How to Build Resonator Guitars

Written by larry simmons
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A resonator guitar is a guitar built with a bowl-shaped cone located within the guitar body beneath the bridge that increases the sounds of the instrument over those of a traditionallybuilt acoustic guitar. Built since the 1920s, resonator guitars are used primarily in bluegrass, country and blues music, where its metallic twang can be commonly heard. You can build a resonator guitar by modifying an existing acoustic, disassembling it and making the changes necessary, using common woodworking tools.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Acoustic guitar
  • Putty knife
  • Hand steamer
  • Saw
  • Sandpaper
  • Plywood boards
  • Resonator cone
  • Resonator bridge
  • Resonator cover
  • Tin shears
  • Resonator tailpiece
  • Guitar strings

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  1. 1

    Remove the back of the acoustic guitar, by slipping a putty knife into the wood-glued joint. If the joint uses a synthetic glue, then steam the joint to loosen the glue before separating the pieces.

  2. 2

    Cut a hole in the face of the guitar to fit the resonator into the guitar body. The hole should be the same size as your resonator. Take the cut wood and shape it to fit the old hole in the face of the acoustic guitar and glue it into place, closing the existing hole.

  3. 3

    Create a plywood sound well by gluing three pieces of plywood circles together. A sound well is a ringed, drum-like object that holds the resonator cone in the body of the guitar and reinforces the structure of the guitar surrounding the cone. Shape the three circles so that they are hollow in the centre. The inside diameter of the sound well should be the same as that of the resonator hole, with inch-wide rims. Use plywood pieces that are thick enough to hold the full depth of the resonator cone. The top circle of wood should be a bit wider in diameter than the central layer, with the extra width extending from the outside of the circle in order to glue the sound well to the guitar front. Cut the bottom layer so that it's wider than the central layer, with the extra width extending towards the centre to form a ledge on which the resonator cone can rest.

  4. 4

    Cut two, two-inch-long sound holes into the guitar face on both sides of the resonator hole, located about three inches from the fretboard, and centred on the fretboard's end. Shape the sound holes to fit your tastes, but keep them no more than two inches in diameter.

  5. 5

    Sand all cut holes smooth.

  6. 6

    Glue the sound well to the inside front of the guitar. The sound well should be centred on the resonator hole in the face of the guitar. Glue a plywood back brace across the rear of the guitar on the bottom of the sound well to provide extra support. Glue the back of the guitar back into place. Allow the glue to dry.

  7. 7

    Screw a resonator bridge centred onto the flat end of the resonator cone, and then place the cone in the sound well. Use a concave piece of aluminium for your cone, about nine inches in diameter. Place the cone so that the opening is face down, with the flat edge of the cone even with the resonator hole. You can purchase a resonator cone from most guitar shops, or use a thin saucepan of adequate size.

  8. 8

    Cut a slot in the resonator cover to fit your resonator bridge, using tin shears. Use a thin metal sheet as a cover. The cover will need multiple holes to allow sound to escape the guitar body, but can be formed into a grill. Screw the cover into place.

  9. 9

    Place the tailpiece onto the end of the guitar, and then string and tune the instrument for play.

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