5 Best Resonator Guitars – The Only Guide You Need

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Best Overall – Gretsch G9201 Honey Dipper Round-Neck Metal Resonator

Reviewer: Teemu Suomala

Sound
Playability
Hardware
Overall Quality
Value For Money

Summary

Pros 
-Great volume & projection
-Aggressive twang
-Real bone nut increases sustain and overall tone
-Great quality Grover tuners
-Smooth & comfortable vintage playability
-Clear and articulate tone
-Overall great quality

Cons
-Not the best sustain with the biscuit cone
-Not the easiest playability
-Rare finish issues

Who Is This For?
If you are after a true resonator experience and want great volume & projection that will serve you well in your blues jams, Gretsch G9201 Honey Dipper is one of the best options. To me, it’s a true resonator guitar with a price most of us can afford.

4.8

How Gretsch G9201 Honey Dipper sounds:

YouTube video

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Runner-Up – Recording King Swamp Dog RM-997-VG


Our Overall Rating

Summary

Pros 

  • Loud and aggressive twangy sound
  • The c-neck shape is easy to handle
  • Overall solid quality
  • Real bone nut (increases sustain)
  • Unique looks

Cons

  • Not the best sustain with the biscuit cone
  • Revebond fretboard doesn’t get praising
  • Sometimes finish issues

Who Is This For?

If you want easy and familiar playability with a C-neck shape, want a loud voice and great projection, and don’t fret about not having the best fretboard, Swamp Dog is a great choice for your next blues jam session.

Best Budget – Gretsch G9200 Boxcar Round-neck


Our Overall Rating

Summary

Pros 

  • Really similar features to the more expensive Gretsch Honey Dipper
  • Great sustain and solid volume & projection
  • Warm & soft tone
  • Soft V neck is pretty easy to handle
  • Really high value for the money
  • A real bone nut

Cons

  • Not loud and harsh as metal body resonators with biscuit cone
  • Sometimes rough fret edges
  • Not a solid top

Who Is This For?

If you are after a gentle-sounding budget resonator with easy playability, Gretsch G9200 Boxcar is one of the safest bets. It has many features of a more expensive guitar, and budget guitar problems are usually not present (rough fret edges can happen sometimes).

Best Wood Body – Gretsch G9240 Alligator


Our Overall Rating

Summary

Pros 

  • Loud & great projection
  • Laminated mahogany body gives the sound a soft and gentle tone
  • Real bone nut increases sustain and overall tone
  • Great quality Grover open tuners
  • Smooth & comfortable vintage playability
  • Overall great quality

Cons

  • Not the best sustain with the biscuit cone
  • Not the easiest playability
  • Rare finish issues
  • Not a solid top

Who Is This For?

If you are after gentle-sounding resonator guitar with punchy sound and great projection, that also offers smooth & comfortable vintage playability, Gretsch G9240 Alligator is one of the best options.

Best With Pickups – Danelectro ’59 Resonator

displays Danelectro '59 Resonator Guitar

Our Overall Rating

Summary

Pros 

  • Easy electric guitar-like playability
  • Lipstick single-coil offers nice vintage tones
  • Piezo cone pickup allows running this resonator through an amp
  • Good all-around quality
  • Sounds solid unplugged too

Cons

  • A hardboard top is a quite cheap choice
  • Doesn’t give you an authentic resonator experience
  • Not a solid top

Who Is This For?

If you are after easy playing resonator guitar that can be plugged in, this Danelectro ’59 Resonator is one of the best options. It sounds good with either lipstick single-coil or piezo cone pickup on or unplugged.

Compare Key Specs of The Top 5:

graphic compares 5 Best Resonator Guitars

I say it out loud here, every guitar player should at least try a resonator guitar out. At least try. Maybe just in a music store. But please, try a resonator out. This small guitar sub-segment is really underrated.

If you feel like you want something different. Something powerful. Something that is a really good fit with blues… keep reading. This article reveals the best resonator guitars out there, and each one of them brings something awesome to the table. I also wrapped a killer buyer’s guide section for you so that you can make the best choice possible.

Let’s get started!

photo reveals owner of guitaristnextdoor.com

Author: Teemu Suomala

I first grabbed guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I also noticed that most guitar websites don’t do a really good job, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website. I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar. I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog(I guess that went the right way…).


5 Best Resonator Guitars in 2022

Keep These 3 Key Things In Mind When Choosing:

Round neck-styled resonator guitars are meant to be played just like any other guitar.

Square neck-styled resonator guitars are meant to be played lap style (like lap steel guitars).

Single Biscuit cone = Has punchy and loud sound upfront, but doesn’t have great sustain.

Single Spider cone = Has great sustain, but doesn’t have that much volume & projection.

Tri-cone (has 3 smaller cones) = Has a good sustain, volume, and projection. Usually more expensive.

Wood body = Softer, warmer, and more gentle sound. Highlights low-mids.

Metal body = Harsher, damper, and more punchy & twangy sound.


Best Overall – Gretsch G9201 Honey Dipper Round-Neck Metal Resonator

Sound

First, this Gretsch Resonator is loud. Sound really comes at you with real power.

Honey Dipper is equipped biscuit resonator cone, which is just like a speaker cone turned upside down and the cone is connected to the bridge (check buyer’s guide section for more info)

This type of cone ensures great volume and projection but doesn’t provide us with really good sustain. It’s really a feature, not a con, but the notes dampen faster than with a tri-cone for example.

Otherwise, the sound is clear and relatively articulate. The bell brass body ensures us with loud bass notes and using your palm for thumbing the rhythm sounds really good with this resonator guitar.

Gretsch Honey Dipper is an excellent choice for delta blues and blues in general. It also works great with a slide.

Here’s another great sound demo:

YouTube video

Playability

Vintage-styled medium V-shaped mahogany neck feels smooth and comfortable, but it should be noted that this resonator is not as easy to play as many normal acoustic guitars. The neck is relatively wide (17.5″ nut width), and the V-shaped neck is also thicker than usual.

But again, this is more of a feature of this Honey Dipper than a real con. To me, resonators should feel different than normal acoustic guitars. This guitar gives you a true resonator experience when it comes to playability.

Overall Quality

Gretsch Honey Dipper is equipped with

  • Bone nut
  • Ebony/maple saddle
  • D’Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze, Light, .012-.053 strings
  • Grover Sta-Tite Die-cast open tuners

All these are awesome features in a mid-priced guitar. I have heard good things about tuning stability in the long run. Some mid-range Gretsch Hollow-body guitars have finish issues out of the box, but with Honey Dipper, these really seem to be rare.

And it’s awesome that this resonator is equipped with a real bone nut, which increases the sustain. If the biscuit cone resonator were equipped with low-quality nut, the sustain could be really bad.

Summary 

Pros 

  • Great volume & projection
  • Aggressive twang
  • Real bone nut increases sustain and overall tone
  • Great quality Grover open tuners
  • Smooth & comfortable vintage playability
  • Clear and articulate tone
  • Overall great quality

Cons

  • Not the best sustain with the biscuit cone
  • Not the easiest playability
  • Rare finish issues

Who Is This For?

If you are after a true resonator experience, and want great volume & projection that will serve you well in your blues jams, Gretsch G9201 Honey Dipper is one of the best options. To me, it’s a true resonator guitar with a price most of us can afford.

Check Price on:


Runner-Up – Recording King Swamp Dog RM-997-VG

Sound

Swamp dog hits us with an aggressive twangy sound, that projects it through almost everything. Again, with a biscuit cone, the first punch comes with a force, but the sustain isn’t really great.

Swamp dogs sound offers really similar qualities to Gretsch Honey Dipper, but to me, it’s slightly less full and articulate. But nonetheless, it’s still a true resonator guitar and provides a great tone for blues and slide playing.

Here’s a great sound demo:

YouTube video

Playability

A wide neck (1.75″ nut width) with a familiar C-shaped neck sounds solid to me. And the overall playability of the Swamp Dog is great.

When it comes to only ease of play, this Swamp dog is a better option than a Gretsch Honey Dipper. But I l still prefer Honey Dipper’s smooth vintage feel.

The mahogany neck does feel smooth and the overall feel of the guitar’s body is still true Resonator stuff.

Overall Quality

Let’s stack up some key qualities of Recording King’s Swamp Dog:

  • Bone nut
  • Ebony/maple saddle
  • Open Gear tuners

It’s all solid, but loses to Gretsch Honey Dipper a little bit. And there is one real con. It’s the revebond fretboard. There is not much info about revebond available, but it’s most likely made out of leftover woods. Its quality is usually good, but its durability is not always the best. It doesn’t ruin the playability, but I would personally prefer something else.

But when it comes to overall quality, Recording King Swamp Dog passes with flying grades.

Summary 

Pros 

  • Loud and aggressive twangy sound
  • The c-neck shape is easy to handle
  • Overall solid quality
  • Real bone nut (increases sustain)
  • Unique looks

Cons

  • Not the best sustain with the biscuit cone
  • Revebond fretboard doesn’t get praising
  • Sometimes finish issues

Who Is This For?

If you want easy and familiar playability with a C-neck shape, want a loud voice and great projection, and don’t fret about not having the best fretboard, Swamp Dog is a great choice for your next blues jam session.

Check Price on:


Best Budget/Spider Cone – Gretsch G9200 Boxcar Round-neck

Sound

Spider-cone is not as loud and punchy as a biscuit cone, but it does provide a better sustain. The laminated mahogany body provides a soft and warm sound. Low-mids are more present than with metal body resonators, but some blues twang is still present and that’s awesome.

Bass notes are note very loud, but I like the fact that they are softer and less damp. That’s 1 key thing I like about resonator guitars with a wooden body.

Here’s a great sound demo:

YouTube video

Playability

G9200 Boxcar is equipped with a soft V neck, which is a bit easier to handle than the medium V of the Honey Dipper.

The difference is not huge, but there is a difference, that’s for sure. But even with soft V, fretting notes with your thumb is still relatively easy.

The overall playability is comfortable and the neck, fretboard, and frets have a nice smooth finish. Sometimes some rough fret edges can happen with these budget guitar, but that seems to be rare case with the Boxcar.

Overall Quality

Feature stack:

  • Grover Sta-Tite Die-cast Open tuners
  • Ebony-tipped Maple
  • Bone nut
  • D’Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze, Light, .012-.053 strings

Identical specs to couple hundreds of dollars more expensive Honey Dipper. Of course, you don’t get a bell brass body that provides great volume and punchy twang, but otherwise features of this Boxcar are just awesome.

When we talk about budget guitars, some finish issues can happen. And with boxcar, the most common complaint seems to be the sharp fret edges. They can be smoothened easily by yourself, or you can let a professional handle it cheaply, but it’s still a con.

Summary 

Pros 

  • Really similar features to the more expensive Gretsch Honey Dipper
  • Great sustain and solid volume & projection
  • Warm & soft tone
  • Soft V neck is pretty easy to handle
  • Great quality Grover open tuners
  • Really high value for the money
  • A real bone nut

Cons

  • Not loud and harsh as metal body resonators with biscuit cone
  • Sometimes rough fret edges
  • Not a solid top

Who Is This For?

If you are after a gentle-sounding budget resonator with easy playability, Gretsch G9200 Boxcar is one of the safest bets. It has many features of a more expensive guitar, and budget guitar problems are usually not present (rough fret edges can happen sometimes).

Check Price on:


Best Wood Body – Gretsch G9240 Alligator Mahogany Round Neck

Sound

G9240 Alligator connects biscuit cone with powerful and punchy sound with a laminated mahogany body. The end result? Soft, but articulate sound that comes out with a force.

If you prefer a wood body because of the softness it brings to the table tonally, but you still want more loudness than with a spider cone, then this Gretsch Alligator is a great choice tonally. The downside? As always with a biscuit cone, sustain is not the best. It’s the price we have to pay if we want a really punchy sound with affordable price tag.

Here’s a great sound demo:

YouTube video

Playability

Playability-wise, Gretsch Alligator and Honey Dipper are pretty much identical. You get vintage styled medium V neck with overall smooth and comfortable playability. It’s not the easiest to handle, but fun and comfortable to play for sure.

And to me, Gretsch Alligator is a wood body resonator guitar that offers us the best “true resonator” experience.

Overall Quality

Here are some key features:

  • Bone nut
  • Ebony/maple saddle
  • D’Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze, Light, .012-.053 strings
  • Grover Sta-Tite Die-cast open tuners

Again, for this price, I’m really happy with the features. A solid top would be just awesome, but I have to keep in mind that we are still talking about affordable guitar here.

Summary 

Pros 

  • Loud & great projection
  • Laminated mahogany body gives the sound a soft and gentle tone
  • Real bone nut increases sustain and overall tone
  • Great quality Grover open tuners
  • Smooth & comfortable vintage playability
  • Overall great quality

Cons

  • Not the best sustain with the biscuit cone
  • Not the easiest playability
  • Rare finish issues
  • Not a solid top

Who Is This For?

If you are after gentle-sounding resonator guitar with punchy sound and great projection that also offers smooth & comfortable vintage playability, Gretsch G9240 Alligator is one of the best options.

Check Price on:


Best With Pickups – Danelectro ’59 Resonator Guitar

displays Danelectro '59 Resonator Guitar

Sound

Danelectro’s ’59 Resonator is not your typical resonator guitar.

It comes with a biscuit cone that offers a nice punchy sound and doesn’t shine on the sustain department. But this axe has a lot less shallow body (it’s still a hollow-body) than the other resonators featured in this article, so the unplugged volume and projection of this Danelectro can’t match its competitors.

This doesn’t mean that Danelectro is a bad choice. It does offer a nice punchy and twangy sound unplugged. But it really shines when it’s plugged in. It’s equipped with ’56 Lipstick Single-coil for less resonator type sound and a piezo cone pickup for running your resonator tones through an amp. And even with the piezo pickup, you get really nice twangy blues tones out of this resonator guitar.

To me, it sounds good unplugged, but it should be noted that its top is something called “hardboard”. So the top is made of exploded wood fiber that has been compressed. End result is a really dense and hard engineered wood product. But I must say that I prefer a real wood 100% of the time over this.

Here’s a great sound demo:

YouTube video

Playability

Danelectro ’59 Resonator brings us closest to electric guitar-like playability. C-shaped and relatively slim and thin (1.65″ nut) neck feel electric-like and the overall slim body is easy to handle.

So if you are after a really authentic delta-blues resonator guitar experience, this Danelectro is not your guitar. But if you want really easy to handle resonator guitar, it’s an excellent choice.

Overall Quality

Feature stack:

  • Aluminum nut & saddle
  • Sealed die-cast tuners
  • D’Addario, 10s strings

Solid, but that aluminum nut just feels alien. I have heard how this axe sounds, so it definitely doesn’t ruin the guitar, and I have read that aluminum nut has a great sustain and wear resistance, so this nut choice might end up being a great one after all.

Summary 

Pros 

  • Easy electric guitar-like playability
  • Lipstick single-coil offers nice vintage tones
  • Piezo cone pickup allows running this resonator through an amp
  • Good all-around quality
  • Sounds solid unplugged too

Cons

  • A hardboard top is a quite cheap choice
  • Not a solid top
  • Doesn’t give you an authentic resonator experience

Who Is This For?

If you are after easy playing resonator guitar that can be plugged in, this Danelectro ’59 Resonator is one of the best options. It sounds good with every setup, lipstick single-coil, piezo cone pickup on, or unplugged.

Check Price on:


Runner-Ups That Just Missed The Top 5


Buyer’s Guide – FAQ

What Makes A Good Resonator Guitar?

Ideally, look for these:

  • Bone nut
  • Real wood body (laminated or solid(better)) if you want a wood body resonator guitar
  • Brass, bell bronze, or steel body if you want a metal body resonator guitar
  • The guitar sounds good to you (check reviews and sound demos)

You can’t always get all of these, and that’s totally fine. But more the better.

How Do I Choose A Resonator Guitar?

First, get clear on what you want. Do you want really harsh, loud, and twangy sound? Or are you after a softer sound that still has some twang in it?

There are 3 key things you have to keep in mind when buying a resonator guitar. I already shortly mentioned these at the start of this article, but let’s dive a bit deeper into each of these now. Let’s start with the…

2 Main Resonator Guitar Neck Types

Round Neck

You play a round neck resonator guitar just like any other acoustic or electric guitar. If this sounds good, go with round-neck resonator guitar.

Square Neck

Square neck resonator guitars are meant to be played lap style. Like in this photo:

reveals how Square neck resonator guitar is meant to be played
Lap-style playing.

If this sounds like something you are after, go with a square-neck resonator guitar.

Resonator Guitar Cone Types

displays 3 main Resonator guitar cone types
How different resonator guitar cone types are different from each other.
Biscuit-bridge Single-cone

Offers a very punchy, harsh, and loud sound upfront but dampens quite quickly. Doesn’t have a great sustain.

Spider-bridge Single-cone

Offers a more balanced sound with better sustain and less volume & projection. Still has some nice twang in it.

Tri-cone

Offers punchy, harsh, and loud sound with good sustain. Usually more expensive.

Cones of these different types look a little bit different. Here’s what I mean:

displays How cone is placed inside resonator guitar with different resonator guitar cone types
A simplistic example of how different cones are inside a resonator guitar.

So with Biscuit and Tri-cone design, the cone is like a speaker cone turned upside down. With the Spider-cone design, the cone is like a speaker cone would normally be.

Metal or Wood Body?

image displays resonator acoustic guitar with metal body
Resonator acoustic guitar with a metal body.

Resonator guitar with metal body provides harsher, damper, and more punchy & twangy tone. The metal body is usually more durable and a bit heavier.

image displays resonator acoustic guitar with wooden body
Resonator acoustic guitar with a wooden body.

Resonator guitar with a wood body offers a softer, warmer, and more gentle sound. It also highlights low-mids. Wood body resonator guitars are heavier than regular acoustic guitars, but lighter than resonator guitars with metal bodies.

This video gives a nice information bomb about resonator guitars:

YouTube video

What Are Resonator Guitars Good For?

Resonator guitars offer a twangy sound that fits especially well with slide use. Resonator guitars are frequently used in

  • Bluegrass
  • Blues
  • Delta-blues.

If that kind of awesome music interests you, then a resonator guitar might be a great option for you.

Check our favorite acoustic guitar slide picks here.

Do Resonator Guitars Need Special Strings?

Resonator guitars work great with normal guitar strings. For example, most Gretsch Resonator guitars are equipped with normal D’Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze, Light, .012-.053 strings out of the box.

Are Resonator Guitars Hard to Play?

I would not call resonator guitars hard to play.

Usually resonator guitars have a relatively small body, especially when compared to dreadnoughts and jumbo acoustic guitars. So the body size is easy to handle. The neck shapes vary, but V neck shape can feel a bit alien at first, but it’s nothing impossible. Resonator guitars with C-neck shape are really similar to any other acoustic guitar when it comes to playability.

So in general, for electric guitar players, playing resonator guitar feels like jumping to playing acoustic guitar or a little bit harder. If you are an acoustic guitarist, there’s not much learning curve (some still).


Conclusion

I’m just in the middle of moving 457km (283 miles) to the south, and right now, I hate to say this, I had to sell some of my guitars because we don’t want to rent a moving truck. And I just don’t have a room for resonator guitar right now. It sucks. I would love to jam with one right now. But once we are done with the moving, I’ll walk into a music store and play one and hopefully buy one(if my wife lets me).

I hope that this article helped you out, and maybe you even decided to get one of the guitars featured. If you have any questions just leave a comment, I and the GND team are here for you.

I wish you all the best and keep rocking!

Teemu

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