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Americana, folk, country, bluegrass, the blues. Even rock! The resonator guitar has been in use for longer than the electric guitar.
Its innovative design had a lot to do with achieving more projection. This aspect of the resonator was made less of a concern with the introduction of amplifiers and microphones, but it still matters to true dobro players.
In this guide, we look at the best resonator guitars.
Beard Guitars Radio Standard-R Squareneck Resonator Guitar – Best Overall
The Beard Guitars Radio Standard-R Squareneck Resonator Guitar is a professional-level instrument featuring a solid maple neck, ebony fingerboard with acrylic pearloid dot inlays, a Finnish birch R-Model body, Beard Legend Cone, Beard #14 spider, black tailpiece, black Radio cover plate, and Gotoh tuners.
This dobro features a punchy, full tone with a strong sustain and projection that should work nicely in Americana, folk, bluegrass, and even the blues.
This versatile, handcrafted dobro is a true gem in just about any musical scenario and is sure to win you over in a heartbeat. If its price point doesn’t make your heart race first, that is.
Its quality, and versatility, however, are exactly what makes the Radio Standard-R our best overall selection.
Beard Guitars Lotus Squareneck Acoustic-Electric Resonator Guitar – Premium Option
The Beard Guitars Lotus Squareneck Acoustic-Electric Resonator Guitar is no pushover. With a premium price tag, a professional-grade design, and rarely-seen premium features, this dobro is suited to modern and traditional styles alike.
The Finnish birch veneer body comes in Beard Guitars’ E open-body design along with a radiused back. The hand-rounded edges offer additional comfort while playing, and these touches make the instrument look great too.
This baby also features a Beard Original #14 sand-cast spider bridge and a hand-spun Beard Legend Cone.
The result is a guitar that’s easy to play, with a tone that will cut through a mix, and a rich, full projection for unplugged sessions.
The onboard Fishman Nashville Series pickup allows you to plug into an amp or sound system of your choice, for a full electric sound.
The pickup can be used in tandem with the Fishman Jerry Douglas Signature Series Aura Imaging pedal, which lets you access 16 different microphone-free imaging settings. The pedal, however, is sold separately.
This resonator guitar also comes with a chrome Lotus cover plate, custom fret marker inlays, Gotoh Mini Tuners, and a beautiful glossy finish.
There’s no mistaking this handcrafted instrument for a cheaper guitar. This is our best premium option. It looks great, feels great, and sounds great.
Recording King RM-993 Nickel Parlor Resonator – Best Budget Option
The Recording King RM-993 Nickel Parlor Resonator (compare price on Sweetwater and Guitar Center) comes with a nickel-plated bell brass body, custom hand-spun cone (same as the one included in resonators like the Swamp Dog seen later), mahogany neck, and maple / ebony biscuit bridge.
But what is perhaps most unique about the RM-993 is its modest size. For those who might feel intimidated by larger resonators, or even those who have smaller hands, this product is worth a look.
Because of its smaller size, the instrument also has a bit of a different tone. It boasts the same midrange as full-sized metal body instruments, but it gives you added higher-end cut.
Overall, the RM-993 nickel parlor resonator could even make for a good beginner instrument thanks to its size, price, and durability. That makes it our best budget option.
Gold Tone Mastertone PBS-M Paul Beard Squareneck Solid-Mahogany Resonator Guitar
The Gold Tone Mastertone PBS-M Paul Beard Squareneck Resonator Guitar is a thing of beauty. Designed by Paul Beard, the PBS-M dobro is the “bang for buck” resonator you’ve been searching high and low for.
With an open soundwell body design, USA beard cones and spiders, ebony fingerboard with snowflake inlays, mahogany neck, solid mahogany body, and curly maple binding, the PBS-M strikes the perfect balance between quality U.S. craftsmanship and mid-tier pricing.
The PBS-M also comes with a new cover plate system that makes it easier to adjust string action. Should you ever need to make any finer adjustments, this is sure to make your life easier.
Gold Tone PBR-CA Paul Beard Roundneck Resonator Guitar with Cutaway
The Gold Tone PBR-CA Paul Beard Roundneck Resonator Guitar with Cutaway is unique, of course, because of its cutaway! Before this, I don’t think I’d even heard of a cutaway dobro.
Now, a lot of pros seem to have no trouble accessing higher notes on their fretboard without the extra leverage, but for those who need it for higher register leads, it’s nice to know this exists!
The resonator comes with a solid mahogany body, curly maple binding, an open soundwell, a US resonator cone and spider, an ebony fingerboard with snowflake inlays, and a mahogany neck.
Country, blues, and fingerstyle players alike should get a kick out of this number, and if you’re looking for a model with a cutaway, you sure won’t find any others in this guide.
Gold Tone PBS-D Paul Beard Squareneck Resonator Guitar Deluxe
The Gold Tone PBS-D Paul Beard Squareneck Resonator Guitar Deluxe features a US aluminum Beard cone and spider, along with a curly maple body, curly maple binding, ebony fretboard with heart and flower inlays, maple soundwell, and sealed adjustable tuners with pearloid buttons.
To my ears, this dobro has got a nice cutting sound and good sustain. Check it out for yourself and see what you think.
Recording King RM-991 Nickel Tricone Resonator (Roundneck)
The Recording King RM-991 Nickel Tricone Resonator (Roundneck) (compare price on Sweetwater and Guitar Center) features a classic metal body tricone resonator with three 6” cones for added projection. You’ll find one treble cone and two bass cones, which adorn the instrument with a balanced tone across the frequency spectrum.
The resonator was crafted from nickel-plated bell brass. This guitar also comes with a screen cover plate, sand-cast powder-coated T-shaped bridge, a maple and ebony saddle, a mahogany neck, and a padauk fretboard.
We’ll explore the difference between square-neck and round-neck resonator guitars later, but the fact that the RM-991 has a round neck, so it can be played more like a traditional guitar, is also of note.
To me, the RM-991 nickel tricone dobro has a clear and rich tone no guitarist should be embarrassed to take advantage of.
Recording King RM-998-R Nickel Style-O Resonator (Roundhole)
The Recording King RM-998-R Nickel Style-O Resonator (Roundhole) (compare price on Sweetwater and Guitar Center) features a nickel-plated bell brass body, hand-spun European Recording King cone, Honduran mahogany neck, and padauk fretboard.
As with most if not all Recording King models, the RM-998-R takes after pre-war metal body resonator guitar designs, and their lyrical tonal quality, as well as their bold projection, is much sought-after.
With a highly playable design, the RM-998-R is sure to be a favorite among beginners and pros alike. Its price point is moderate too.
Recording King RM-997-H Hawaiian Style-O Resonator
The Recording King RM-997-H Hawaiian Style-O Resonator comes with a Style O bell brass body, open gear tuners, European Recording King hand-spun resonator cone, Hawaiian sandblast finish, mahogany neck, and rosewood fingerboard.
Recording King takes pride in their resonator guitar designs, and the RM-997-H delivers a classic tone along with powerful projection. This dobro is suitable for beginners and pros alike.
The manufacturer says they only made a limited run of these, so if you’re interested, we do suggest acting sooner rather than later.
Regal RC-2 Duolian
The Regal RC-2 Duolian is a favorite among blues players. With a rich history dating back to 1896, Regal exploded in popularity with their resonator instruments in the 1930s. Their resonator guitars were first introduced in 1931.
The modern-day RC-2 Duolian comes with several new improvements over the original model, like a rosewood fingerboard, adjustable neck, and a neck joint at the 14th fret.
Also included in the Duolian are 15:1 ratio machine heads, rolled-in F-holes, a cover plate, a tailpiece, and a spun resonator cone with a wooden biscuit bridge.
From Tampa Red to Son House, this was the guitar favored by many blues legends. This had a lot to do with the instrument’s overall projection, which is strong.
Recording King RM-997-VG Swamp Dog Style-O Resonator
The Recording King RM-997-VVG Swamp Dog Style-O Resonator (compare price at Sweetwater and Guitar Center) features a bell brass body with a cool distressed vintage green design, European Recording King resonator cone, and open gear tuners.
In almost every other regard, this resonator is the same as the best budget selection in this guide (except this is not a parlor guitar). But the aged green patina oxidized style finish is sure to appeal to some players – it’s hard to deny its appeal.
What To Look For In A Resonator Guitar
There’s nothing quite like a resonator guitar, especially if you want to dive deeper into slide guitar playing.
The resonator has a distinctive, metallic tone you will not hear from acoustic guitars, but you don’t necessarily need to learn a lot of new techniques to be able to play a resonator, especially since it can be played without a slide too.
Ultimately, you will make up your mind about which resonator guitar is right for you. But we know all about decision paralysis, and how hard it can be to choose when presented with multiple attractive options. And we’re here to help.
Besides, buying smart now can help you avoid a lot of common pitfalls later, like ending up with a square-neck resonator when you wanted a round-neck one.
So, in this section, we’ll be looking at a few criteria you should consider when shopping for a resonator guitar. They are as follows:
- Sound and tone
- Square neck or round neck
Let’s dive into each.
Sound & Tone
As with any instrument, it can take time to notice the difference between a beginner-level resonator and a professional-grade resonator.
If I were to offer a blanket statement that rings true most of the time, it would be that the more you’re willing to pay, and the better the quality of material used to build the instrument, the better the chance the dobro will have a great sound and tonal quality.
Of course, there is still a difference between wooden and metal body instruments, and what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. It’s important that you choose based on what you like and what you need.
Fundamentally, this is an invitation to check out each dobro you’re considering for purchase. Watch the video demos and reviews so you can get a better sense of how each instrument sounds.
In an ideal world, you’d be able to go to the guitar store and try them out for yourself before buying them as well. In the absence of a nearby guitar store with the right stock, though, your best bet is to check out demos and reviews.
Arguably, sound, and tonal quality matters most when you’re performing and recording at a professional level. Having the right instrument can give you the confidence you need to give your best performance every single time.
That said, even beginner to intermediate players can have an appreciation for great tone. And starting with a lesser instrument, just because you’re a beginner, isn’t always the wisest choice either. Playability is a key factor for beginners, and we’ll get to that in a moment.
Either way, a great-sounding instrument can also be very versatile, and if you see yourself playing a variety of genres, it’s only natural you’d pay more attention to sound and tone as well. If you’re not a one-tone pony, naturally you’ll gravitate to instruments that allow for more expression.
It’s not the be-all and end-all of dobro shopping, but most would consider sound a key factor in the buying process. We do recommend paying close attention to the tone of the instruments you’re thinking about buying. Which also includes…
As a subhead under sound and tone, there exists another criterion simply known as projection. One of the reasons the resonator guitar was even created, to begin with, has a lot to do with its design, which offered a louder sound than its guitar counterparts.
Historically, this factor was quickly made less relevant by electric amplification. But it certainly didn’t put an end to resonator guitars.
If you have an acoustic-electric dobro and plan to use it plugged in most of the time, you may not consider projection a factor in the slightest.
But if you intend to play the instrument acoustically or microphoned up, then it’s unlikely you’ll completely overlook projection.
And let’s face it – because premium instruments are made of better materials, they tend to have better projection too. This is not universally true, but it tends to hold water most of the time. So, while you’re exploring an instrument’s sound, it’s worth listening for its overall projection as well.
Does projection matter to you?
This will mostly come down to what environments you intend to play your dobro in.
If you plan to practice alone, or if you’re going to be using amplification, you may not care as much.
On the other hand, if you’re going to be jamming with friends, entertaining fireside, or using a microphone to capture the sound of your resonator, you may want to dive deeper into this factor.
At the end of the day, though, it’s still a matter of what works for you. And speaking of what works for you, you can’t forget about…
Square neck or round neck will play heavily into the resonator guitar’s overall playability, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Besides the sound or tone of the guitar, which many would consider the most important buying criteria, it’s also worth considering the instrument’s overall playability.
In addition to feeling good in your hands and against your body, the shape of the neck and the height of the strings can make a big difference (for both types of necks). Preferences do differ from one to another, but most would agree that the easier to play the guitar, the better.
We have two choices when it comes to exploring or determining the playability of a resonator guitar.
The first is to check the reviews. You should be able to find both video and written reviews, with some indication of how well the guitar plays or whether it plays nicely at all. If the ratings are generally high, then it means the guitar probably doesn’t have any major issues in the areas of action or playability.
The next thing you can do, if you’re willing to spend a bit of extra time doing your homework, is to go to the guitar store and try out each model you’re considering yourself. If you need more time with the guitars to determine which one is right for you, you may be able to rent them and try them at home too.
Developing your skill on the instrument can make a difference when it comes to navigating the instrument’s overall playability and action, but most pros would agree that all things being equal, they would prefer a guitar that’s easier to play over one that’s harder to play.
In extenuating circumstances, you may be able to get your resonator guitar set up by a professional guitar technician. But in most cases, you’re still better off buying an instrument with good action out of the box, as that ensures any tweaks you make won’t need to be drastic.
But playability means different things when it comes to…
Square Neck Or Round Neck
A square neck resonator guitar has a high nut as it is intended to be played as a lap-style guitar, with a bar or slide (no fretting). So, a square-neck dobro isn’t meant to be played as a normal guitar (you could hurt yourself just attempting to press the strings against the fretboard, which is not recommended).
Additionally, square neck resonators are primarily intended for country and bluegrass styles.
Meanwhile, round neck resonators allow for normal fretting (much like a guitar), and you can play the instrument with or without a slide (though it’s always a good idea to learn how to play slide if you’re going to play dobro).
Round-neck dobros are typically used by blues players, though of course they can be used for other styles and genres as well.
Since the type of neck will determine how the instrument will be played, it’s important that you consider what type of resonator guitar you want. Of course, you can always get two resonator guitars – square neck and round neck models.
But whether you’re buying one or two dobros, you can’t forget about…
If you’re familiar with the price of guitars, then you probably know how much a resonator is going to cost you.
There are cheaper options, of course, but a good resonator guitar is going to run you several hundred dollars if not at least a thousand dollars and up.
Buying a dobro is a bit of a commitment, both in terms of price, as well as ongoing care and maintenance.
I may not be saying anything you don’t already know, but we certainly wouldn’t want you overlooking your budget, especially in making a big purchase like this.
Even if you can’t afford any of the high-ticket items, you can probably make do with more affordable models for now. And if there’s a guitar you must have, my recommendation would be to save up for it.
Importantly, don’t go into debt to buy a resonator guitar. It could take a while to pay off, and the cost could even become unmanageable. We want you to enjoy the guitar, not have it become the bane of your existence!
Best Resonator Guitar Brands
Looking for the best resonator guitar brands? The following are some of the best and most known in the market, and most of them are also represented in the product selection above.
Beard Guitars manufactures resonator, acoustic, and lap steel instruments. The legendary Paul Beard himself founded the company. More accurately, because he was unhappy with the quality of resonator guitars available, he began making his own.
On their artist roster, you’ll find luminary players like Jerry Douglas, Josh Swift, Mark Knopfler, Anders Beck, Andy Hall, Abbie Gardner, Billy Strings, and many others.
Beard has a reputation for making quality instruments. From their setup to attention to detail, their craftsmanship is through the roof. You will often pay a premium price for their resonators, but if you want a quality instrument, in this case, you get exactly what you pay for.
Gold Tone Music Group
Gold Tone Music Group manufactures an array of different instruments, like guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, and more. Their Brands include Gold Tone, Jose Ramirez, Zero Glide, Earthtone Drumheads, Wood Song Advanced Acoustic Designs, and Loop2Learn.
If you’re looking for resonators, though, Gold Tone is the brand you’ll want to check out. The company was founded by Wayne and Roby Rogers, who continue to operate it to this day. Their product selection also includes banjos, mandolins, basses, and ukuleles.
Given that the name “Paul Beard” is associated with many of their instruments, you can rest assured Gold Tone represents a golden opportunity for resonator buyers too.
Recording King manufactures guitars, banjos, resonators, specialty guitar equipment, and cases.
Recording King found its start as a house brand in the 1930s. Their legacy continues to this day, with vintage-designed, hand-assembled instruments. Their instruments are made so well that the manufacturer says they should last for generations.
Their artist roster includes Sophie Allison, Kameron Anton, Lukas Bracewell, Gina Brooklyn, Nick Byrd, Cat Clyde, and many others.
If you’re looking for vintage-style instruments, you’ll love what Recording King has to offer.
Regal Musical Instrument Company
Regal Musical Instrument Company (or simply Regal) became one of the largest U.S.-based manufacturers of musical instruments in the 1930s. Their resonator instruments caught fire with musicians everywhere.
Sad to say, you can’t get Regal mandolins and ukuleles anymore, unless you happen to find them second-hand. And if you do come across them, you can expect them to come at a premium, because of their rarity.
This is because the company went defunct in 1954. The brand was acquired by Harmony and was then passed around until it landed in the hands of Saga Musical Instruments. Today, only resonator guitars are sold under the Regal brand.
At least the legend lives on in some way, shape, or form, and Regal instruments are still worth a look if you’re in the market for a resonator.
Another popular dobro brand is Danelectro Guitars, a company that manufactures an array of guitars, basses, accessories, effects pedals, and more.
The company has a rich history, creating an array of products that found their way all over the world. As a result, people young and old will have their reference points for the company, and the products they remember the brand for.
Danelectro’s artist roster includes Ronnie Wood, JJ Cale, Joe Perry, Dave Grohl, Mick Jagger, Angel Olsen, Mark Oliver Everett, and many others (not all play dobro mind you).
It’s fair to say Danelectro is another very reliable brand when it comes to resonators.
Gretsch Guitars is perhaps most known for the Falcon, an iconic hollow-body guitar. More generally, they are world renowned for their hollow body guitars. But that’s not all they make. They also make basses, acoustic guitars, ukuleles, resonators, accessories, and more.
Founded in 1883, Gretsch has been in existence for over 135 years. Their instruments have been seen in the hands of legends like Chet Atkins, Bono, Duane Eddy, George Harrison, Brian Setzer, Malcolm Young, and many others.
While their dobro selection isn’t huge, it’s certainly respectable. And if the quality of their guitars is any indication, their resonator guitars are quite good also!
Top Resonator Guitars, Final Thoughts
Most guitarists, sooner or later, are introduced to slide guitar. And those who are interested in taking slide guitar to the next level usually take it a step further with a resonator guitar.
It’s probably one of the reasons the answer to the question “How many guitars do you need?” is always one more.
We hope you found that “one more” guitar here. Have fun!