Making a Resonator Sing

-Bryce Schneider, guest blogger, Custom Sound Asst. Manager

screendobrofix2 sml Making a Resonator SingNot too far back I found a great deal online for a used resonator guitar… mostly.  The instrument came in the mail and I immediately popped open the case, tuned her up and then I just strummed it once.  I slowly strummed another open chord over again, puzzled as to why this Dobro sounded like a cardboard box. It was dull, lifeless with almost no brilliance. Not the greatest introduction to your new instrument.  So I put it back in the case in frustration and pondered what had to be done.

The next day I took it into the shop and had Ryan Elewaut have a look. He checked it out while I loathed in buyers remorse and pitifully explained my plight. Casually, he mentioned that the break angle on the saddle was rather low and some of that dull sound could be remedied.  (Other than that, however, the overly-warm sound was probably just the (crappy?) character of my instrument.)  I was new to this reso thing, and I had spent weeks of research trying to figure out what Ryan had recognized in about 5 seconds.

resogeetar Making a Resonator Sing

The way a Dobro works underneath that fancy cover plate is important, especially the saddle and how it sits in the slots of the spider bridge.   There are many other important factors as well, such as the spider bridge and how each tip or “point” should sit evenly upon the rim of the cone, and how the cone sits in the soundwell.

A single screw connects the spider to the cone.  To get the best possible tone and volume you have to “load the cone” properly.  The is accomplished best by having the correct saddle height and consequent break angle, allowing the strings to provide the correct amount of pressure on the cone.

The suggestion was a new ebony capped maple saddle.  Below is a short clip of Ryan creating the ebony cap and the maple piece for the saddle… with the new and improved Dobro providing some backing tunes.

After the piece was made, I installed it and cut slots for the strings. The tone and response of the instrument has improved drastically! It still has a warm sound to it, which was just part of its character all along, but now it cuts through clean and doesn’t sound as hollow or dull.

If you are curious about how to set-up a Dobro yourself, check out our setup lessons here.

-Bryce Schneider,

Custom Sound Instruments