Resonators may be the coolest instruments ever made: shiny metal acoustic guitars that look as loud as they sound, or wooden bodies with massive metal cones in the middle. They look like a vintage sci-fi creation, and in the hands of a Son House, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Tampa Red, Taj Mahal, Bruce Cockburn, Keith Richards, or Duane Allman, resonators explode with the fuzzy crackle of a space rocket.
Originally designed in the late 1920s to pump up the volume on acoustic guitars, resonators today are used to dirty up the blues, make a country slide-note moan, give some meatiness to a folk song, or add a little sizzle-and-fry to rock.
Resonators are either square-neck and played on the lap, or round-neck for playing more conventionally. National-style resos come in tri-cone (three small metal cones with a T-shaped bridge) or single-cone biscuit (one big cone), and Dobro-style resos come in a single inverted-cone outfitted with a spider bridge. But in reality, cones and bridges often are mixed and matched on individual resonator guitars.
With great progress made in amplification, resos are no longer necessary for making acoustic guitars louder. Yet new generations of guitarists continue to be drawn to these dirty-sounding instruments. AG asked ten up-and-coming resonator players why they are drawn to these fascinating guitars and what aspiring reso players should do if they want to learn.