This is the place to ask Michael Messer and other forum members questions relating to National, Dobro and other resophonic musical instruments. Also questions and comments relating to National, Dobro, Supro, Valco amplifiers. No commercial advertising. To ask Mark Makin questions about anything in the Palm Trees, Senoritas & Rocket Ships thread, start a new thread in National Avenue
Try before you buy is a good adage. Unfortunately, not many guitar shops know much about resophonic guitars so your first purchase can be difficult. The cheap Fender products do not have a good reputation compared to the competition and there are other options around that price range. Some brands have been around a while and you are probably best sticking with one of those, such as Johnson, Regal or Ozark. A lot of these cheaper resophonics are (or can be) quite good guitars BUT the set up on a resophonic is crucial to getting a good sound. In fact I would say that a good set up is an absolute must – which is why buying a reso from a regular guitar shop can be such a lottery.
There is a big tone difference between the three main types of resophonic guitars: tricones, biscuit bridge single cones and spider bridge single cones. Go to the “Resonator Guitars – An Introduction” article by Michael for more info on the difference. www.michaelmesser.co.uk/
What I’ll give you now is just ONE answer to your question of what to buy – but by no means the only one. For you budget of £300 and living in London you could buy a Johnson JW995 mahogany wood bodied biscuit bridge guitar – you can find them discounted on the net (Thomann) at present for about £155 delivered www.thomann.de/gb/johnson_jw995_mahagoni_resonator.htm I've not bought through Thomann myself yet, and normally I would say support your local small retailer, but for the budget you have you are unlikely to find anything half descent in a regular music shop.
Most importantly, I would then use the other £150 of your budget to get an expert like Dave King to set the guitar up so it plays to its best potential. The Johnson has a good spun cone made by Continental so it is likely that some work on the nut, bridge saddle and frets plus the right gauge/make of strings could turn it into a great playing little guitar.
As I said, this is only one option – there are many others!!!!!
I bought my first resonator earlier this year. I had intended to save up for a National but I was finally persuaded to try a cheap ‘n’ cheerful brand after reading some positive reviews. My budget was similar to yours, I didn’t want to spend any more than £300. In the end I bought a Johnson 14 fret Style O copy with Don style engraving (metal body, biscuit bridge). I ordered it from Thomann and their service was excellent; it arrived from Germany in about four days and it played okay straight from the box although a set of Newton MM strings helped a great deal. I think it cost about £230.
Now I’m not going to tell you that it’s a fine guitar, it isn’t but for the money it’s not bad at all. Some of the construction looks a little crude, particularly the neck joint and the tacky “engraving” (get a plain one, it’ll be cheaper too) but it is solid and it sounds pretty good. The neck is quite wide and chunky, which I like. For the money I’d definitely recommend a Johnson.
Hi Dan, That's excellent advice from Robn. I've dealt with Thomann for recording equipment on a number of occasions and have had no problems with them. They have some excellent bargains. However, I have noticed that some retailers in the UK have recently been trying to compete with them on price so it may be worth trying to get a price match from a London shop. It would be easier to take it back if there were any problems and you can try before you buy. I'd definately avoid the Fender resos. The Johnson/Vintage guitars are excellent for the price, better than the Ozarks I've seen.
Robn has given you some excellent advice on buying a budget priced resophonic guitar. Apart from reading my 'Introduction to...' which Robn has mentioned, and searching through this forum for discussions about budget resophonic guitars (of which there are many), I cannot offer any other helpful advice. Robn is correct about set-up and spending some money to get it done properly. Keep in touch and let us know how you get on. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask.
Thank you so much for all your replies - what a helpful bunch you are! This is just the kind of info I was after.
But of course, I now have more questions.....
I like the idea of buying a pretty cheap reso from the website you mentioned and getting it set up. I have already emailed Dave but he is unfortunately away until september.
Would the reso you mentioned (the Johnson JW995) sound passable before the set up? Or would it be just awful!?
Could you recomend a reso for 300 that would be passable? Thanks to Blisters for your recomendation which sounds good - I can't find exactly which one you mean though. I also wonder what others think about the Johnson/Vintage brand at this price range?
I play a lot of the blues in the delta style and I'm desperate for that reso tone particularly as I'm busy practicing in a blues duo.
Thanks again for all your help - I really appreciate it.
I can give you a bit more info about the Johnson JW995 as a friend of mine has just had one delivered from Thomann and I've had a good look and play
Thomann first - The guitar was delivered within 4 working days of the order and was well packed. They even sent him a text the day after he placed his order to tell him that it had been dispatched.
Johnson JW995 - This is the European stock number, in the US the guitar is sold as the JR-550 Bottleneck Slide Triolian. The spec was virtually as shown on the Johnson web site except the tuners are chrome not gold and the bridge is ebony-capped maple, not plain maple www.johnsongtr.com/Bottle-Slide-Triolia.174.0.html.
It is more Trojan size than Triolian size. The body is mahogany ply, about 1/8" on the top. This is a bit light in my opinion, however, the good news is that they have put very substantial bracing into the body so it is quite firm - solid to tap rather than hollow. The finish is gloss varnish (with a couple of Chinese thumb prints where it has been picked up wet )
The neck is very basic mahogany with a C profile and satin finish. The nut width is 44mm, plastic and cut a little too high. The saddle is ebony capped maple and the action is again slightly on the high side. (better high than too low). The neck set seems OK as there is plenty of room to both lower the bridge and nut without getting into trouble.
The cone looks like a spun Continental (as advertised) and sounds good (no, make that really good for a £155 guitar!). The truss rod needed a tweak to reduce the relief, which I did. The guitar came strung with 13-56 strings that I replaced with MM National Newtone 15-56 (my friend is going to keep this guitar in open G and open D). The biscuit was well to the rear of the cover plate hole and I thought "Oh no, they've had to push it that far back to get the intonation right". But it had just slipped to the rear of the sound well in transit and the intonation is OK with everything centered.
The Sound - Not bad at all straight out the box (after changing strings). Plenty of cone tone and volume - it sounds like a wood bodied biscuit bridge resonator ;D I know that's what it is but I didn't expect it to sound so authentic straight out the box.
However, I'm not keen on the brightness of the ebony-capped saddle, it's quite unnecessary. The guitar will sound much, much sweeter with a plain maple or boxwood saddle. I wouldn't get hung up about changing the cone, this one sounds just fine
The guitar would benefit from a new bone nut, cut slightly lower, a new saddle in maple or boxwood, cut slightly lower, and a bit more truss rod adjustment and fret leveling.
Remember - this is a £155 guitar, it is not a quality instrument, and never will be. But I think it is perfectly good enough to bash out blues slide on, and will be a really practical instrument for busking and pub gigs after a good set-up. If I get a chance, I'll record the guitar as it came (except with Newtone strings) and post the clip.
Here is a sound clip of me noodling around on the Johnson JW995 tonight. It was recorded with an SM57 mic, pre-amp, direct to laptop with no EQ. This is the guitar straight out of the box with just a string change to Newtone National 15-56 phosphor bronze strings. I recon as the cone opens up with some play time it will sound really good - particularly if you replace the ebony-capped bridge, but that's really a personal preference thing - it sounds OK as is
The question of “Which budget resonator?” comes up regularly on this forum – so I took the opportunity to offer some thoughts and info when this particular guitar fell into my hands! My friend has just started to learn slide, and loves the sound of my reso so wanted to find a cheap one - and I think he has done well with this purchase.
The corners that have been cut to keep the price down (nut and saddle set up) are easily correctable, and the cone is really very, very good - well beyond what I would have expected from £155 guitar (I expected to find an old hubcap in a guitar of this price )
I'm just so pleased to see a budget reso that has had some thought put into it. It is still a budget guitar - not a high quality instrument - but I have to say that Johnson have done a good job. This is not a typical "pretty on the outside - pants on the inside" cheap reso - it's actually OK It sounds great and with a good set up will be a pleasure to pick up and play.
I’ll recommend my mate leaves the guitar set up as it came for a couple of months while he gets some basic slide techniques honed – the high nut and saddle will work in his favour to start with. And then he can get a new nut cut and sand another mm or so off the bottom of the saddle if he decides he wants a good hybrid action for both slide and finger picking blues.
I’ll also point him in the direction of your DVD and this forum ;D
It would be interesting to hear what the owners of some of the metal bodied budget resonators have to say about their guitars – with the present resurgent interest in resos there must be some reasonable quality budget ones out in the market place by now.
I can vouch for the Ozark metal-body reso - my gig-partner has one, & it sounds really good, just needed the usual set-up tweaks (smooth frets/fretends, adjust action at nut/saddle), but like yours, the cone is way-better sounding than the price would lead one to expect; it's good to see that the quality of this crucial component has at last been improved in the cheapy resos, it's what always used to let them down - that internal bracing on the wood-body looks good'n'solid too..
Hello Dan...really good info from Robn...I hope you manage to get the best guitars for your money
Hello Robn...nice playing...enjoyed...i like the sound of the Johnson...super demo.
I have a relatively inexpensive Vintage AMG 2 Tricone...the burs on the frets could have ripped my fingers off when i first bought it plus there is a flat spot on the high string at the 12th fret...and the sound may be considered as dull in comparison to other resos and it is not a patch on the range of sounds delivered on my Style O NRP but I love it all the same...it is deep down and dirty and that suits me fine ;D...
I wouldn't wish to refine the sound on this particular guitar by upgrading with "better" cones ...the only thing i would sort out is the flat spot should i ever use it for finger style but for slide it aint a problem.
Dan:) it is the wider neck earlier version i believe from korea so you may wish to take neck width at the nut into consideration when purchasing.