I am just about to purchase a squareneck Dobro, and I want to have a set of good strings ready for it when it arrives. What are the best strings for a spider bridge reso, in your opinion? I don't intend to tune to GBDGBD, but rather to low-bass G (DGDGBD) and maybe crank it up to EBDGBD. Also, I favour a more mellow sound to the IMO harsh "modern" Dobro sound.
The Birch insert are supposed to be even warmer - I've not tried those, but was advised that the tone change makes the guitar less "dobro", and I play with a Bluegrass band so it is that old dobro sound I'm after.
Robin is right, I think you can get more tonal variation by experimenting with bridge material than you can get from changing strings. I have to say I tried birch inserts and didn't like the tone at all but I believe Mike Auldridge uses them and he sounds great. It's a relatively cheap experiment to make so it's worth trying. If you really want a warm bassy sound then Delrin is a good bridge material.
As far as string gauges go you can tune EJ42s (.016 to .056 ) down to open D without any problem so I wouldn't worry too much about it. Either those D'Addarios or Newtone's dobro strings are good - I must say I haven't found much to choose between them tonally but, like bridge material, the effect varies between guitars so it's worth trying both. It's probably worth experimenting with bronze rather than phosphor bronze strings too, as they're a quite recent invention.
The Beard inserts will drop straight into an American-made spider but they are too thick for the spiders of the far eastern imports.
Incidentally the method of construction of the guitar is also a significant factor in getting the more traditional dobro sound. If that's what you want then I'd be looking for one with a traditional soundwell if I were you, and maybe also think about plywood (laminate if you're talking posh) as a construction material. The "modern" sound of people like Rob Ickes is a function of the open internal construction of the guitar and his picking style - he picks quite hard and close to the bridge. If you're playing on the top string you'll get a mellower sound by using the bar more towards the middle than the tip (that's a Sally van Meter hint).
I use Newtone 'Square Neck Resonator Strings' for high bass GBDGBD and Newtone MM Nationals 16 to 59 for low bass DGDGBD.
Any brand of strings that calls itself a 'resonator' or Dobro set of strings is designed for GBDGBD, not for what you are going to do. So heavy gauge Newtone Nationals should be fine.
Tune it up to GBDGBD - that is the best way to play acoustic lap steel. That is the tuning on all the early Hawaiian records...Sol Hoopii, King Benny, Jim & Bob...etc, all used high bass tunings. Most of those guys went up to AC#EAC#E. It is not just for banjo licks on a Dobro. My Square-neck Tricone is mostly in high bass G tuning and my Dobro is too. Either that or DADF#AD.
Michael - I was surprised by your last paragraph, as I was under the impression that low bass G (or its A equivalent) was the "original" lap steel open tuning, and that the "dobro" tuning GBDGBD came along later in country music. I really like to have a 5th on the bottom (and also the sound of a low D) and haven't really played much in GBDGBD. Want to explore it though - there is so much to learn and so many possibilities in each of these basic tunings (and their slight variations).
Post by ChickenboneJohn on Dec 6, 2007 0:09:14 GMT
I too like high bass G on a spider bridge guitar...it's a great tuning for lap-style. I'm not sure about the 'harshess' that Fred refers to, as I generally find Dobro style guitars quite sweet sounding. Having said that, some of the cheap spider bridge guitars seem very gutless in the bottom register, especially when put in low bass G or open D. I prefer mine in high bass G rather than low bass G,as the whole guitar seems to respond way better, and is less gruff sounding with no muddyness at the bottom end of the register. I usually use d'Addario reso strings.
Most Hawaiian steel guitarists from the very early recordings onwards, used high bass tunings. The actual pitch varies, but most are tuned in variations of AC#EAC#E and EBEG#BE. Low bass A or G tunings are great for a solo player, because the player can vamp a rhythm on the bass strings and pick the melody on the top two or three. But as soon as the rhythm is handled by a another musician, high bass tunings are better as they offer more harmonic possibilities.
High bass became accepted for Dobro players in country music because the early players like Clell Summey and Bashful Brother Oswald were bringing what they called 'island guitar' into the mix. Oswald never referred to himself as a Dobroist, always as a Hawaiian steel guitarist. He disliked most modern Dobro playing because he said it is not a banjo, it is a steel guitar. Oswald tuned tuned his Dobro AC#EAC#E. I think Josh Graves was the person who popularized the GBDGBD tuning. He was one of the pioneers of modern country Dobro playing.
In the blues most lap steel players used low bass tunings. Most of them were solo players and a tuning with two major thirds is not very bluesy! The only high bass blues player that I can think of is Casey Bill Weldon. Casey Bill used a variety of pitches from all three groups - GBDGBD DGDGBD DADF#AD - and is one of my favourite steel guitarists. By a variety of pitches I mean FACFAC or CGCEGC.
That is a fascinating history - I can recognize a lot of it from my own (limited) experience to date.
I spend about 2 years with my dobro tuned to DADF#AD or DGDGBD when I first got it - primarily because I was playing solo at home and I could translate bottleneck blues pieces I had learned to lap style. I tried GBDGBD but it didn't make much "sense" to me when I played alone.
Since I've joined a small ensemble, my dobro has been mostly tuned to GBDGBD and I'm finding the tuning very natural in that situation. At last Saturday's gig I played my dobro exclusively in GBDGBD and had my electric lap steel in open D for backing on a couple of blues numbers. (I quite fancy a squareneck tricone at some time in the future for open D or low bass G)
What I'm learning most at the moment is that I don't know what I don't know about lap slide playing
Thanks everyone for the input, and Michael - special thanks for that very interesting info on the early days of lap steel guitar playing!
As I play mainly solo, low bass tunings have made most sense to me so far, but I'm curious to try the high-bass tunings (last autumn, I briefly had an old Oahu tuned to FACFAC, and also FACEAC, which I found was a quite versatile tuning as you've got "fat sounding" major and minor chords with a straight bar - C6th has major and minor too, but the high root in the A minor there isn't exactly "fat" for solo playing).
I also use 'high' bass G tuning on my spiders. There are many bass slants (and 7th's and sus 4th's) you just can't get any other way. You should at least try it out. I use low bass for bottleneck (as well as C, D, and other variations). High bass G, like anything else, is what YOU make of it.
I like Michael's "own set." For SURE a 16, 18 on the top! Heavier on the top and it sounds and plays "closed and constricted" to me. Not much chime either above a 16, 18 IMO.
GOT TO INCLUDE THIS VIDEO; he uses an "E" on the bottom string.
Just referenced this thread in another post and then thought I might as well bump it as there is some interesting stuff in it... It also left me looking around for some Casey Bill Weldon, I went for Guitar Swing - fantatsic!