Smithers, British Columbia, Canada
I was in a band down in Vancouver playing electric swing and I was offered a chance to join a bluegrass band, but I didn’t have a resonator guitar. I was working at Larrivee Guitars at the time—with my current building partner Jason Friesen—and we just thought, “Why go buy a resonator when we’ve built so many guitars with Jean Larrivee?” So, we built our first resonator guitar and it was well received, so we kept building them.
What influences from other resonator guitars can be found in your shop’s work?
I think Tim Scheerhorn’s name will come up a lot. As far as resonator guitars, he brought it to a whole other level with the selection of his materials, level of craftsmanship, and the overall sound of his instruments.
I noticed on your site that you use Scheerhorn designed cones. Are there any other Scheerhorn parts you use?
We tried out the cones first on my personal instrument—as I do with all new parts and ideas—as I’m familiar with how that guitar sounds, and how the changes affect its tone. I tried the Scheerhorn cone, and it had a warm, direct punch with an emphasized mids and not washy, but clean lows. We also use a Scheerhorn coverplate because it offers a removable palm rest, which is nice for allowing a clean access to the saddles for repairs and adjustments.
Why do you use nut-serts with stainless steel bolts to fasten the coverplate? Is this an industry standard?
It’s not an industry standard, but there are some other guys out there doing it, like Paul Beard. The reason we do this is because it’s a little knurled insert into the wood, and as you screw in the stainless steel bolt, it spreads that knurl into the wood and it just wedges itself in there. You get a really nice seal on the coverplate to the body and you don’t have to worry about stripping the screw holes when cleaning or adjusting the coverplate area.
Are the tonewoods used on your resonators similar to tonewoods we associate with acoustics?
One thing that has to be said about the resonator guitar is that it’s not like an acoustic, where the wood is built lightly to resonate, so when you strum a chord the whole thing vibrates and you get that woody tone. The sound generator in a resonator guitar is the resonator, so you want to build something that allows the resonator to speak its best. The most important thing about the tonewoods used on a resonator guitar is the deflective characters— how readily it kicks back the tone that’s produced inside the cavity.
The back is thin, like a typical acoustic guitar. Our first model that came out had a 3/16" back and top with parallel sides, so it was a really sturdy guitar. We decided to thin down the backs and arch them, just like an acoustic. From the back and profile shot of our guitars, they look like traditional acoustics—and the reason for that was to use the soundpost to activate the back to produce a tone.
Do you guys offer any particular brand of pickups for your guitars?
Because the sound of the resonator is so complex—it’s produced in two different areas—the projection of the aluminum cone out of the front and the body cavity as well, a good well-placed mic is often preferred. When a mic is not an option, we have been putting in Schertler BASIK pickups co-designed with Tim Scheerhorn. It’s a nice, warm-sounding pickup and represents the complex sound of the resonator quite nicely. We often discuss pickup options with our roundneck customers depending on the desired resulting tone.
How far are you willing to let customers design and customize their guitars?
Our key focus is to build something that people will be happy playing for a long time, so within certain parameters, we’ll listen to their ideas and recommend different woods, parts and setups. We both really enjoy working with our customers. Ultimately, our name is on the guitar, so it has to be something both the customer and we can appreciate and stand by.
Why should someone turn to Rayco for a resonator guitar?
Our sound is very unique and distinct, which goes back to how we set our braces that produce those midrange tones. Resos have inherent highs and lows—produced off the back of the cone—but it’s important to have those mids, which cut through the mix. With the strong mid-presence, our guitars are naturally very loud.
Who are some professional players using your guitars?
We have Chad Jeffers [Carrie Underwood], Chad Graves [Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike], Todd Livingston [Ralph Stanley II], Randy Kohrs, Sally Van Meter, Keith Scott (Bryan Adams), David Lafleur and Jerry Douglas.
What’s your building philosophy?
Jason and I are very thankful to have worked with Jean Larrivee, because we learned that it’s important to pay attention to the quality of materials and parts. In addition, we always have to make sure that our level of craftsmanship is impeccable. We always try to push and challenge each other, and not settle for mediocrity.
Hit page 5 for the fourth of our Resonator Builders, S.B. MacDonald...