More than most guitars resonators are played in different tunings – fingerpickin’ blues for standard, Open D, Open E, Open G, and all the wonderful tunings Chris Whitley experimented with. Find one and go for it. You’ll stumble upon new sounds and chords and inspiration happens.
How do all those different tunings and tensions affect how a guitar plays? If you’re playing slide in Open C# and beef up the strings for more tension thats a good idea but what happens when you want to tune up? The neck is affected and your action increases. If you use light gauge strings and play in open E what happens when you want to tune down to open D? Things get floppy, the action decreases and it buzzes.
See those two slots in the picture above? I put two vertical pieces of titanium in each Mule neck. STRENGTH. Where the neck is put is where it stays regardless of tuning and tension. Why does this matter? Because your action stays the same regardless your guitar is more versatile. Want to play in standard today? Do it. Slide? Do it. It will all feel great. Then you forget about the specs and just play
Built in inspiration.
Strings. It’s all about their tune and tension, right? We use Daddario flat tops, their resonator set, but replace the high 16 with a 15.
The flat tops are just phosphor bronze strings that are polished. A bit warmer but much less string noise. String noise is more noticeable on your resonator because everything is more noticeable… they are LOUD. I put flat tops on any guitar now though too.
They are heavier gauge strings. This allows some more tension when tuned to open D and playing slide. It warms everything up too. You CAN tune to standard but I suggest tuning down a half step- it lets everything vibrate.
These are short scale guitars and using heavier strings will give you the most versatility. If the strings are super heavy it will be slide only, if they are light it will be fingerpicking only. The heavier strings allows us to set a resonator up will a very comfortable normal acoustic guitar action so you can play whatever you are inspired to in the moment.
When you see a resonator do you think, “Oh that’s cool. But I don’t really play slide.” I did too. High action, slide to the fifth fret then then 12th.
We don’t “set up for slide”. 9/10 of my customers say “I play with my fingers, sometimes with a flatpick, and play some slide.” They need a guitar that can do all the things in all the tunings.
This can be done. Jacking the action way up is the lazy way and it makes your guitar a one trick pony that only comes out when you feel like thwacking on something. That’s not inspiration.
I carve necks by hand because I like it. I’ve carved over 1,000 by now, split almost evenly between Huss and Dalton and Mule.
Guitars should be “inspirationally transparent”. A player should oooh and ahh and hear things they haven’t heard, which takes them to a new place and then forget all about you and guitar specs.
Part of that equation is having a neck shape that pleases almost everyone. Not too thick but thick in the right places – a bit of a C a bit of a V – a normal 1 3/4 width. The importance is in the subtlety. I haven’t met a CNC programmer with the requisite subtlety.