Mule Resonator Guitars
Custom handmade resonator guitars
My name is Matt Eich and I, along with my brother Phil and Adam Smith, build handmade steel and brass bodied single cone and tricone resonator guitars. After witnessing Kelly Joe Phelps play his resonator at a show here in Michigan I left wondering if I could use my guitar making skills I learned at Huss and Dalton Guitars to make metal bodied resonators. They are just so much guitar: volume, range of tone, look- and potential. I wanted to do them differently. I wanted them to sound more guitar like, meaning more warmth and low end. I also wanted them to look the materials they were made from- the raw steel and brass, with a patina I've developed over the years. I'm so excited to be able to offer them to players. Options like a P90 pickup, a tricone in a single cone body like the very first National guitars... I'm having the time of my life building these instruments and hearing what players like Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, Kelly Joe, Charlie Parr, Jeffrey Foucault, Jason Dennie, Jay Lapp and so many more players I've had the pleasure to get to know during the building process. When you send an e-mail, you get me. My brother Phil will send build pictures as your guitar goes through the work. That's part of the experience and story. I'm happy you're here and if you have any questions please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The guitar made it here alright, no problems at all. In fact it was pretty close to being in tune as well. And, shoo-boy, what a stunner!! Such a beautiful thing, Matt! Just wonderful, between the wood choices and the way you’ve finished them, and the great metal-work work. Eeeh yow, I love it, I love it. The shape and size of the neck is awesome, too. Now I kinda wish I had a steel-string guitar with that same neck on it. So comfortable in my hands. Yeah; a steel string with the Mule’s neck and a 12 fret joint. That’d be a good feeling guitar. Such a great sounding guitar, I love it. A musician friend of mine, Cahalen Morrison, was over here a few days ago and he played it and loved it, too. Both the sound and the look in equal measure, both awesome. He also (as do I) loved the fact that it was quite literally “The Mule.” We both figured you nailed that one right on the head.
Peace and Blessings,
So in 1927 National made a proto-type guitar that was a tri-cone fit into a single-cone body, it was some kind of test I think and they never made a production model out of it. My Mule is just that, a tri-cone set into a single-cone stainless steel body and the sound is somewhere right in between the two designs. I'd never part with my National, but this guitar doesn't really sound anything like it, and I've found that I'm using the Mule a lot these days. Matt did a fantastic job all around on this guitar, the neck feels like I've played it for years, and it's got a custom made P-90 that really sounds nice and not overly electric. I love the sound, and it's versatile, changing from sharp to growl to mellow depending on where your right hand is.
I've been playing two or three hours every day. Open D and C a half step down feel best to me, but G rings nicely there too. It's Incredible to me - having scarcely played a steel guitar except in shops - how nuanced and sensitive to attack the cones are, how each seems to pick up different combinations of volume and frequency to generate distinct overtones. I can play quiet or hard or between to the two and it's like I have three or four different guitars. Running through my rig - essentially tape echo, trem, verb, and OD - the colors multiply. Particularly dialing up the wow and flutter on the tape echo creates some note decay with the slide that feels like a whole new tool.
the craftsmanship is just beautiful. I'm really happy to have it. When I get a chance to shoot some useful video - something you can use on your site - I certainly will.
What’s it like buying a handmade resonator guitar anyways? If I can’t pull it off the wall and play it first, why should I buy it?
I totally admit it’s a completely different experience buying a resonator guitar that isn’t yet in the world. You e-mail or call me, and we talk about what you’re looking for, what kind of playing you do. You send a deposit and then several months later we confirm details, you get pictures as the guitar is being built and voila you’re playing it and hopefully loving it in your own home.
Point #1: Keep an open mind.
Part of the reason I love guitars is each one is different. Resonator guitars are certainly no exception. If you let them be their own creation, listening hard to them will teach you things about tone, and this making of sound is what inspires us musicians. Playing the same chord on four different guitars can take you four different directions.
Something I’ve tried to do is really cut back on the verbage you hear from a lot of guitar makers/companies. Hidden amongst all the flowery adjectives is usually some amount of miscommunication. It also attempts to put into your head what a guitar sounds like. It’s advantageous to makers that you believe that this guitar will fulfill your every desire for tone- “booming low end that belies it’s parlor size”- but it’s inherently faulty. One person’s “shimmering highs” might be another person’s “Round and full treble”. Building a guitar regarding sound is more like building a boat than landing a helicopter. We use adjectives of course, but fairly general ones. If you are looking for ‘warm’ or ‘punch’ or ‘balance’ we can get you there. If you keep an open mind and let the guitar be what it is, it will take you somewhere musically you didn’t expect. That’s inspiration.
Point #2: It’s about the people
One of the biggest surprises about doing this was how attached people became to me and my work. I send guitars off and I get beer, bottle openers, homemade maple syrup, tshirts, invites etc in return. It’s awesome and my greatest pleasure. I get comments on my character and people get philosophical. Over resonator guitars? Well it’s not the guitar, it’s the people. You worked hard for the money you are giving to me. You spent part of life doing the work that you do so you can give it to me so I can do the work I do. It’s an exchange. It’s so much bigger than perfect miters and fancy finish formulas. It’s also something that can only happen in the context of buying a guitar directly from the person that made it. There’s certainly advantages to buying a guitar in a shop and I’m not here to convince people this is The Ultimate Buying Experience. It’s just different. It’s a connection between people and I love being a part of that.
The e-mail sometimes goes like this: “Hey Matt, I love resonators and have always wanted to make one. How?”
I totally get the feeling. I worked at Huss and Dalton guitars for a while and went to a guitar making school, so I had experience with making guitars. When it came time to make metal body resonators, that was kind of a new story. I knew the important basics but had never soldered/welded/machined/cut a piece of metal ever. That’s where the digging began.
I had to learn all that stuff by googling, and by just trying things and throwing it away when it didn’t work, then figuring out how to make it better. It was really hard. It took me about a year to make the first four guitars. That was full time, I didn’t have another job at the time. I was starting from scratch and I had to gather information from different realms of woodworking and metalworking to understand what I could, but most of it was learned by trying things and failing and just keeping my feet moving.
I don’t think you have to build a wood guitar before you build a metal guitar. They are different enough that a lot of the time you would spend on a wood bodied guitar wouldn’t transfer. What I would say is to buy yourself an import guitar to get dimensions from. Buy it used and sell it later. Don’t think you can do it just by going off an $8 set of plans.
When it comes to the neck it’s the same thing. You’re just going to have to do it, and understand if you want something that is decent you are going to have to a do a few of them before you get a decent one. Maple is cheap, start there.
If you are working on making your own resonator guitar and you get into a jam I can certainly do my best to help you. But to get there you’re going to have to do a lot of footwork on your own.
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