Louis Electric

December 2014
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Affordable Resonator Roundup: Gretsch, Recording King, Washburn, Wechter

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Affordable Resonator Roundup: Gretsch, Recording King, Washburn, Wechter

Recording King RR-50-VS

When you think of guitar history the words Montgomery Ward don’t necessarily come to mind right off the bat. But in the period between the first and second World Wars, Gibson manufactured guitars for the venerable retail chain that were sold under the Recording King brand. The early Recording Kings were great guitars that sold at a fraction of the cost of the more expensive Gibsons. Given that most average blues musician couldn’t afford a Gibson—even if Robert Johnson was pictured with one in that infamous photo—and the fact that the Montgomery Ward catalog was a fixture throughout the South you realize that these instruments probably produced a lot of great blues.

Ratings

Pros:
Great, balanced sound for a budget price.

Cons:
Neck a bit small for big hands.

Tones:

Playability:

Build:

Value:

Street:
$450

Recording King
www.recordingking.com

Fast forward to the present and the Recording King name is again adorning guitars with a pre-war vibe—from dreadnoughts to 000s, Gibson-esque L series and resos like the RR-50. This Recording King substitutes screened sound holes for f-holes, which gives it a “buggy-eye” look. And when combined with the spider cone resonator and saddle cover it looks a bit like a robot face staring back at you. The deep tobacco-burst lends a subtle touch of class, as does the crown atop its headstock and the Grover butter bean tuners. In general, the craftsmanship is very solid.

The RR-50 comes set up with slightly higher action than the other guitars, which is better for slide playing but still really comfortable for normal fretting, strumming, and single string runs. The narrow (1 11/16”) nut width made it a little bit tight for my hands. And since the neck joins the body at the 12th fret and the heel of the neck block projects out slightly more and makes it a challenge to navigate around the 12th fret.

The RR-50 projects warmth and attitude. It shows a strong and balanced volume between bass and treble strings and the clarity you hear when you strum hard is as pronounced as when you attack it like a fingerpicker. Needless to say, it has the same spider cone honk as the other guitars. But it’s less muddy than most resos in the price range, and you get a cool, bossy growl from slide runs on the bass strings, and nice bell-like tones on the treble side. Together, the blend works best in the lower registers of D and G tuning.

The RR-50 is really suited to serious slide action. The feel and response lends themselves to slackened open tunings. But this would be equally at home for a strummer/songwriter who wants a punchy tone. Recording King has done an outstanding job of making this sound like a more expensive instrument.

Wechter RS-6610FC

Ratings

Pros:
Great separation between bass and treble, very balanced and clear. Stylish.

Cons:
Less traditional styling may turn off purists.

Tones:

Playability:

Build:

Value:

Street:
$825

Wechter
www.wechterguitars.com

Abraham Wechter has been making guitars for over thirty years including a stint with renowned luthier Richard Schneider in Detroit, and designer Tim Scheerhorn's designs are legendary. And the Wechter RS-6610FC reflects the sense of style and function that’s born of that experience and typifies much of the Wechter line. Wechter’s spider cone resonator has a pretty tobacco sunburst finish and a very cool, almost Les Paul-like cutaway and two f-holes. Cream-colored ABS binding accents the dark sunburst very nicely and the butterbean tuners are a nice vintage touch. Wechter designed the non-cutaway side of the upper bout with a slightly sloped shoulder that makes it a bit more comfortable to hold. And in general, it’s an elegant and subtle package. Craftsmanship is solid and the instrument is free of visible flaws.

The Wechter was sent with D’Addario medium gauge strings (.013-.056), and it plays very evenly up and down the neck. A slightly wider (just a shade under 1 ¾”) nut and string spacing made this guitar very comfortable for strumming, flatpicking and fingerpicking, and the heavier setup suggests that Wechter understands the needs of blues players. The absence of sharp edges on the frets and a setup that favors slide players made this a joy to play. And the shapely cutaway makes access up to the 17th fret a breeze, which facilitates sweet upper register slide work.

The Wechter is cutting and crisp sounding. Strumming chords and fingerpicking blues in standard tuning yields clear, sparkling mid-range tones with excellent separation between bass and treble. Slide workouts in A tuning sounded punchy and resonant, and in total the Wechter sounds exceptionally focused, demonstrates a great volume range and responds to heavy or light attack with equal aplomb.

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