I used to play professionally in several bluegrass bands, and I just decided I wanted a better instrument than my seventies OMI Dobro. When I started to research the market, I realized you could buy a really high-end banjo or flat top guitar, but there weren’t any high-end resonator guitars. I was just disappointed with the quality of that Dobro, so I decided to make one for myself out of musical necessity.
What are some influences or ideas you pulled from to create your own resonator?
Starting with bluegrass, I always listened to Mike Auldridge and Jerry Douglas. I was after the tone of Mike, and trying to master the technical prowess of Jerry, but I was ultimately looking for an instrument that allowed me to sound like those guys on record. It was a “tone quest.”
Could you describe your “Legend Tone” construction on Auldridge’s signature guitar?
That’s a really special instrument, and it took me a long time to develop it… he would use adjectives to describe a sound or tone, and I’m perceiving what he’s saying and not always interpreting exactly what he means. Needless to say, there was a lot of experimentation and trial and error during that process. I would make a guitar and take it to him. He would say, “that sounds good, but I want something warmer.” So I’d make another guitar that I thought was warmer than the previous, but it still wouldn’t meet his expectations. It just got worse and worse, until I just threw my hands up. I departed from that construction and went to a totally different construction, which would become the “Legend Tone.” As soon as he played that first guitar he said, “There it is; that’s what I want.”
As for the “Legend Tone” construction, it’s a veneered guitar with a deeper body and bigger cavity. It also has a true bass-reflex baffle inside of it that redirects the bass portion of the sound exiting the body, and therefore the bass is very tight and large.
What do you specifically look for in tonewoods for your guitars?
Over the past 24 years, I’ve found that the resonator guitar is not a guitar. It’s a speaker cabinet. Some of my guitars are solid woods, and the others are veneered or plywood. The “Legend Tone” series guitar is plywood. It’s my best selling guitar. Both signature guitars for Jerry and Mike are veneered models, but they are very specifically designed with speaker cabinet technology in mind. All the woods used for the solid-wood models all affect the tone distinctly differently.
For example, the curly maple is very bright and loud, but mahogany is warm and rich. The veneered guitars with my bass-reflex baffle inside are crystal clear and more bell-like. That’s what Mike and Jerry heard and loved.
Why do you offer cutaway models?
Resonator guitars work better if they are a 12-fret neck joined to the body. Unfortunately, a lot of guitarists aren’t used to 12 frets clear of the body, they’re used to 14. The reason the 12 frets are so popular on resonators is that it allows the body to be a little larger and sound better. The guitars that are 14-fret necks are a smaller body, because the way the resonator is laid out on the top. They’re missing that airflow found in the 12-fret necks. The cutaway gives you a bigger body, which makes it sound good, but still gives you clearance up the neck.
[laughs] That guitar is kind of an over-the-top departure, since I’m a very mechanical person. It allows you to put all three resonator systems in it—it comes with a 9-1/2 biscuit resonator, a 10-1/2 spider resonator, and the traditional tri-cone resonator. In the amount of time it takes to remove the coverplate screws and take the strings off, you can switch out the system. It’s really three guitars in one instrument.
What about pickups?
I recently co-designed a new pickup with Larry Fishman, and that’s the new Jerry Douglas pickup with the Fishman Aura technology. We recorded Jerry’s Beard guitar through 16 different high-end mics, and Larry applied the latest Aura technology to the resonator’s needs… for the first time you’re able to play this instrument at rock ‘n’ roll volume, but with that distinct resonator tone.
That’s pretty exciting, because resonator players have always struggled to cut through the mix and be heard.
I’ve been fighting this problem since day one. Larry and I have worked on this project for at least eight years. He told me that this project has been the hardest pickup he’s ever developed. We’ve been tweaking and improving it before taking it to the market, but Jerry has been using it for over a year now. He doesn’t even use a microphone, because he plugs right into an amp.
I notice that quite a few builders use you as a resource for their cones and other resonator parts.
When I started this business I had a lot of people calling me up saying, “I know you build these dobros, where did you get the parts?” And of course, I built them myself, so I decided I might as well make parts and sell them to other builders. So, I created Resophonic Outfitters and now distribute parts to quite a few builders.
Who are some artists that play your guitars?
Obviously Jerry Douglas and Mike Auldridge, but also John Fogerty, Robert Randolph, Timothy B. Schmidt [Eagles], Buddy Emmons, Pete Anderson, Bob Minner [Tim McGraw], Gary Morse, and the list goes on. I’m a lucky man.
What is your building philosophy?
I’m always trying to change and improve. I do a lot of experimentation—a lot that have failed, but that’s how you learn. Tone is first, and construction needs to be impeccable as far as workmanship.
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