Until quite recently, an affordable resonator guitar was well out of reach of most musicians. Manufacturing had all but stopped leaving the aspiring player with two options - vintage instruments that dated back as far as the 1920s (made by Dobro or National) or new models hand made by a select group of luthiers who had kept the tradition alive. Both routes were prohibitively expensive.
Many of the original guitars had either fallen into disrepair due to the ravages of time or neglect and those that were still playable had almost become museum pieces that if you were fortunate enough to own you’d be fearful to take to a gig. Another problem was amplifying them in a live situation. Pickups and preamps were still in their infancy and mediocre sounding at best, not to mention that altering the instrument would destroy its market value. The alternative was using a high end condenser mic which also brought its own inherent problems of being impractical and prone to screeching feedback. I’ve seen it myself and it ain’t pretty.
How times have changed! Roots music has enjoyed a resurgence over the last few years and so has the demand for affordable resonators, lap steel guitars, banjos, mandolins and ukuleles. It’s in this area of niche instruments that the Recording King company has become one of the leaders of the market. Their ever-growing selection of vintage inspired instruments is remarkable and shows no sign of letting up. Their newest resonator, the RK-RR-36-VS, is a perfect example.
If you’re unfamiliar with what a “resonator” guitar is, allow me to explain. While guitars have been around for centuries – literally - the electric guitar is a relatively recent invention. Until the 1930s, the guitar was strictly an acoustic affair which made performing in public pretty tough. Guitarists struggled to be heard over other instruments as well as audiences who could certainly get rowdy. In 1925 the first resonator guitar appeared. The idea was to place a metal cone inside the body of the guitar which acted like a speaker - or a resonator - to increase the guitar’s volume.
As well as making the guitar louder, it changed the sound of the instrument to the point where a whole new style of playing evolved. This new fangled steel guitar was invented by two brothers - John and Rudy Dopyera - who became known as the Do Bros. If that name rings a bell the company they formed was the now famous Dobro Manufacturing Company. The name became synonymous with resonator guitars. A common misconception about resonators is that they were made solely for the purpose of bottleneck or slide guitar. This is not true, however like garlic and prawns, you’d think that they were made for each other.
Almost a century later Recording King have produced a line of resonator guitars for players who crave the unmistakable sweet sustained sound that has been recorded on thousands of blues and country albums at a price point is hard to believe.
The RK-RR-36-VS has a mahogany top, sides, back and neck with a padauk fingerboard. Mahogany is well known for its superior tone and sustain, which this model has in spades. The cone, which on the more affordable resonators can be left a little wanting, is superb and the ebony bridge and chrome cover plate all add up to a seriously great sounding instrument. The tobacco sunburst finish is virtually flawless and the binding on the body and neck make it a classy looking instrument.
Overall, the RK-RR-36-VS represents bang for buck I’ve never seen in a modern resonator. Having spent some time with this one, it’s going to be tough giving it back.
Hits and Misses
Superb sound and beautifully finished