REVIEWED >APRIL 2005 (ISSUE 4) by MICHAEL MESSER
MAGAZINE: 'ACOUSTIC' www.acousticmagazine.com
Price - £395.00 (at the time this review was written)
Body – nickel-plated brass (according to the manufacturer)
Coverplate & tailpiece – gold-plated unspecified metal
Neck – mahogany with adjustable truss rod
Fingerboard – bound rosewood
– 9.5 inch National copy
Tuners – gold-plated enclosed
This guitar is a National-style instrument with a biscuit bridge on a 9.5 inch cone, rather than a Dobro-style guitar with a spider bridge set-up. This does not mean it is a copy of a particular National model; it is just based on single cone National-style guitars in general. The headstock is flat, rather than slotted, with separate enclosed gold-plated tuners. The mahogany neck joins the body at the 14th fret and has an adjustable truss rod. The body (according to the manufacturer) is nickel-plated solid brass. The coverplate, tuners and tailpiece are gold-plated.
My first impressions of the 3515B are that for a budget priced guitar, Ozark has made it look like a very high quality instrument. Lying in its case, the 3515B looks very well finished for a £395 guitar; the gold-plated hardware, large abalone fret markers and the high gloss headstock all add to the quality look of this instrument. All the ingredients are there and it seems well put together. I am not sure about the pineapple design on the headstock, but I understand where they are coming from; palm trees, volcanoes & hula girls on old Nationals, so a pineapple on the Ozark….why not!
Let’s pick this guitar up and see how it feels. Wow, this is the heaviest resophonic guitar I have ever handled. Metal resophonic guitars are all fairly heavy, but this is extreme. Further investigation shows me that the gauge of the metal is too thick. Thinner gauge metal would improve the tone & the usability of this guitar.
Overall, my first impression of the 3515B is that is has been over engineered and decorated to make it appear higher quality than it really is. However, strumming my fingers across the strings I am quite impressed with the tone.
The body is too heavy, but it is well built and should outlive all of us. However, the thickness of the metal not only makes this guitar very heavy and awkward to handle, but it also stifles the tone. The soldering all looks good and the nickel-plating is well done. The ‘F’ holes are ‘rolled’, meaning the metal is rolled into the ‘F’ for strength and style. The gold-plated coverplate & tailpiece are extremely well made and finished, they look really good. I would say the coverplate is a thinner gauge than it should be and could get pushed in and crush the cone. Resonator coverplates were originally designed to protect the fragile cone, not just as a decorative feature.
Looking deeper into the guitar; the cone looks right, it has spirals and there seems to be a proper neck-stick & stilts running through the centre of the body. It all looks fine, but further investigation shows that the cone, which is actually the same gauge metal as a National Reso-Phonic cone, is made of a stiffer, less pliable type of aluminium which does not resonate as well as it should. It is usually the case with budget priced resophonic guitars that the cone is too thick, but this one looks like a very good copy of the real thing. Making a cone to the correct spec and making it look right is only part of the job. I should add that there are only a handful of craftsman in the world today who can make good National cones, so this is not a criticism, more an observation.
The mahogany neck is well made and feels nice to play. It is not based on a National neck, but is shaped like a modern acoustic guitar. This is a matter of taste, but I prefer the chunkier neck of an old National. The rosewood fingerboard has large square mother-of-pearl & 'abalam' fret markers and is bound with smart looking black & iveroid binding.
With a little more attention to the important elements of construction, rather than the cosmetic features, Ozark could produce a superb guitar. Let us not forget that in the 1930s the National Musical Instrument Company mass-produced Duolians from the cheapest materials possible (almost exactly the same materials as Ozark are using today, but without the frills), and yet National Duolians from the depression years are among the finest resophonic guitars ever made.
Sound & performance:
Resophonic guitars are notorious for not playing in tune up the neck, but this one is actually quite good and is only very slightly sharp at the 12th fret. The neck feels comfortable and the tuners are good quality & reliable. The rosewood fingerboard looks and feels right. The frets have been well fitted but have not been finished properly; they could do with dressing as they are quite rough to the touch. The fingerboard is cambered slightly, but the slots in the bridge are flat, so the strings are not quite positioned right for the fingerboard. To keep the costs down the manufacturers can only spend a few minutes on each guitar before it goes out to the stores, and for a budget priced resophonic guitar the set-up is as I would expect. Most new budget priced resophonic guitars could do with a set-up job by a professional repairer.
The body (although extremely heavy) has a good feel to it and the gold-plated coverplate & tailpiece do give the whole thing a classy look. The 3515B is nice and loud and has a good tone for a guitar of this price. However, the bass is a little weak, the treble a little thin and there is very little sustain. This is normal in budget priced National-style resophonic guitars and is not a criticism. My advice would always be to use medium or heavy gauge strings to beef up the sound as much as possible. Thin strings will not sustain and sound a bit too banjo-like, especially up around the 12th fret.
Most people who buy resophonic guitars do so to play slide in open tunings and I must say I think this 3515B does the job pretty well. If you are looking for a metallic National-type sound to play blues slide guitar and you are trying to keep the budget down, this is not a bad choice. I have played slide on the 3515B in both open ‘D’ and open ‘G’ tunings and its character is similar to a National Style ‘O’. If you are looking to play more country & folk licks with lots of sustain and sweetness, this is not the guitar for you.
In regular EADGBE tuning the 3515B has a good tone for fingerpicking and sounds closer to Mark Knopfler’s Style ‘O’ than it does to Blind Boy Fuller’s Duolian. Interestingly, because of its lack of sustain, it fingerpicks very well in normal tuning & works better for me than with a slide.
I think Ozark and other brands of budget resophonic guitars are great for beginners and occasional ‘Reso’ players, but if you want to get serious and develop your resophonic guitar playing, you really should consider a better quality guitar.
Some people do upgrades to the budget resophonic instruments; they fit a high quality cone, a bone nut and a new bridge saddle to improve the sound. I have my reservations about doing this, but a lot of people do it and are happy with the results.
Ozark resophonic guitars are made in Korea in their own factory, not like many other budget priced ‘Resos’ that all come from one factory and carry different brand names.
Ozark have done a remarkable job replicating the basic elements of a National-style guitar; the more I examine the various parts, the more I am impressed with the way they have done it. I just wish they would concentrate on what all these parts actually do. If they could grasp that, Ozark could make really great resophonic guitars.
At £395.00 this is good guitar, it is well built and it sounds good. But before buying one I suggest trying the other brands in this price range.
If you would like to communicate directly with me and ask questions about this review, resophonic guitars, choosing an instrument, slide playing, music, or just to meet others with similar interests - I host a forum on my website at www.michaelmesser.co.uk and everybody is welcome.
While writing this review I was unsure about what the 3515B body is actually made from. I contacted Stentor (UK distributors) who assured me that this particular model is solid brass, yet to me the inside of the guitar looked like steel. Unable to check further without scratching the interior of a brand new guitar, I decided it did not affect my opinion of this instrument.
The day after writing the review I visited Dave King (UK National Reso-Phonic official repairer), who was fitting a pickup in an Ozark 3515BE. The spec on the Ozark website states that the 3515BE has a brass body, but the guitar I saw at Dave King’s workshop had a steel body. Also, the coverplate on the 3515BE was the correct thickness, whereas the coverplate on the 3515B which I had for review was too thin. So I can only assume the coverplates and body materials vary, depending on what metal is available.
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