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 email@example.com
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.
“Most precise…exacting…perfect….unwavering quality” We hear a lot of words and phrases like that used when being referred to what makers make don’t we? Whether those words or true and honest or not is a subject for another article, but what we very rarely hear discussed is the giant pile of work, of borderline junk it takes to get a guitar to a level worthy of writing home about.
I of course can only speak for myself. Making resonator guitars did not come naturally or easily. In fact almost everyday there would come a moment that was trying to disprove my ambition. Some silly mistake, some towering challenge that would stare me in the face with a questioning gaze and ask, “….maybe this isn’t for you.” I’ll save you the childhood background, but this patronizing statement could have been a motto of mine. The proof of this was a development of a kind of blind flailing of effort reflex. I learned it being the runt in football, I applied it to music, and because it is my go-to coping mechanism, to making resonator guitars.
I worked at Huss and Dalton Guitars for two or three years, and that allowed me a great avenue for making a ‘pile of work’- 500 or so necks, thousands of braces, binding/sanding/gluing hundreds of bodies. Hundreds of sets of wood and neck blanks. When I got the inspiration for making resonator guitars the most valuable knowledge in my hands came in the form of that blind flailing of effort. I could climb the towering challenge by making a pile of work. There was so much unknown, and so much that could not be known ahead of time. Precision? Sure I could be precise in my work, but precision also indicates a focused knowledge and direction. I couldn’t rely on making one perfect body, because I didn’t know if it would work. I had to make 10 perfect-as-I-could-make-them-in-the-time-allowed guitars because I had to see the whole picture repeatedly.
I think when beginning luthiers-be it in their garage or at a luthier school- misleads themselves by tiptoeing along in pursuit of perfection at the expense of making a pile of work. The highest possible craftsmanship is of course a goal. I put that in bold so those just waiting to get to my e-mail address so they can chew me out for aspiring to make crappy guitars sees more of my broad perspective. Bob Taylor said “Quantity is equally as important as quality.” In life the biggest situations require balance-two things that are correct in the correct proportions- and guitar making is no different. “Equally important as” In a situation where you have both those things, now you are really learning. Making 2.5 guitars in a 8 month class is not enough. When you are learning you need repetition of the steps- fret guitar, remove, repeat; carve neck check, throw away, repeat- but you also need to get the big picture, repeatedly. So much of making guitars is the flow between the 1,000 little steps. You can’t improve that if you are putting a guitar together every two months.
Are you holding yourself back by holding perfection as the only ticket to learning? What could you learn if for a time you just did as much work as you could?
Sounds funny, right? Especially when making resonator guitars. Isn’t it all measuring to 1/32 of an inch? Well, it used to be. Measuring, marking with the sharpest pencil you can find, hoping the ruler doesn’t move and you don’t notice it. Suddenly half of the skill of making guitars is measuring between little lines correctly.
So I came up with the short saying (there are many more) “Never Measure”. If you dont have to measure while making a guitar you can spend more time actually making guitars, and not fixing measuring mistakes. How is that done?
The biggest way is through the types of jigs and fixtures I build. If I make a template that has locating pins on either end perfectly on center, I only have to measure perfectly once. From then on I can use a template to drill holes, which now can be used on all my other jigs. Now I spend all my time making guitars and not playing with rulers. And its always perfect. It goes right along with another heuristic of mine: “Make a system.” If it’s work that is repeated there is a system that can be made to do it. It frees up my work and work power to be aware of how its working, how I can make a better part or how it fits into the whole of making instruments. If my nose is constantly in my work- meaning I’m looking only at the pieces – I’m missing opportunities. Those opportunities could be for better work, new ideas, or just plain having more fun making resonator guitars.
For the time being there’s still six inch rulers all over the place here, but “Never Measure” keeps improving the processes.
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