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Is a resonator with low action even possible?

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Feb 20, 2020 - 5:31:40 PM
2 posts since 2/20/2020

Hello, all!

My resonator guitar bug recently became a full-fledged infection with the purchase of a Gretsch BoxCar (the quality/value $400 buys these days is remarkable).

Here's where I need advice: over the years I've struggled with hand and arm problems that have now been largely overcome through dedicated exercise and sticking to playing low-action hollow body electric guitars.

But I love the resonator sound so much that I would love to find a roundneck with low action and light strings. I don't care about playing slide, I just love the basic resonator sound.

I totally get that heavier strings and high action are integral to the traditional resonator sound. My question is: Is there a resonator guitar that is, or can be, set up with low action and light strings?

No doubt there would be a sacrifice in volume and tone, etc., but my main concern is being able to play it extensively without exhausting my hands and arms.

What I would love to find is a 14 fret to the neck roundneck, preferably single cutaway model.

Open to wood or metal. I am not a do-it-yourselfer, so I would like to buy a ready-to-go guitar along these specs. Budget would be around $1,000.

Any thoughts greatly appreciated!

Feb 20, 2020 - 10:34:36 PM

70 posts since 7/27/2008

It's totally possible. Just buy one you like and take it to a good guitar tech and have him set it up the way you want. Most off the rack resonators are going to be set up with higher action and heavier strings because, as you say, that's the sound most associated with them. Your tech will probably have to cut you a new nut and bridge to fit the lighter strings and maybe adjust the neck a bit for a lower action. There are plenty of resos in the 5-800 dollar range and if you drop another couple of hundred for the set up you want, there's your guitar for less than $1000.

I have a custom made Ron Phillips metal resonator that I had him construct as you're asking- I had him model the neck after the 1930s V shaped Martin style and set it up to play low action/light strings. It sounds great.

Feb 21, 2020 - 5:06:25 AM



232 posts since 4/22/2015

Gold tone PBR-CA round neck is what I have, and when I had it set up for jazz it had exceptionally low action, and light strings (.011 - .52, as I recall). I worked on nut action to optimize it, and then worked on the saddles to set 12th fret action. I had it in Paul Beard's shop to have a new bone nut fitted, and we discussed how we both used a pencil through the holes of the cover to move the spider and cone around to set the intonation correctly. I did have to fiddle with the tail piece to get adequate string break over the saddles, they were pretty low, about as low as the geometry of the guitar would accept. I strung the strings under the tailpiece rather than over the to of the tailpiece. Not a 14 fretter, but the cutaway gives great access up to around the 17th fret.

Edited by - MC5C on 02/21/2020 05:08:27

Feb 21, 2020 - 9:52:59 AM

208 posts since 9/24/2014

Yes, you can have it as low as any guitar. When i recieved my brand new Republic Tricone roundneck it was set up very low and played and sounded fine, too low for me as a matter of fact but it was easily fixed with a trussrod adjustment.

Edited by - Wildeman on 02/21/2020 09:54:02

Feb 21, 2020 - 11:04:23 AM

956 posts since 2/2/2011

Originally posted by Tim_Clark

What I would love to find is a 14 fret to the neck roundneck, preferably single cutaway model.

Open to wood or metal. I am not a do-it-yourselfer, so I would like to buy a ready-to-go guitar along these specs. Budget would be around $1,000.

Any thoughts greatly appreciated!

Republic offers 14 fret to the body roundneck resonators with a cutaway in wood or metal with a biscuit bridge design.  They are Highway 61 models.  Republic also have a metal tricone guitar with similar specs called the Clarksdale.  They should be in your price range.

Another interesting option would be a Beltona Electro.  These are 14 fret biscuit bridge guitars with a small body that have a silhouette similar to a Les Paul guitar.  Yes, they are a bit above your price range.  Take a look at them.  Beltona are a UK company.  Mark Knopfler makes good use of one. (Played it on Heart Full of Holes during last year's tour.)  But then he makes good use of several different resonators.

National make the Reso-Rocket guitars in metal or wood that have a cutaway but are twelve fret to the body guitars.  As stated above, they area deep cutaway and fingerboard access is good.  They are well out of you price range but they are really worth a listen.

Edited by - Slidennis on 02/21/2020 11:10:43

Feb 21, 2020 - 11:09:01 AM

2 posts since 2/20/2020

Thanks for the thoughtful and reassuring responses, everyone.

Glad to know that there is nothing in the basic design of resonator guitars that prevents them from being set up with lighter strings and low action.

I'll start looking… :-)

Feb 21, 2020 - 8:05:26 PM

37 posts since 11/24/2019

Fuller's Guitars in Houston has several round neck National Tri-Cone guitars that are set up with low action. They really sound beautiful. I'm saving up my shekels for a squareneck National Tri-Cone.

Feb 22, 2020 - 4:50:28 AM

79 posts since 9/17/2017

The Republic Highway 61 is what I bought to scratch a similar itch. This video is not me but it is representative of the guitars.
Republic guitars are made in China but sound and play much better than other Chinese built brands.

Feb 22, 2020 - 8:44:16 AM

208 posts since 9/24/2014

Yes, my Republic definitely had some extra setup work done either by the shop or by Republic. They cost a bit more than, say, a Regal or Recording King but i think they're worth it.

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