The Delta Snake Review

The Delta Snake Review

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Guitar Review: Fender Reso-Telecaster

I was actually in the local guitar store looking for something else and ran across this new variation on the Fender telecaster.

I'm not going to go too deeply into the specs on the thing, it's obviously a very new model and made in China, which accounts for it's reasonable price (for a resonator of this quality).

From what specs I can find, what you basically have here is a telecaster shape semisolid (though not a heavily built type), with a pick up under the biscuit style bridge and a standard telecaster neck pick up. Both the body and neck are maple, artificial bone nut, and plated brass tailpiece.

The most important difference is that this resonator has a C shaped telecaster neck. This is different than normal resonators, which generally have shorter scale mahogany neck and rosewood or similar fretboards boards. The main difference is the telecaster maple neck will bring out more highs in the sound, and have more attack. Having a bit of the traditional fender spank might change the way the player normally approaches slide guitar playing.

The Fender seems lighter then either the metal body resonator or most wood body dobros. Most are built heavily because the rigidness of the body, including the top (which on an acoustic guitar would normally be expected to vibrate) is what makes the resonator cone effective. 

In other words you don't want the guitar body vibrating and absorbing sound. I think Fender figures that the use of maple makes it less necessary to use a lot of wood, or more specifically mahogany, which is the traditional wood for a dobro.

Less wood and semisolid construction also mean that acoustically will have less volume. It's clearly a guitar designed to be used with an amp, but with more than enough volume to be used acoustically.

Telecaster tradition is also continued with the iconic two plain knobs, one a master volume control, the other using a Fishman chip that controls the balance between the bridge and neck pickup instead of a standard tone control. 

Resonators were actually quite popular in the 20s in the Hawaiian music scene, and later with the blues. It got a little more popular with the introduction of an electric model that was endorsed by Joe Perry of Aerosmith, but electric versions of this type of guitar been around for a while.

Being someone who's played a telecaster all his life, and knowing that one of the most popular categories of Teles are the hollow body type, I couldn't resist trying it.

The thing about a resonator guitar, as opposed to a standard acoustic, it has that aluminum cone designed to naturally amplify the sound.

I've owned a couple of electric Resophonic guitars, and found that they had the same characteristics.

Almost all are very loud without any electric assistance, and so the feature you'll end up using most often is the piezo pickup that essentially amplifies the acoustic sound from the bridge. Anything more powerful than that and you'll just get a lot of feedback.

Also unless you're playing at a loud volume, the acoustic sound of the guitar will be so loud that you can't hear what's coming out of the amplifier very well.

The other pick up  (if there is one) is almost always placed at the neck, and is generally a lipstick type. In this case they use a standard telecaster neck pick up, which is virtually the same thing.

These pickups normally have the same problem, it has to be played at fairly loud volume to be heard out the amp, and you have to be careful about your own positioning, as the guitar will feed back easily.

In other words the same problem as any acoustic guitar that has a pick up installed on it.

In this case, the feedback problem seemed less noticeable, Fender's bridge pickup seems less sensitive and microphonic. There's less acoustic volume, so the neck PU is less prone to feedback here. Which is helpful, as I like the option of having an overdriven sound, particularly for recording where volume is less important.

The key question when considering this guitar is where you intend to use it. A good quality resonator guitar frankly doesn't need an amplifier to be heard in a house, and I mean the whole house.

If you intend to mainly play it at home, then the important point is, do you like the looks, and do you like how it sounds acoustically. Also when it comes to guitars, does it have a very high cool factor. In this case it does, it looks like a very nice telecaster that happens to be converted to a resophonic system.

If you like how it sounds acoustically, and as it's priced lower than a lot of more well known guitars of this type, it's a purchase you should definitely consider.

It was a guitar developed in earlier times to be played in noisy rooms and bars and still be heard above the noise. Also it doesn't sound like a regular acoustic guitar, kind of more like a higher pitched guitar blasting out of an old cheap microphone when picked hard. Which is perfect for Hawaiian music and blues.

If you pick it softly, it can give you an excellent alternative to the usual acoustic guitar sound. That's because this Fender is not the metal body type, but closer to a dobro which has a wood body (and popular in country and bluegrass). The sound is resonant at lower volume, and the sound changes as it's picked harder.

The main reason is that Fender went with a hybrid electric .10 gauge string with bronze wrapped bass strings (like an acoustic string set). So if you pick lightly it doesn't drive the resonator cone much and the sound is more acoustic, pick harder and it begins to sound like a dobro.

It's a good sound, particularly if you use fingernails and not metal finger picks. I used an Epiphone biscuit model for years as my regular acoustic guitar, because I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of the standard acoustic six string.

Heavier strings will bring out a more traditional sound, Even moving up to a light acoustic gauge (.12 set ) will noticeably drive the cone more and give you a more standard Resophonic sound.

In fact, it's resonator sound is more similar to a metal body type than a dobro. This could be due to the maple wood body and neck, maybe a good cone, but it's an extra dimension to take into account. If I want more of a National style resonator sound, I can get it by putting on heavier strings.

Fender's use of a .10 set isn't some random decision. It's part of a different way to approach the resonator and it sound. People used to the more traditional types might find the sound almost alien at first. 

I certainly did, But decided to give it some playing time before permanently switching the thicker strings for a more standard sound.

I found that I liked the new sound. Once my ears adjusted, or more specifically, got rid of preconceived expectations about the guitar, I found myself with a new sound to play with and explore in a world where dobros and metal bodies as a rule sound pretty much the same.

If you're primarily a home player, the pickup is an added dimension in case you have to play in a larger venue like a church or club. It can also give you a distinctive new set of sounds for recording, especially if the guitar's plugged directly into the board.

It's lighter than a standard Tele, which in it's solid body form can often give a Les Paul a run for it's money in terms of weight.

The key thing to remember is that it's not your normal hollow body telecaster, it only looks like one. The reality is that it's really more of a dobro or resonator variant, though I find that due to it not being overbuilt, it's more responsive to finger style play and doesn't tend to be muddy sounding like the lower and mid priced models.

Also, if you're looking for more of a regular amplified acoustic, it's a good idea to try the Fender along with some standard acoustics that have on-board amplification. You'll be able to hear the difference, and really decide what acoustic sound you want.

It's a classic eye candy guitar that has a high remorse potential, that is to say, maybe a month later you'll find yourself regretting that you bought it.

As far as the small but very dedicated cult of guitar players who prefer this type, they just might find it a revelation. It's tone is lighter, very bright, and works well with a glass slide. 

A real world example would be that it has more of the thinner tone of Blind Willie Johnson, rather than the powerful mids and bass of a Bukka White (using the stock .10 set strings).

Fender chose exactly the right kind of guitar to convert to this type. The thick squarish body of a telecaster is ideal for mounting a resonator cone.

This is more a guitar for those who already like the old-time sound of a resonator, who wants a look that gives the person something that really stands out from the normal crowd, and wants a sound thats closer to an acoustic guitar, and perhaps, a bit like a hollow body telecaster.

In that respect, I think Fender has a success on its hands. It's on a smaller scale, but it's definitely a homerun. I had been looking for a resonator with a pickup, and wasn't liking the basic similar sound of all the alternatives, and found this one to my liking.

It's a guitar that made me want one when I saw it, it just might have that effect on you.