We haven’t got to look too far back to find the Best Resonator Guitar. The Resonator was a 1926 invention and not earlier than that, as some have suggested. It rose to prominence in the Bluegrass and Blues genres, but outside of those environments, it was hardly known and by most ignored as a being a bit quirky.
But then along came an English blues player who played in local clubs and pubs in Yorkshire, England. A young newspaper reporter went to interview him about his strange metal guitar. That was in 1968. At that moment, things changed. It took another seventeen years, and all the while, the Resonator was still plunking away in the Delta regions of the South.
But then the English guitarist, Kevin Phillips, gave one to the young reporter, Mark Knopfler, as a gift. We had to wait for those seventeen years but then it came, the album’ Brothers in Arms’. Greatest album ever? Certainly one of the biggest selling. Some would say it was.
And on that album, there was a song ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ The Resonator was center stage and suddenly became known in the darkest corners of the world. It was even pictured on the album cover. And people no longer referred to it as that metal thing that the Dire Straits guitar player uses sometimes.
The construction, as we will see, is slightly different. Whereas the usual design is for the guitar to produce its sound via the soundboard (the top.) With the Resonator, string vibrations go through the bridge to metal cones. These produce the sound.
The looks and sounds were just different. But it took a master guitarist to make it sound like that. Knopfler was the man who took it to the world. He later said it was one of the six guitars that shaped his life. Certainly made us who were ignorant of the Resonator and its great sound sit up and take notice.
He doesn’t use it that often and we hardly see it anywhere at all except for the dedicated areas of its genre. It is deeply rooted in country and blues, and there it will probably stay. Nevertheless, it is a great guitar, so let’s take a look at the very best Resonator Guitars currently available and find the perfect one for you…
Top 10 Best Resonator Guitars of 2023
1 Gold-Tone PBS-D Paul Beard Signature Squareneck Deluxe Resonator Guitar
Paul Beard is well-known for his design and manufacture of respected Resonator guitars.
This Gold Tone Resonator carrying his name uses an aluminum cone to generate a very rich tone. It has many of the woods you will see on conventional guitars having a curly maple back, sides, and top. The reference to curly merely indicates the type of curly grain that is prevalent in the wood. This gives it a very attractive kind of striped look.
The body is finished in an impressive-looking sunburst. It also has a square maple neck with an ebony fretboard. There are hearts and flower designs inlaid into the fretboard. The action is high, which of course, lends itself to being played on the lap with a tone bar. The guitar is enhanced in its look with an attractive maple binding. There is a maple wood Soundwell.
Up at the headstock, there are sealed tuners with Pearloid buttons. The nut is 2 inches in width and is made of bone.
It has a 25-inch scale with a no cutaway design body. This reveals 12 frets to the edge of the body if you are playing conventionally. Playing seated with it on your lap, there will be 19 in total. It is no lightweight guitar and is designed to be played either standing or seated, although we think maybe the latter will be most common.
This is a classically designed Resonator guitar with a big sound. Not an inexpensive instrument by any means. It is hand-made and therefore made with care and set up in the same way.
- Hand-made with good materials.
- A rich sound.
- Quite an expensive instrument.
2 Gold-Tone Paul Beard Signature Series PBS-D Squareneck Resonator Deluxe Guitar
Another Paul Beard designed Gold Top Signature Series. This is identical to the Resonator we just reviewed except for the color. This one is what they call Tobacco sunburst rather than just Sunburst. Very attractive, as well. It has all the Paul Beard designed specialties. The aluminum cone, spider, and bridge. It produces the same rich tone that this instrument is well-known for.
One difference with this particular instrument is the way it is finished. The tobacco sunburst really accents the grain of the wood. The grain is visible on the plain sunburst but seems so much more prominent on the instrument, especially on the sides.
The woods used are the same with maple back, sides, top, and Soundwell. Also, the neck has the hearts and flowers design on the ebony fingerboard. The maple binding around the body emphasizes the tobacco finish even more.
The action on the square neck is quite high about an inch from the fretboard. A good distance for using the tone bar, which is really what this model is all about. Up at the headstock are the Pearloid buttoned sealed tuners. It has a 2-inch nut made of bone and is a scale length of 25 inches. That gives you nineteen frets in all and 12 before the body commences.
A guitar designed and made for the connoisseur and is not cheap by any means. But it plays well and is hand made. Not many guitars these days can say that.
This certainly must be one potential candidate for the best quality resonator guitar on the market.
- Great looking guitar in tobacco sunburst with good fittings.
- Excellent materials and a great sound.
- It might be expensive for some.
3 Gretsch G9210 Boxcar Square-Neck Resonator Guitar
Gretsch knows a thing or two about making guitars. Over the years, they have made some classic’s. Back in the day, they had illustrious clients. Chet Atkins, of course, Eddie Cochran and Bo Diddley, to name a few. In later years they have been used by George Harrison, Brian Jones, Joe Walsh, and even Pete Townshend put his seal of approval on an orange 6120 by smashing it up.
But maybe the most surprising user was Rory Gallagher, who used a red 1957 Gretsch Corvette for playing slide. They know a thing or two, so when they make a Resonator, it is going to have that Gretsch’ something’. If you are looking for a guitar that might carry the label of Best Square Neck Resonator Guitar, it could be here.
This is made with Mahogany back, top, and sides build for the body with a 25-inch scale neck. The neck is also Mahogany with the square design favored for bluegrass music, and it has a Rosewood fingerboard. It is no lightweight and weighs in at just under 10 pounds.
For those that prefer to play the Blues, there is a round-necked version. The sound is helped on its way with an Amplisonic cone Spider bridge. This cone is made from hand-spun aluminum.
Up at the headstock, there are six die-cast Grover machine heads. There is a nut made from bone that is set tall to deliver the higher action required for lap steel playing.
What is quite surprising about this guitar is the volume it generates. Part of this is due to a design feature we have left until last to describe.
Gretsch has included some classic ‘f’ holes in the front of the guitar. To those that know their Gretsch guitars, this is no accident. A feature of some of their iconic instruments, the Country Gent and the Tennessean, had ‘f” holes. So did many others in their range. A classic Gretsch design included here with great effect.
This is a typical instrument from Gretsch. Well-made with a nice metallic and wood combination sound. The Mahogany combines well with the spider resonator, which gives a lot of sustain. It does have a sound that is heavy with top end, but for the genre, it is designed for, that is not unusual.
It is a really nice guitar and at the price point is great value.
- Great design and build quality.
- Affordable price for a Gretsch guitar
- Some may think the sound is too bright.
4 Pyle Resophonic Acoustic-Electric Guitar
When you hear the name Pyle, guitars are not usually the first thing you think of. You could be forgiven for thinking rugged amps with plenty of volume. But here is the Pyle contribution to the Resonator guitar selection.
It is very much a budget level guitar and suitable for a starter or someone new to the instrument. It is made with a mahogany back and sides and a spruce top. The neck is Nato with a rosewood fingerboard. Many of the same materials you will find on standard guitars. It is a full-size scale length of 25 inches. The neck does seem to be a little longer than some Resonator guitars.
This model gives you a total of 21 frets and with 14 of them available before the neck meets the body. Played sitting down on your lap; this hardly matters. But using a conventional guitar style, it might. It is hand-made and given a stained body and back. There are two round sound holes in the body.
Up at the headstock and chrome-plates sealed tuners. These are not the best quality you can find but are adequate.
It has a built-in preamp that is battery powered. It has volume treble, bass, and mid sound controls, which are conveniently located on the top edge of the guitar. And it comes as part of a package for the young player, which includes a tuner, strap, and picks as well as a carrying bag.
It is not easy to find a cheap resonator guitar, and this instrument from Pyle has quite a bit going for it. If you are expecting a high level of quality in the build and fittings, you may be disappointed. It is a starter instrument at a cheaper price; therefore, the quality cannot match its expensive counterparts.
Having said that, it is a decent guitar with a nice sound and a good option for a starter or a young player.
- Nicely made attractive guitar.
- Decent sound at an affordable price,
- Some may just want a higher quality of instrument.
5 Gretsch G9220 Bobtail Round-Neck Mahogany Body Resonator
Back to Gretsch, we go again.
Gretsch is a guitar manufacturer not thought of in the same way as we think of Fender or Gibson. Yet there was a time when they outshone them both, especially in Country music. Founded way back in 1883, twenty-five years before Leo Fender arrived to join us, they have an important place in musical history. And especially in American music history.
Gretsch has tried to stay as close as possible to the original designs of these guitars. It has a mahogany back, sides and top, and an aluminum resonator cone. The body is finished in an attractive wood stain that enhances the grain and color of the Mahogany. There are also those great Gretsch ‘f’ holes cut into the body.
Besides looking great, it really does knock out quite a bit of volume.
The neck is also Mahogany with a Paduak fingerboard. It is a round neck design, not a square neck with nineteen frets. This is a wood not often seen in guitar manufacturing but resembles rosewood. There are inlay dots of abalone along the fingerboard.
Built-in to this guitar is a Fishman Nashville pickup should you want to plug it in. There are no volume or tone controls on the guitar, and you will rely on your amp for those.
Up at the headstock are six open-geared Grover tuners. The front of the headstock is colored white with the Gretsch name on it. This confuses us a bit. The body and neck have this delicious stained mahogany design, so why have a headstock pearly white? Mahogany would have been far better. Their reasoning escapes us.
This is a good looking and sounding guitar, and Gretsch has tried very hard to give it an authentic feel. Apart from the white pearl looking headstock, it is a great buy at a reasonable price point. Therefore is certain to be included as possibly the best authentic resonator guitar around.
- Good looking with a nice authentic sound.
- Set at a good price point for a quality instrument.
- We don’t like the white headstock, but that’s personal, and many will find it ok.
6 Gretsch G9210 Boxcar Square-Neck, Mahogany Body Resonator
This is a Resonator guitar from Gretsch that is very similar to the G9220 we have already looked at and been very impressed with. This will be another contender for the Best Authentic Resonator Guitar.
This has a mahogany top, back, and sides. This, of course, is known for producing a rich, warm sound. When mixed with the metallic tone of the Gretsch spider cone and bridge produces a really authentic resonator sound. The Gretsch ‘f’ holes are cut into the body. It also has a Paduak fingerboard with 19 frets.
More similarities with the 9220 come with the open-geared Grover machine heads, and it sports that white imitation pearl-look headstock that we find a little confusing.
Well, yes, in three ways. Firstly it is a standard traditional square neck design rather than the round neck of the 9220, which will please the traditionalists. Secondly, it does not have the built-in pick up for plugging into an amp.
But thirdly and most noticeably, it is left in a natural color without any wood stain. This does add a certain style to the instrument and sets it apart from many others.
You will either like the natural look or just prefer the stained wood versions. We happen to like them both. Again, a good sounding instrument that looks the part at a sensible price point.
- An attractive looking instrument with a nice sound
- Good price point.
- Only that white headstock, which we really do not like.
7 Rogue Classic Spider Resonator Black Roundneck
This Resonator from Rogue is one of the most popular Resonators you can buy. Part of this is, of course, the price point, which is very competitive, But aside from the affordable price, it is a decent guitar. Designed more as an entry-level instrument, it has a lot of the characteristics of guitars, much more expensive.
One thing that is not a common characteristic is the black finish. That makes it stand out from the crowd and is quite nice. The cream binding on the edges adds to the style, which has, in our opinion, a very conservative look.
It is made from woods common to conventional guitar manufacturers. Mahogany body and Spruce top are common and are known to produce a rich, warm sound when paired together. This has Mahogany back and sides and a Spruce top. However, it is a laminate, rather than solid pieces of wood.
The neck is also made from Mahogany and is a round neck design and has a Rosewood fingerboard
The neck has 21 frets and has inlays in diamond shapes of imitation mother-of-pearl and is also given a cream binding. It is well-made and feels quite string in the hand despite being a budget guitar.
The Rogue is fitted with a 10.5-inch aluminum resonator cone. It also has a die-cast spider bridge. The tailpiece is chrome plated. At the price, these are reasonable materials, but when going to the headstock, it might not be so adequate. The machine heads look attractive with their chrome-plated finish, but it is here that it seems the cost savings may have been made.
They don’t hold tune particularly well. They also don’t feel particularly secure as you are using them. We can see a situation where these might need to be changed at some point, probably quite early on.
All we can say about the sound is that it is quite good. The woods used help to create a nice tone, and it has a reasonable sustain. However, it is not as loud as some resonators you will hear but is more than adequate. And the sound doesn’t let it down at all.
All things considered a good entry-level instrument at a good price point.
- Attractive black finish and made with good materials.
- Nice sound with a good round design neck.
- Tuners are a bit unreliable.
8 Epiphone Dobro Hound Dog Round Neck Resonator Guitar
This is an instrument made by Dobro, who is owned by Epiphone. It is nicely made of laminated maple veneer on back, sides, and top, which encourage a good sound. It has a ten and a half-inch resonator and spider bridge, nickel-plated cone and fan plate. They all contribute to give it that typical resonator sound.
Two soundholes are built-in and mixed with the sweeter sound of the maple wood is a good combination. ‘F’ shaped sound holes are built-in to the body to give extra sound projection. It fits a range of different styles of music and certainly looks the part. The finish is hand-rubbed to give it a slightly vintage look.
The neck is also maple and has 12 frets and has a round design and a Tusq nut. At the headstock are nickel-plated sealed tuners.
Made in China, this Resonator has a nice easy look about it and a distinctive sound. And it is certainly is one of the nicest looking instruments you will find. This guitar is set up a little high and is great for slide guitar. It is easy to just lower the action if you choose. It is lightweight and is a nice guitar for a starter to learn.
However, it is a budget level instrument, so as long as you don’t expect too much, you won’t be disappointed.
- Attractive looking guitar with a nice sound.
- Made from good materials.
- Some may want a higher level instrument.
9 Recording King RM-991 Tricone Resonator
This guitar has a different design to most other resonator guitars that will either be one you appreciate or not. It is a twenty-five and a half-inch scale guitar that is made from nickel-plated bell brass. It sticks with tradition and has no cutaway in its design.
The neck is made from Mahogany and has a square neck design that is ideally designed for lap steel playing. The square neck does limit you to a few defined styles of playing, and some see that as a hindrance. The nut has a width of 1.75 inches.
The neck has a Paduak wood fretboard with 19 frets, and some basic imitation mother of pearl marker dots are inlaid into it. The action is set up quite high; however, if you are using it for lap steel playing, that is what you want.
It has three six-inch cones made from aluminum. These are placed two and one and are connected by a T-shaped bridge.
The bridge itself has an ebony and maple wood saddle. All this is enclosed within a cover plate. Up at the headstock, there is a good set of open-geared machine heads.
We mentioned the three cones, two for bass and one for treble. These give off plenty of volume but also a very warm sound. However, one problem is that they don’t seem to like the gentle touch. And they certainly perform better when they are being played quite hard.
Play with a little subtlety, and the sound can disappear. However, they do enjoy a lot of sustain if you get the paying level right.
As you will notice, there is a metallic mirrored finish to the guitar, which some are going to like, and others will not. But, it does show off a certain quality of workmanship, it has to be said.
Not a cheap option and doesn’t come with a gig bag.
- Well-made with good materials.
- Nice sounding guitar.
- Some will not like the mirrored finish.
10 Gretsch G9201 Honey Dipper Round-Neck
Let’s take one more trip down to Savannah in Georgia to take on another Gretsch Resonator guitar. This guitar is also a bit of a trip down memory lane in terms of its authentic design and sound.
This has been designed to rekindle the memory of guitar players roaming the country just playing. Some of the earliest blues and country blues players started exactly like that. This has been designed and made with a brass top, back, and sides delivering an impressive sound that is not short on volume.
It has a Gretsch Ampli-Sonic’ biscuit cone’ design resonator that creates that 1920s feel. The all-brass body, giving this instrument a sound that others just don’t have. A mahogany neck with a Paduak wood fingerboard that has 19 frets and abalone dot inlays complete the look. It is quite exceptional in many ways.
Up at the headstock are six quality open-geared Grover machine heads and the imitation pearl looking finish, which we have already commented on in other reviews.
This is a quality instrument and adapts well to either chord or slide playing. The sound has that vintage ‘metallic’ feel. If you like the ‘old-time’ sound of the Resonator rather than the newer versions, you are going to love this. However, many will listen and say, “it’s a bit clanky.” Yes, it is – that’s the point. That is how it’s supposed to be. Clanky. But a pretty loud clanky.
Great sound and looks brilliant. What you picture and hear in your head when you hear the word Resonator, but is it the best sounding resonator guitar? Could well be, it will take some beating.
- Great look and sound and made with good materials.
- Flexible enough for different genres.
- It might be expensive for some.
Best Resonator Guitar Buyer’s Guide
Getting Back To The Roots
The roots of American music is where the Resonator guitar derives its style. Elsewhere in the world, there were guitars, but very few Resonators. It wasn’t an American thing. It was a deep south American thing.
However, as with most things, when you want to buy one, there are a few things to consider…
There are two styles of Resonator necks. The square-necked instruments played in the style of a lap steel guitar, and there are round-necked guitars that can be played in a conventional or lap style. The action of the square-necked tends to have its strings set up a bit higher. What you choose will depend on what style of music it is for and how you intend to play it.
Essentially there are types. The tricone, which has three metal cones and delivers a very big sound. There is the ‘biscuit’ design that has a single cone. Finally, the Dobro designed spider bridge inverted cone.
There are other designs, often copied from these three, but essentially that is your choice; each has its own sound.
Today the Resonator can be made from wood or metal. There are guitars that follow conventional guitar tonewood ideas by using Mahogany, Maple, and Spruce. This again gives a different tone to the instrument.
Then there are the brass guitars that have very unique vintage sounds. If that Delta sound is what you want, you are possibly more likely to find it in metal-based body design. However, the wood sounds can also be great sounding instruments.
Sound holes are all very similar with occasional variations. Gretsch incorporates ‘f’ holes to add to the tones and the volume and give their guitars a distinctly vintage look.
We have looked at some cheaper budget level instruments. However, the quality, of course, is not going to be so good. That is to be expected. But they are suitable for a beginner or someone who wants to try one out or just keep at home because they like them.
For more serious players there are some good guitars. The prices vary, of course, and setting your budget will be dependent upon what level of guitar you want.
These guitars are part of the development of US music and are unique to a period of history. Yes, of course, they are used today. But they evoke a time and a style that has a very important meaning for most musicians. American or not.
Enjoy your search.
More Great Guitar Options
Personally, we feel that every guitar collection needs a quality Resonator, but you will obviously need other, more ‘normal’ guitars for other duties. So, please check out our reviews of the Best Hollow Semi Hollow Guitars, the Best Blues Guitars, the Best Acoustic Guitars under 500 Dollars, the Best Acoustic Travel Guitars, and the Best Classical Guitars currently available.
So, What’s The Best Resonator Guitar?
To be honest, we want ‘that’ sound — the Knopfler’ Romeo and Juliet’ sound that just screams Resonator guitar at you. Now we are not going to be able to get a 1937 National “o” style, but we can try and get as close as we can.
There have been some great guitars that we’ve reviewed, most of them having something to offer. But for us, one stood out above the others. Our choice for the Best Resonator is the…
Great look, but more than that, it has ‘that’ sound. And, it is versatile to work in different genres.
Now where we were… “a love-struck Romeo sings the streets a serenade…”