Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

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Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby Mike R. » Sun Dec 13, 2009 4:25 pm

This post is not meat to slam any particular manufacturer. I am simply mining for information and opinions before I decide to spend $700 - $800.

Since my interest in resonators has grown in the last couple of weeks, I have been researching as many different manufacturers as I can.

Two names pop up repeatedly as the 'go to' intro import brands. Beard/Goldtone and Republic. On their face, they both look like really nice instruments and both manufacturers seem readily access able via phone and email. This counts for a lot when dealing with manufacturers.

Honestly though, it seems like a gamble when purchasing one of these to 'get a good one'. I have read some not so nice things and it has me wondering.

Having to do things like worry about sharp fret ends, broken truss rod nuts that result in non-adjustable necks, in depth set up issues, dust and chemical residue left behind, and some of the other things I have read about from people that have purchased these is something I am definitely not OK with. These are things that should be sorted out before the instrument is shipped and not left to the purchaser to worry about after the sale.

I know each brand has it's fans and also people that were disappointed in the purchase (The same as people that purchase $3000 instruments.) but in my opinion, even in a $700 guitar, things like these are deal breakers and imply a definite need for an increase in outgoing QA. That is what worries me. I do not have the desire or time to purchase an instrument, wait for it, receive it and find that it is not what I ordered, or worse is what I ordered but needs excessive work before it is 100%.

I know there are people out there that do not mind doing things like this, and even enjoy it, but to me, these things should not happen and would result in the return of the instrument and the loss of a sale.

I realize buying sight unseen has it's risks, but that is not what I am talking about here.
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Re: Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby ricochet » Sun Dec 13, 2009 6:24 pm

I've had a Johnson "Chicago Blues" wood bodied spider that was a bit cheap looking if you looked at its finish closely, but had no playability issues and sounded great. I traded it off, and later got a Johnson Style 1 Tricone when they first moved the Johnson name to AXL in China. (They'd previously been made in the Czech Republic and were far more expensive.) The Johnson Tricone came with absolutely horrible cones, "mushrooms" that were improperly installed and muted the vibrations, giving it low volume and a muffled tone, the crudest looking bone nut I've ever seen, and a saddle that fit loosely in the bridge slot, also helping to kill the volume. Had a few other flaws I could probably think of, and had loose globs of solder rattling around inside. It has a Johnson sticker over an AXL sticker inside it, and it and all the other Johnsons I've seen of similar vintage have the same serial number on the sticker. But I had fun fixing it up and making it better. it's no NRP, but I've had a lot of fun playing it. A year and a half or so ago I bought a Rogue Spider when MF ran it on the SDOTD sale at $140. It's a lot like the old Johnson spider, but is better finished and needs nothing repaired or upgraded. I'm very happy with it. I've got a metal bodied Rogue Biscuit coming. I hope it turns out as nice.
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Re: Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby DeFord Harp Slider » Sun Dec 13, 2009 7:23 pm

I have 2 Saga wood body spider bridge models that I bought in the mid 90s and also a brass bodied Dean with cone mounted bridge.... I have been very pleased with them though I did do some changes on them in order to accentuate the individual tunings that I play each of them in .... The Dean is of Chinese origin and not as well finished as the Regal and Flint Hill that are of Korean manufacture and superior in fit and finish to my Gibson built Dobro Lectric.
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Re: Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby bacchant » Sun Dec 13, 2009 7:51 pm

A friend purchased a Republic metal tricone a few weeks ago and is like the proverbial pig in poop! Of course, this is just one case of a very satisfied customer but worth mentioning .
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Re: Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby zhyla » Sun Dec 13, 2009 8:19 pm

I've got a Rogue single cone. Haven't had any issues with it. The B string slot on the nut needs to be deepened a schmidge, which I can do, just haven't bothered. I put in a National cone and it's a convincing substitute for a National sound-wise. The stock cone was fine, I was mainly just bored.

I'm a little bored with the single-cone sound, will probably sell it and get a cheap spider or tricone. Rico if I knew you needed one I would have offered mine.

Anyways, here's my take:

1. Details like fret ends and perfect setup are the first thing to go when you're saving a buck. Learn to take care of this and cheap guitars are your friend.

2. Resos lend themselves well to unskilled labor than other kinds of guitars, especially metal-bodied resos. It's hard to screw up metal. Reso designs are all very sturdy and unlikely to have structural problems later in life. The really important component - the cones - is replaceable cheaply.
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Re: Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby ricochet » Sun Dec 13, 2009 11:55 pm

I clean forgot about the Johnson Tricone I bought for my guitar teacher in 2004, a bit over 2 years after I'd bought mine that needed lots of renovation. IMO the second Johnson was PERFECT! I wouldn't have changed a thing. Eventually he added two pickups, one on the bridge, a Schatten I think, and a magnetic pickup as well. He gigged with it regularly and it sounded terrific. It was stolen last summer, and no leads were turned up. The two pickups and the controls he added were unique. It could readily be identified if it turned up.
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Re: Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby leftyguitarman » Mon Dec 14, 2009 2:07 am

While I have no experience with Republics, which I assume you are referring to, I am going to comment on import guitars as a whole.

When it comes to import guitars, you can't expect MIA quality. Obviously a guitar that costs $700 is not going to be National quality, regardless of where it came from. As Nick said, the first thing to go when it comes to quality is fretwork. But how many Gibsons have you picked up that had immaculate fret work? I have never played one. Basically, if you're buying any guitar, regardless of its country of origin, it's going to need a proper set up and some minor work. All guitars need it. If you are not okay with perfect quality, then don't buy the guitar. Buy a National. If you aren't willing to have work done or do it yourself, then you probably shouldn't buy any guitar.
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Re: Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby Mike R. » Mon Dec 14, 2009 4:15 am

leftyguitarman wrote:While I have no experience with Republics, which I assume you are referring to, I am going to comment on import guitars as a whole.

When it comes to import guitars, you can't expect MIA quality.


Why not?
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Re: Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby bluesthang » Mon Dec 14, 2009 2:01 pm

I myself have never played a Republic but I've tried different Resos. Reagal, Epiphone, Fender, National, Dobro, National Duolian 1930's (that one was my favorite but oviously the guy wasnt selling it haha)... anyway, I've tried a few. I'm surely no expert on the subject. But my first reso I bought was an Epiphone Biscuit wood body. The sound was great, quality average but I still loved it. It had a nice open, loose sound wich I loved for playing blues. I figuerd, WOW why pay for something more expensive when this sounds great... well, I walked into to a music store one day, and BAM, on the wall was a National Style-O and a Reagal metal body... I tried both back to back, though the Reagal sounded fine, when I picked the national a did just one slide riff on it, it just had a bit more of EVERYTHING... the feel in your hands, the finish, the look, the quality of all the hardware... and for sure, that extra TONE and richness of sound... yup, I was in love hehe
All that said, 3 months later, took all my savings and bought the National... have never regreted paying that extra cash for a quality instrument.
Here is the thing for me, and what I've discoverd about a quality instruement VS an average on... the better you get at playing your instrument, the more you start to notice all the subtleties of a quality instrument. You start to notice the wider range on things you can do with it, all the tones you can get out of it... you can play soft, hard... whatever...it will give you what you want.
And also, when buying an instrument, I myself would never order an instrument without having tried it out, regardless of the brand... You have to fall in love with the instrument, walk in a strore and go WOW, that one is just calling me, and try it out, it might not feel right(then you put it back on the rack)... OR it might just feel awsome in your hands and the sound will get to you... (for sure ordering a National, you can be pretty sure that it will be awesome, but a that price, you might just want to make sure). But National are great at customer care, I know that for a fact ;).
An average quality instrument should defenitly be tried out before buying, you might find a GREAT one... but without trying it out, i think its risky...
I know, it sucks if they don,t sell them in your area... I know the feeling, I,m from Montreal, and resos are almost non-existant... I was lucky enough to move to Vancouver for a few years where they had Nationals in everystore almost... (was hard on my wallet though)...
Last thing, I think its funny that we hesitate to pay for a quality instrument but we don't really think twice about going out to buy that 42 inch Widescreen Plasma TV for 2000$... a TV, Computer, Iphone, Ipod... whatever, lots of people don't hesitate to buy those and they don't last 5 years... but a quality instrument will last you a LIFETIME AND the better you get at playing it, the better that quality instrument performs
Hope it helps ;)
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Re: Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby Mike R. » Tue Dec 15, 2009 3:08 am

bluesthang wrote:Last thing, I think its funny that we hesitate to pay for a quality instrument but we don't really think twice about going out to buy that 42 inch Widescreen Plasma TV for 2000$... a TV, Computer, Iphone, Ipod... whatever, lots of people don't hesitate to buy those and they don't last 5 years... but a quality instrument will last you a LIFETIME AND the better you get at playing it, the better that quality instrument performs
Hope it helps ;)


Actually....Yes. That helped a great deal and made a ton of sense to me.

Thanks! :)
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Re: Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby leftyguitarman » Tue Dec 15, 2009 4:24 am

Mike R. wrote:Why not?


You can't be serious... Would you take your job very seriously if you were being paid twelve cents an hour? The QC standards are not the same, the materials are not the same, the craftsmanship is not the same thus making the price not the same.
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Re: Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby ricochet » Tue Dec 15, 2009 3:44 pm

But most of that work is not done by hand in either case. A great deal is done by automated machinery, with some final hand fitting and touchup that certainly does depend on craftsmanship. I think it's impossible for us to know and judge the relative motivational states of the workers. Whatever they're paid may be low by American standards, but building guitars may be a pretty good gig for them that they'd hate to lose. The Chinese do put out some good stuff. And it's getting better all the time. Most of those fancy consumer items that were mentioned, like the iPod, iPhone, large screen TVs, etc. are made in China now. On a more traditional line, the Chinese still make things like blown glass eggs with beautiful pictures painted on the inside by hand with bent-handled brushes. That's very skilled art, and those things can be bought for a pittance, relatively speaking. I think it's a serious mistake to put down the ability and motivation of Chinese workers, whatever your feelings about the social justice of the market may be. Boycotting their products doesn't improve their lifestyle.

BTW, Musicians Friend says the Rogue brass biscuit reso uses European made metal bodies. That has to mean Amistar. Wonder if they make the bodies for the Recording King, Regal and such as well?
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Re: Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby Mike R. » Tue Dec 15, 2009 11:15 pm

leftyguitarman wrote:
Mike R. wrote:Why not?


You can't be serious... Would you take your job very seriously if you were being paid twelve cents an hour? The QC standards are not the same, the materials are not the same, the craftsmanship is not the same thus making the price not the same.


You can not homogenize the mentality of an entire nation's workforce based on wage assumptions.

I can counter your statement with many examples of Asian woodworking, ceramic, technological and other works that rival and surpass American workmanship.

Geographic location has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of an object.
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Re: Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby neangler » Wed Dec 16, 2009 3:47 pm

In addition to two modern Nationals, I also have a Regal, so I can make some comparisons.

I use the Regal as my knock-around ax. I take it camping and such. (Places I would never take a $2000-plus instrument.) Bought the Regal in absolutely mint condition from Elderly, and somewhere along the line someone dropped it in a new/newish Dobro hard case. (Dobro emblem sprayed on the side.) Cost? I really had to stretch to lay out a whole $350! (The case alone would have cost more than a hundred.)

The Regal body seems very well made: no seams or other manufacturing marks. The industrial paint finish perfectly fine: no flaws, swirls or other problems.

The tone sounds like an empty oil drum (a little higher pitched), but it is a steel body. I do plan to swap the cone for a National. Don Young says he's never done it (why would he?), but he does know a lot of Nat cones are sold as Regal upgrades, and he says that no one has reported any difficulties.

Although the adjustable Regal neck has too much varnish for my liking, it is narrow and fast. It feels really good in the hand. Some people don't like the art deco head stock laminate, but the head stocks on National deluxe models are also pretty far out.

Would I pay $450 or $500 or whatever for it without a case? Doubt it. But if you can find a good used one at a fair price (case or not) grab it.
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Re: Quality of import resonators...Are they REALLY worth it?

Postby wanderingyankee » Wed Dec 16, 2009 5:45 pm

I can highly recommend buying a reso from Harlem Slim at http://www.deltabluesguitar.com/deltabluesguitar/

I have one of his Duolian knock-offs. It blows away the Republic 14 fretter I have.
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