar but with a bit more “air” and great sustain.

We have received several observations that acoustic guitars with Kauri backs and sides present a similar roundness or heft in the mids. I am not aware of the use of other conifers for backs and sides. Our next collaboration is an 8 string Weissenborn to arrive in early December. As always, it will be intriguing to compare it to similar instruments.

There are also potential environmental aspects to consider. Conifers are generally faster growing than hardwoods so can be regenerated more quickly. There are also ample domestic supplies available, sparing the impact to tropical forests. Our Kauri is reclaimed from peat bogs, so no new trees are felled at all.

This is an interesting time in the evolution of tone woods. High quality stock of “traditional” species are getting harder to find. That, and environmental and political concerns are creating opportunities for all sorts of materials. The answers are not always wooden, either.

So, for players looking to have their parts sit in a mix or compliment other player’s tones or like to own several guitars, investigating conifers is a good place to start.

 

Resophonic Tone – A History of Resonator Guitars

resonator guitar toneA Guest Post by Al @resoguitar

The resophonic, or resonator guitar, has a distinct tone that sets it apart from other acoustic and electric guitars. It was born in the Jazz Age of the roaring 20’s, an era prior to the invention of the first electric guitar, as a means of mechanically amplifying the sound to be heard above an orchestra. The man behind the invention was a Slovak-American craftsman, inventor and musician named John Dopyera who later went on to found the Dobro guitar company. The word “Dobro” has become synonymous with resonator guitars much in the way that “Xerox” has with photocopy machines. When someone says “Dobro” the picture that immediately springs to mind is an acoustic guitar with a shiny hubcap-like object in the middle where the soundhole usually resides.

Actually, there are at least three distinct flavors of reso-guitars, each with its own unique sound. Mr. Dopyera’s original guitar was a tri-cone model consisting of 3 small aluminum cones, about 6 inches in diameter, resting on a mechanical bridge that transferred the vibrations of the strings to the cones. The cones act as speakers, amplifying the sound without the need for electricity. The tone is balanced, the sustain is good and the volume is LOUD! It is a marriage of form, sound and functionality. The unusual design of the body, made of German Silver alloy with art deco lines, was unlike any guitar before or since. The list of notable guitarists who play a tri-cone is long, but guitar wizard Bob Brozman is at the top. Mr Brozman deserves a lot of credit for the resurgence of these wonderful instruments today and his mastery of the instrument is second to none.

Tri-cones are a joy to hear, see and play. Mr. Dopeyera considered it his greatest invention. It was marketed under the National Guitar brand and became quite popular among Hawaiian guitarists. Hawaiian music was all the rage during that time and the National Tri-cone quickly rose to prominence and popularity. It is still the flagship instrument of the new National Guitar Company, who make faithful reproductions of the original Nationals along with new and exciting designs of their own.

As the world sank into the Great Depression of the 1930’s the tri-cone suddenly was too expensive for most musicians to afford. John Dopyera created a second model that was less expensive to produce, but every bit as loud as his original. This was the single cone model, sometimes referred to as a “biscuit cone” because of the round wooden disc that sits atop a larger, single convex cone. This model became the choice instrument for the traveling Bluesmen of that era because of their incredible volume and rugged metal bodies. The metal body of National Guitar could even be used to fend off a hostile crowd in a juke joint in a pinch. Their sound is different from the Tri-cones with a sharper attack and less sustain. Johnny Winter, the great modern American Bluesman, once described it as nasty, like a metal garbage can with a wire attached to it. Not a very flattering but still fairly

accurate analogy. It’s the sound we associate with Country Blues Giants like Son House and Bukka White. In more recent times you might have noticed Mark Knoffler’s National Guitar gracing the cover of Dire Straits’ “Brothers In Arms” album.

Shortly after Mr. Dopyera perfected his single cone resonator he ended his business partnership with National Guitar and started his own company. Since he didn’t own the patents for his original designs, he set about creating yet a third model of resonator guitar that became known as the spider cone. This is a concave aluminum cone with a metal alloy bridge riding over it that resembles a spider’s web. The spider’s sound is characterized by clear, loud tones and good sustain. Dobro guitars can be found in both wooden and metal style bodies. The choice of materials influences the tone of the instrument. The Dobro is commonly associated with Bluegrass or Country Music and it’s often played lapstyle with a metal bar instead of the bottleneck that traditional Bluesmen often use. In the hands of a musical genius like Jerry Douglas the sky is the limit. Mr. Douglas and some of his peers, like Rob Ikes, have taken the sound of the reso-guitar to new places and they continue to push those boundaries today.

There are three main types of resophonic guitars; the tri-cone, biscuit and spider. The bodies can be made of metal, wood or even fiberglass in some cases. The necks can be round (like most guitars) for chording and playing bottleneck style or square with the strings sitting high off the fretboard for lapstyle playing. All of these factors will have an effect on the tone of the instrument, along with the quality of the materials and the care and craftsmanship that goes into building it. There are no rules when it comes to selecting a certain model of resonator for a particular style of music. It’s up to the individual to find the tone that’s right for them. If you’re having a difficult time deciding, you can always own more than one reso-guitar. Please exercise caution, as they can be habit forming and I’m not aware of any 12-step programs that can assist with your recovery. Cheers!

Bjarton – Vintage Guitars from Sweden

A couple of years ago, I was visiting my local vintage guitar store, Paul’s Boutique, here in Toronto. As I made my rounds of the vintage gear, I went to the back room where they keep their acoustic guitars. I scanned for something interesting and a used classical guitar caught my eye due to its natural finish. I picked it up, and proceeded to play some spanish guitar licks, classical music, and a bit of blues. Immediately I was struck by the beautiful tone.

As I inspected the guitar, I saw that it was made by a company called Bjarton. It was a weird sounding name which I had never heard before. Noticing that the price tag was $150, I figured it was a good deal for a good playing instrument with a nice warm tone. Also I like used guitars for some reason as it feels like they have their own little history. And being 3/4th’s the size of a regular classical, I thought it’d be cool to have! I paid at the register, was given the crummy soft case that came with it, and I was on my way.

bjarton guitar
My Bjarton Guitar

After playing a little more at home and appreciating its nice open, beautiful sound, I needed to do some investigative work on this guitar made by Bjarton. My model specifically was the Carmencita as written in the inner label. It definitely had the spanish vibe, thats for sure. After some googling, I found that Bjarton was an old company from Sweden who handmade their guitars. And my guitar specifically was made in 1971! Wow, a 40 years old classical guitar! No wonder it sounded so good. And now it sounds even better since I have played it in.

RELATED: Which are the Best Classical Strings?

The Bjarton Carmencita has a very nice comfortable fretboard made of Jakaranda! Very cool! The bridge is made from the same material. The top, neck and sides are made of mahogany, which the top is solid spruce. Just a fine, well made instrument, and for $150, I felt so lucky to get my hands on it!

Bjarton seemed to have started sometime in the ’50s, and stopped making guitars in the ’80s. Check out these pictures from back in the day at their factory in Sweden:



All in all, Bjarton makes some excellent guitars, and if you ever see one in a shop, my advice is to pick it up. Why? Because it will be cheap, and you will be getting a handmade, aged, beautiful-sounding instrument!