"Resonators may be the coolest instruments ever made: shiny metal acoustic guitars that look as loud as they sound, or wooden bodies with massive metal cones in the middle. They look like a vintage sci-fi creation, and in the hands of a Son House, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Tampa Red, Taj Mahal, Bruce Cockburn, Keith Richards, or Duane Allman, resonators explode with the fuzzy crackle of a space rocket."
"Originally designed in the late 1920s to pump up the volume on acoustic guitars, resonators today are used to dirty up the blues, make a country slide-note moan, give some meatiness to a folk song, or add a little sizzle-and-fry to rock."
By Mark Kemp, Acoustic Guitar Magazine
Clockwise from top left: Taj Mahal, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Duane Allman, Son House, Keith Richards
So what exactly is a resonator?
Originally designed in the 1920s by luthier John Dopyera who formed The National Stringed Instrument Corporation, a resonator is a means of amplifying the sound of an acoustic guitar or ukulele. In the early 1920s before electronic amplification, when Los Angeles was quickly becoming the entertainment capital of the world, many guitarists sought instruments that could be heard alongside louder orchestral instruments like brass and percussion. In response to this demand and specifically to a request by steel guitar player George Beauchamp, Dopyera patented an acoustic means of amplification where the sound was produced by one or more spun metal cone instead of the wooden soundboard.
John Dopyera and George Beauchamp
Dopyera Resonator Patent 1932
Distinctive Resonator Tone
Resophonic instruments have a unique sound and their distinctive tone can still be heard in Blues, Bluegrass and Country music, often in place of amplified instruments. The most famous originators of the resonator guitar were brands National, Dobro and Regal. Notable artists using Resonator Guitars are Mark Knopfler, Bon Iver and Emily Robison of Dixie Chicks fame.
National made ukuleles with resonators as early as the 1930s. Like resonator guitars they're much louder than a standard wooden ukulele, with the same unique sound and the same distinctive metal cone and 'f-holes' in the face of the instrument. Famous players of resonator ukuleles include Del Rey and Bob Brownian. Check out Del Rey’s very cool resonator ukulele below in her ‘Brown’s Blues’ lesson from her fingerstyle blues DVD ‘Blue Uke’.
’Brown’s Blues’ performed and taught by Del Rey from her ‘Blue Uke’ DVD.
While National still make the finest resonators, in recent years other notable brands such as Kala, Beltona and Gold Tone have come to the table to produce some very note-worthy and affordable resonator ukuleles.
For a quality resonator ukulele that won't break the bank, take a look at out our recommended selection below.
Kala KA-BRS-RES Tenor Resonator Ukulele
Beautifully constructed with the requisite vintage style look, the projection on this model is wonderful. Loud but with volume that holds true tonal balance and note distinction (vital to any Resonator instrument).
The Kala Resonator Ukulele features a lightweight aluminium Resonator cone crafted into a figured Mahogany body producing a totally distinctive voice and appearance.
Gold Tone ResoUke Maple Tenor Resonator Ukulele
Classically styled after the traditional instruments of the 1930's, the gorgeous flamed maple body delivers a crisp, loud tone. The sound is suitably period correct, with a warmth and sparkle fitting of a vintage instrument.
The Gold Tone ResoUke features a biscuit cone, slimline neck and beautifully styled F-Holes that hark back to the traditional looks and sounds of yesteryear.
Gold Tone ResoUke Tenor Resonator Ukulele
The ukulele jewel in Gold Tone's 'folkternative' range, the ResoUke sounds and looks like a Delta Blues classic. Metal bodied instruments carry a different tonal qualities than wood instruments, which gives the ResoUke a unique ringing harmonics and sustain.
This high class Tenor resonator features a brass body with brushed aluminium finish, resulting in beautiful shimmering chords and chiming picking patterns that hold plenty of character.