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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 12:06 am 
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Mahogany
Mahogany

Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2011 1:08 pm
Posts: 76
I know this is a mainly a building forum, so I apologize if I am not exactly on point with my questions, but I played a new and reasonably inexpensive "Dobro" in a music store recently, and was quite taken with the sound. I have always wanted one, based on hearing other good blues players, but I have never encountered one for sale that enamoured me the way I hoped. I suppose I've played several dozen at various shops over the years.

In any event, this is Asian built, and I can live with that. My question is about the wood. The top was thick plywood, and I assume the back and sides were too. Is this common among Dobros, or rather wood resonators? I literally have no knowledge if solid wood vs plywood is also a debate for Dobro cone resonator construction. I need to know if solid wood is ever used, and how much the wood plays a role their sound.


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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 10:03 pm 
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Cocobolo
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Joined: Wed Aug 11, 2010 8:31 pm
Posts: 103
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
First name: Kenneth
Last Name: Jeffs
City: Chesterfield
State: MO
Zip/Postal Code: 63017
Country: USA
Focus: Build
Status: Amateur
The only question you will never get answered is the one you don't ask. I am not as historically informed as some of the more esteemed participants in this forum, but a number of resonator builders over the years have used plywood boxes. A number of top builders today rely on plywood almost exclusively and have created some fantastic instruments. For them plywood has more to do with stability than sound. They want a solid box to support the string pressure and cone/spider constructs. Some report that plywood boxes have the projection and 'bite' to hold their own in a band.

As far as quality, it is the same old story of how everything fits and personal preference. If you like this instrument, does it really make any difference

Enjoy it


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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2011 5:59 pm 
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Mahogany
Mahogany

Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2011 1:08 pm
Posts: 76
Very clear and informative answer. Thanks.


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PostPosted: Mon May 23, 2011 11:28 am 
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Koa
Koa

Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:46 pm
Posts: 867
First name: Freeman
Last Name: Keller
Focus: Build
Status: Amateur
The Dobro (tm) brand has traditionally been made out of laminated woods - often birch plywood (my 1932 Dobro is plywood). As Ken said, this is largely about stability. Most of the older ones were fairly darkly sunburst and the grain and appearance of the woods was secondary (many modern builders are using some pretty nice looking solid woods - often mahogany but you will see other hardwoods (I used koa on my tricone)).

IMHO most of the sound of a resonator comes from the cone - the body materials temper that slightly - but I would really doubt that you can hear a difference between say solid mahogany and laminated birch, all other things the same. Internal baffles and maybe the size/location of soundholes probably have some small influence.

As you look at resonators, remember that there are basically three cone configurations (spider, biscuit and tricone) and each has a very different sound (most of the blues guys played biscuits, most of the bluegrass guys play spiders). Body materials are second (big subdivision is metal vs wood, smaller subdivisions are type of metal or type of wood). Next comes neck construction (square or round), fretboards (narrow or wide) and a bunch of other subtle things.

Last comment, there are some pretty good resonators coming out of the Pacific rim - lots of people feel that the bodys are alright, but they could use a decent setup and in many cases, a better cone.


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PostPosted: Mon May 23, 2011 11:48 pm 
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Mahogany
Mahogany

Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2011 1:08 pm
Posts: 76
Thanks for more very helpful info. I'm a blues guy, wanting a round neck, and tweaking or set up is definitely not an issue. Tone is paramount, and this one is the first resonator that really grabbed me in person. Do you know if the Hound dog dobro is spider, or biscuit?

What is the feeling about the opening up of resonaters over time? I know it's a contentious subject at times for acoustic guitars. I fall into the category that believes guitars do change subtly over time, usually for the better, provided the guitar is not underbuilt. It seems that resonators might be less susceptible to such changes, but I would like to hear someone else's thoughts.


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PostPosted: Tue May 24, 2011 1:29 pm 
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Koa
Koa

Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:46 pm
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First name: Freeman
Last Name: Keller
Focus: Build
Status: Amateur
jm2 wrote:
Thanks for more very helpful info. I'm a blues guy, wanting a round neck, and tweaking or set up is definitely not an issue. Tone is paramount, and this one is the first resonator that really grabbed me in person. Do you know if the Hound dog dobro is spider, or biscuit?

What is the feeling about the opening up of resonaters over time? I know it's a contentious subject at times for acoustic guitars. I fall into the category that believes guitars do change subtly over time, usually for the better, provided the guitar is not underbuilt. It seems that resonators might be less susceptible to such changes, but I would like to hear someone else's thoughts.


jm2, the Hound Dog is a spider bridge. Typically spiders have long sustain, and that "sweet" singing sound that we associate with bluegrass "dobro" (lower case, as opposed to the brand name). Jerry Douglas, Cindy Cashdollar, Josh (Hound Dog) Graves all play spiders. Most of the old blues guys - Bukka and Son House and BB Fuller played biscuit, most of them being metal bodied. Biscuits have that brash short sustain nasty sound that you associate with Delta blues (ironically RJ never played a resonator but his music sounds good on one). IMHO a wood bodied biscuit is a lot more mellow - the wood seems to kill a lot of the brashness. Tricones are somewhere in between - they have long sustain due to the mass, but don't have the sweetness of a spider. Most tricones are metal which again gives them that metallic sound - mine happens to be wood.

I posted clips of my three resonators on this thread - it is down at the bottom - along with the same song played on a normal 12 string. The playing is crappy but at least you can get some idea of the dfference.

http://www.kitguitarsforum.com/board/vi ... =29&t=1514

There are other things to consider about resonators - how you plan to tune it, whether you will play mostly slide, mostly fretted, or combination.

As far as opening up - again, in my opinion, no. My spider Dobro is 80 years old, I doubt that it has changed in those years. The Duolian is 30 years old - again, no change. The tricone is pretty new, but I haven't detected any difference.

Hope this helps - I've got lots of reso information if you want to learn more.


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PostPosted: Tue May 24, 2011 10:45 pm 
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Mahogany
Mahogany

Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2011 1:08 pm
Posts: 76
Indeed, it helps a great deal. I have always had a casual appreciation for resonators, but never really did much deeper thinking, or checking on what makes them tick. However, I tried them whenever I came across them. Of your three resonators, the dobro appealed most to my senses, but the other had good qualities too (your playing is not at all crappy, it's quite respectable)

80% of my playing (acoustic, or the anticipated dobro) is in open G DGDGBD, and the rest is miscellaneous open tunings. I use a slide, but only once in a while. I would probably use the slide a lot more on a dobro. I am a finger picker these days (fingers with very short nails, so mostly flesh) but with a pretty heavy attack. I had thought my style was very unique (after being told this by other musicians) until I watched some videos of Son House. My right hand attack is quite similar to his.

What (if any) kinds of tone tweaks are available for a resonator like the Spider Hound dog? Not that I am rushing to make any. If I buy the one I am considering, it will be because I like it as it is, but I am always curious about the options.

And thanks again. I really appreciate your helpful replies, and the replies of others. I'd also be curious to hear more about your making, e.g., how many, preferred style, impetus to take up the craft, etc.


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PostPosted: Wed May 25, 2011 9:49 am 
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Koa
Koa

Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:46 pm
Posts: 867
First name: Freeman
Last Name: Keller
Focus: Build
Status: Amateur
OK, here are a few more comments. They are one persons opinion, take them for what they are worth.

First, all of those were played in open G using a Tribotone slide except for the Dobro one - that was played lap style (you can play a roundie lap style, it just slides around a lot more) with a nut extender and a Shubb steel. I am even worse as a lap player than when I play Spanish style. The 12 string was down tuned two semi tones - all of the others are DGDGBD.

Second, if you do decide to go with the Hound Dog, get Paul Beards dvd on setting up a spider bridge guitar. Some of it is oriented to lap style (high nut and action) but he also goes into cone transplants, getting rid of rattles and other little tricks. He has a little segment where he takes the stock PacRim cone and taps it with his finger - it gives a dull little thud, he then taps a spun cone and it rings like a bell. Which leads to the first and main thing you can do to improve the tone - replace the pressed cone (if it has one) with a good cone. The most popular ones for a spider are Quarterman (which is what is in mine) and Beard cones (most people like NRP's as the upgrade for a biscuit or tricone).

Next is setting the cone tension - there is a little screw that connects the cone to the spider (there should be a hole in the palm rest to access it). You just barely want to tighten it to where it starts pulling the cone, then maybe 1/2 turn more. If it is too tight it will choke the cone sound and you will loose sustain. They are often too tight.

Next inportant thing is the setup itself - if you are going to play slide you will want the strings as flat as possible, if you are going to fret you might want a little radius. Be aware that resonators have lousy intonation - the saddle is usually right at the scale distance (2X the distance to 12) with no additional compensation. They almost always play sharp fretted up the neck (remember that it doesn't make any difference with a slide). If you mostly want to fret then try pushing the cone as far towards the tail piece and move the break point on the saddle as far back as you can - don't angle the spider as you'll just make one side better and the other worse. You might want to temper your tuning slightly to try to compensate.

Next are strings. Resonators are naturally "bright" so adding bright strings may be a mistake. I like PB's and use coated ones (Nanos) for life. One trick is to replace the third with an unwound one (0.022 or 24) - the third string is pretty hot for slide work and an uncoated one will cut down the rattle. There are special sets labeled "resonator" - usually 0.016 to 56 - these are normally designed for "high bass G" (GBDGBD) used by bluegrass dobro players. I use plain old mediums on mine - seems to work fine, altho you will hear people who use nickel wound and all sorts of things.

Action is set by adjusting the neck angle by shimming the neck stick. You have a little play with the depth of the slots in the saddle, but not much. Again, you will want to compromise towards which ever style of play you prefere - a little higher and flatter for slide, more normal and radiused for fretted. Some resonator fretboards are pretty flat (20 inch) which is what I prefer - I would set the saddle radius to the fretboard.

Minor tweaks - put a piece of leather or foam under the tailpiece to keep it from rattling on the cover plate. Make sure the spider and cover plate fit well. If you have soundhole covers (you won't with f-holes) make sure they fit tightly. Resonators are prone to rattles and they can be very frustrating.

Pickups are a can of worms - Bob Brozman talks about how to mic a reso on his web page (which is what I've done) - there are a few good and some bad pickups for the guitar itself. For a spider I would look at what Jerry Douglas does and follow that lead.

There are several forums about resonators - this one is oriented more towards spiders. Good information in the building section

http://www.resohangout.com/forum/

Good luck, have fun, slide on in...

edit to add, here was a little thread on my tricone

viewtopic.php?f=10104&t=29796

one more addition, this forum is devoted mainly to blues players and there is lots of discussion about resonators. You might want to spend some time reviewing all the different opinions in addition to mine

http://bigroadblues.com/forum/viewforum ... 791c244e0f


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PostPosted: Thu May 26, 2011 2:06 pm 
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Mahogany
Mahogany

Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2011 1:08 pm
Posts: 76
Thanks again Freeman. Still have not made it back to the store yet, to give it another go, but no doubt a resonator is in my future.


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PostPosted: Thu May 26, 2011 4:49 pm 
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Koa
Koa

Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:46 pm
Posts: 867
First name: Freeman
Last Name: Keller
Focus: Build
Status: Amateur
jm2 wrote:
Thanks again Freeman. Still have not made it back to the store yet, to give it another go, but no doubt a resonator is in my future.


Since this IS a building forum, why not build one? Beard has plans and a kit for a spider (both round and squre necks) Another great option is dropping a cone well into an old yard sale guitar - particularly something like an old Yamie with a really bad neck angle.


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PostPosted: Thu May 26, 2011 7:29 pm 
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Mahogany
Mahogany

Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2011 1:08 pm
Posts: 76
Guitar building is something I am considering (I build other things, and am very competent in a shop) however, as much as I like the idea of resonators, I would not want to make one, at least not right now. It's hard to articulate precisely why. I mean I have great respect for those who do build their own. I am just apt to better enjoy a decent sounding trade reso for now. Long term, who knows, but until I have a good amount of time playing one, or several, and understanding how they tick...


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