Resonator Feature for Guitarist - February 2001 - by Michael Messer

Reproduced with permission from Future Publishing®

REGAL WOOD BODIED RESONATOR - RD3

ORIGIN: Korea
TYPE: wood bodied resonator guitar ( National Type)
TOP: Plywood
BACK & SIDES: Plywood
MAX BODY WIDTH: 14 inches
NECK Un-specified hard wood
SCALE LENGTH: 645
TUNERS: Three on a strip open.
NUT/WIDTH: 45
FINGERBOARD: wood
FRETS: regular old style.
BRIDGE/SPACING 55
ELECTRICS: NONE
OPTIONS None
LEFT-HANDERS: No
FINISHES: Mahogany,
BUILD QUALITY 5
PLAYABILITY 8
SOUND 5
VALUE FOR MONEY 10

VERDICT this is a good budget guitar for a beginner.

WE LIKED the old-style feel and sound of this guitar

WE DISLIKED the bendy area around the F holes.

Regal RD3 wood bodied National type guitar:

Ten years ago if you wanted to buy a resonator guitar you had very little choice and all were at the top end of the price scale. These days there are so many on the market that it has become a minefield, especially for the first time buyer. Virtually every major brand name has a resonator guitar as part of the product range, there are even build your own resonator guitar kits available. In this review we are looking at two instruments at the lower end of the price range: the Regal RD3, a version of a wood bodied National and the Fender FR50, a wood bodied copy of a Dobro type guitar.

(in the context of this review the names National & Dobro are used as generic terms).

The Regal RD3 is based on the first single resonator guitar that National started making in 1920s, the Polychrome Triolian. This in my opinion was National’s finest single cone guitar and remains to this day one of their best kept secrets. Because of the rather cheap ‘Chad Valley’ appearance with yellow paint and a hula girl transfer on the back, it never appealed to the blues players. Regal rather cleverly have picked up on this wood design rather than the better known nickel finished shiny metal Nationals. I suspect this was more to do with manufacturing costs rather than quality, it is much cheaper and easier to produce a wood guitar than a metal one. Probably due more to luck than judgement Regal have come up with a budget priced resonator guitar that is an excellent addition to a rather swamped marketplace.

 The general feel of the RD3 is, considering the price, very good. Regal have captured the shape and feel of an old Triolian, I guess this is a computer generated copy of the real thing. It is important to remember that this is a cheap guitar and that my opinion of its performance is based on that fact, there is no way that the RD3 priced at approximately £250 performs like any of the higher priced known brand names…National Reso-phonic, Dobro, Fine Resophonic, Beltona, Continental or Amistar. 

The body is made of plywood which is the right material to use, Nationals do not require tone-woods where Dobros, although some were made with ply, do generally use good quality solid woods. The construction of the body of this guitar is not particularly robust and therefore with heavy use it would show signs of wear and tear very quickly. If Regal had used a thicker plywood they would have eliminated some of those strength problems. This ply is half as thick as it should be which makes the top of the guitar, especially around those old style rather crude but attractive F holes, a little bit too bendy and weak. It would be very easy to accidentally break the top of this guitar around those F holes. The interior of the body is well constructed but bears no resemblance to the interior of a proper wood National. The neck does not continue through the body to the tailpiece, there are therefore no pit-props and the bracing is totally different, more like a regular plywood acoustic flat-top guitar. This method of construction has become the standard way of manufacturing budget resonator guitars, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, generally I find with Regals that it does work.  The cone is probably pressed and not spun like Nationals and the chrome finished coverplate is very good. The biscuit and bridge are probably boxwood which does not transmit the sound as well as maple, but is quite adequate for this instrument.  The neck joins the body at the 12th fret and the old style slotted headstock with the green & gold Regal decal is very attractive. The tuners are three-on-a-strip type with white plastic buttons which are quite workable and hold in tune.

 The neck has an adjustable truss-rod which is accessible at the front of the headstock. The neck is again made of a very cheap wood and  stained and sprayed to look like a quality neck. The fingerboard is not a separate piece but made to look that way with the use of wood-stain and paint. Again this does not worry me because somehow Regal have managed to get an instrument priced at approx’ £250 that works.

SOUNDS>>>

The playability and tone of this guitar is fairly reminiscent of a wood bodied National. Okay it doesn’t project the sound, have the depth of tone or sustain the notes like a National, but hey…..look at the price tag. The sound is raw and funky and the balance between bass and treble is pretty good, a bit weak on the bass but perfectly usable. The factory set-up is very good, It is comfortable and a good height for both slide and finger style playing.  To learn to play acoustic blues, both slide and finger style, this is a good place to start.  The playability of this guitar is actually better than many resonator guitars with bigger price tags, I guess this is because Regal have based the shape and set-up of this guitar on that of an original National. For the budget conscious first time buyer I highly recommend the Regal RD3.

FENDER FR50

ORIGIN: Korea
TYPE: wood bodied resonator guitar (Dobro type)
TOP: Plywood
BACK & SIDES: Plywood
MAX BODY WIDTH: 14 inch
NECK Un-specified hard wood
SCALE LENGTH: 648
TUNERS: individual enclosed.
NUT/WIDTH: 45
FINGERBOARD: wood
FRETS: regular old style
BRIDGE/SPACING  37
ELECTRICS: NONE
OPTIONS None
LEFT-HANDERS: No
FINISHES: Sunburst
BUILD QUALITY 6
PLAYABILITY 2
SOUND 1
VALUE FOR MONEY 1

VERDICT this is not a good instrument

Fender FR50 Dobro type resonator guitar.

The Fender FR50 resonator guitar is very loosely based on a wood bodied Dobro type guitar. To clarify that statement this means it is a wood bodied guitar with a spider-bridge and Dobro shaped cone. In no other way does the construction of this guitar resemble a Dobro or National guitar.

 Where Regal have copied an old National and come pretty damn close, Fender do not appear to have copied anything , apart from other budget priced resonator guitars on the market. This guitar is very similar to the Tanglewood resonator guitar.  I suspect this is something they have put their name to, and not actually had anything to do with the design or manufacturing. Do not be fooled into thinking you are buying an instrument manufactured by the leading guitar company in the world, this guitar is from Korea and merely bares the Fender brand name.

 The general feel of this guitar is not right for a resonator instrument. Fender appears to have totally missed the point here. This is more like a regular cheap flat-top guitar with a rather weak and metallic sound. The body is once again made of plywood and the construction of the interior, like the RD3,  bares no resemblance to the interior of a Dobro or National guitar. Like the Regal and many other budget priced wood bodied resonator instruments the bracing is more akin to that of a regular flat-top and not a Dobro, the neck does not go through the body to the tailpiece and there is no sound-well or pit-props to create the classic Dobro tone. These are the essential points of construction that make a National or Dobro resonator guitar. As there is no sound-well the cone just sits on a recessed lip under the Dobro style coverplate and is not performing as a resonator, merely a kind of metallic bridge. This would have worked more efficiently if they had gone with a National type cone set-up.

 The front of the guitar has two unique F holes which incorporate the classic Fender logo, personally I would have preferred a more classic design to these. This idea probably looked better on paper than it does on a guitar, but that is a matter of taste.

Like on the Regal these areas of the top are very breakable, a bit too much hand-pressure in the middle of those Fs and the top will snap.
The neck joins the body at the 14th fret and has a slightly arched fingerboard. The headstock bearing the Fender logo is fitted with separate enclosed tuners of reasonable quality. It has an adjustable truss-rod with access at the front of the headstock. The fingerboard has nicely appointed diamond shape markers and appears to be manufactured quite well. The general finish quality of the FR50 is pretty good.

 SOUNDS>>>

As to the playability and tone of this guitar. The tone is thin and quiet with very little sustain and no projection at all. The bass end is very weak and the treble side is more reminiscent of a cheap-end banjo than a resonator guitar. There appears to be a very fine line here that makes one budget priced resonator guitar better or worse than its competitors. As I stated before, none of them are constructed like a National or a Dobro, however some of them do work better than others.

The arched rather than flat fingerboard is not particularly good for slide and the factory set up is not great, the one I have here for review has a few dead spots up the neck, buzzes and does not play in tune. Too many points have been overlooked here to make this guitar work properly.

 VERDICT>>>>FENDER FR50 - REGAL RD3 -  I think the resonator guitar market is becoming swamped with low-end budget guitars that all probably come from one or two factories. The general construction of these guitars is incorrect and cannot actually function as a resonator guitar should. Go and play a National or a Dobro and then go and try these budget ones, it will give you an idea of how they should sound. Definitely in this low-end range the Regal company seem to have found an acceptable level of build quality that does give you something of the resonator guitar sound. As far as Fender, Tanglewood, JHS, Encore….they are all much the same. What these companies should do is work with an expert on the design and construction of these instruments and not assemble them on a computer monitor hoping the result will be a success. There is no reason why a budget resonator guitar should not be a great instrument, that was the whole point of them in the first place!

Michael Messer © 2001 for Guitarist magazine.

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