Charley Hicks’ three Mules. Charley is the man, and recorded every one of Charley Patton’s songs on youtube. I’ll start you off with this one: https://youtu.be/QGvXbSd0Muw
Steel resonator guitars versus brass resonators. The final showdown! …right?
Not quite. Although the difference between brass and steel is quite noticeable I dont want to give the impression that they are entirely difference beasts. You can hear for yourself here. I think as soon as there are two options people want to jump in and be on a team. Team Strat vs Team Les Paul. Team humbucker vs Team Single Coil. Small body versus Large bodies.
I think the most important part of the discussion is something I tell every potential customer. It’s chocolate or vanilla. If you went to someone’s house and they asked, “Would you like some ice cream?” and you accepted and they brought out some chocolate ice cream you would probably never think “Hey I wonder if they have some raspberry peanut butter swirl in there, that’s what I really want!” You would just eat it and think it was awesome. But if your hosts came out and gave you 5 different choices, you would him and haw, try to ask for just a little of all of them, or eat your scoop and I wonder if you really should have went for the cheesecake. You would think we would be different with a large purchase like an instrument, but we aren’t. We are much worse. There’s a lot of time and money on the line so we want it to be just right. Just. Right.
I cant tell you it will be just right. Exactly what you have going in your head. I can steer the boat. What I can tell you is that the guitar will be unique and wonderful, and if you are open to it, teach you things about tone. That’s what makes guitars fun. You can play a flying G chord on one guitar and hear something different than if you play it on another. But you have to listen with an open ear. Take the experience and instrument for what it is and it will teach you unexpected things, it will make your picture bigger. Dig a bit. Try to bend your new resonator guitar, or any guitar, to your hidden dream tone and you’ll spend your time chasing and not playing.
With all that out of the way there are some basic differences I can tell you between brass and steel resonator guitars. Sound is vibration. What things are made out of affects how it vibrates and therefore what they sound like when played. Brass is a softer material than steel and it’s make up is markedly different. Because of these qualities brass is a bit warmer. It has a certain roundness to the sound- an ‘oh’ instead of an ‘ah’. It’s a bit quieter, and when you really dig in it doesnt get ‘thwacky’ as quick.
Steel – now I’m speaking to how I build steel resonators, and the steel that I use-has a certain readiness to play. it’s a large drum head that’s tuned a bit tighter and ready to put out whatever you put into it. The bass is still all there, its just more focused. Hear a difference between long scale guitars and short scale? Even though they are both the same scale, brass guitars have a quality that I hear in short scale guitars and steel has a quality I hear in long scale guitars.
They both share quality in sound too. It’s not night and day. I’ve built and played around 160 Mule resonator guitars at this point. Sometimes when one is being tuned up I think “that’s a great sounding brass guitar” and its steel. Same with the tone configurations. After reorienting a bit and listening some more I hear those things again but sometimes, off the cuff, it’s hard to tell.
So be at peace. Your steel versus brass decision is not one to regret for the rest of your days. If you like the way one looks a whole lot, go for it. You can be wrong. Chocolate and vanilla.