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  • Square vs Roundneck Dobro-Help me Understand the Difference in Playing Them

    Hello, I would like a to buy a Spider Cone Resonator Guitar; exactly which type, however, I need some help with. I have no intention of buying one and then trying to put on and remove modifications from it so that I can change the style in which it is played, I will either play a squareneck lap style with a Dobro bar or a roundneck Spanish style with fretting as well as a hollow finger slide. So what I am really trying to decide upon is what style I'd like to play in (lap or Spanish). I'll probably have more questions in the future, but right now I only have three I'm immediately concerned with.

    (1) I know that lap/squareneck is played with finger picks on the middle, index, and thumb (like the bluegrass banjo), is the Spanish/roundneck played the same way, or is it typically played with just a regular pick? If the roundneck is played with a guitar pick that would be a plus in it's favor as that is the style I know on the mandolin and would require less of a learning curve. But I guess if they both require finger picks then I'll definitely have the three finger picking down should I ever decide to learn Bluegrass banjo in the future.

    (2) Generally speaking, squareneck/lap style Resonator Guitar is a bluegrass and old country instrument, while roundneck/Spanish style is a blues instrument. Both of those facts are equally appealing to me. I have a mandolin which means I'm already involved in Bluegrass and also branching out into old time country. If get the squareneck then I'll have an excellent bluegrass and old country instrument which has also been proven to quite capable at blues, and that is great. If I get roundneck then I'll have an instrument which seems to be more blues orientated and will open that door wider for me (blues is something I would like to get into) and also overlaps some into bluegrass and country, and that is also great. So what I want to ask is what style seems to be more popular and appropriate in modern country and rock (considering the nature of the instrument we're obviously talking about folk, root, blues, and country rock). These are two genres I would eventually like to get involved in, and while I'd certainly need to learn something like regular acoustic guitar, electric guitar, or electric base before I could become very submersed in either, if one style of Dobro was more conducive to me at least getting my toes wet then that would be a very large positive in it's favor.

    (3) A squareneck, from what I understand, is typically tuned to open G. That's just fine with me, regardless of what Dobro I get I hope I'l be able to play it that way. However, in regards to the roundneck, it seems it's more common to tune it different ways, mainly standard, open G, and open D. On the roundneck is any tuning more, I guess, expected than any other (especially in certain genres) and does any tuning have any natural disadvantages or advantages compared to the other ones?

    I'll really appreciate any feedback I get. Thank you.

  • #2
    Originally posted by GTS9 View Post
    Hello, I would like a to buy a Spider Cone Resonator Guitar; exactly which type, however, I need some help with. I have no intention of buying one and then trying to put on and remove modifications from it so that I can change the style in which it is played, I will either play a squareneck lap style with a Dobro bar or a roundneck Spanish style with fretting as well as a hollow finger slide. So what I am really trying to decide upon is what style I'd like to play in (lap or Spanish). I'll probably have more questions in the future, but right now I only have three I'm immediately concerned with.

    (1) I know that lap/squareneck is played with finger picks on the middle, index, and thumb (like the bluegrass banjo), is the Spanish/roundneck played the same way, or is it typically played with just a regular pick? If the roundneck is played with a guitar pick that would be a plus in it's favor as that is the style I know on the mandolin and would require less of a learning curve. But I guess if they both require finger picks then I'll definitely have the three finger picking down should I ever decide to learn Bluegrass banjo in the future.
    First of all, welcome to HC!

    As far as the picks, both styles (ie Spanish and Lap) can use finger and thumb picks. Many players also play with bare fingers, and some play with a hybrid grip (using a flatpick and two bare fingers, or flatpick with two fingerpicks) but in general, the best tone will come from using picks.

    As far as transferring that to banjo, there's some differences... banjo is all about rolls, which you don't do a lot of on a resonator guitar - some, but it's not the main focus like it is on banjo. But being comfortable with those picks on your fingers can go a long way towards helping you make the transition to banjo... you'll just have to learn a few slightly different chord shapes (very similar to the ones you'd use on a roundneck tuned to Open G) and how to get those right hand roll picking patterns going.

    (2) Generally speaking, squareneck/lap style Resonator Guitar is a bluegrass and old country instrument, while roundneck/Spanish style is a blues instrument.
    Generally and broadly speaking, I'd tend to agree with that.


    Both of those facts are equally appealing to me. I have a mandolin which means I'm already involved in Bluegrass and also branching out into old time country. If get the squareneck then I'll have an excellent bluegrass and old country instrument which has also been proven to quite capable at blues, and that is great. If I get roundneck then I'll have an instrument which seems to be more blues orientated and will open that door wider for me (blues is something I would like to get into) and also overlaps some into bluegrass and country, and that is also great. So what I want to ask is what style seems to be more popular and appropriate in modern country and rock (considering the nature of the instrument we're obviously talking about folk, root, blues, and country rock). These are two genres I would eventually like to get involved in, and while I'd certainly need to learn something like regular acoustic guitar, electric guitar, or electric base before I could become very submersed in either, if one style of Dobro was more conducive to me at least getting my toes wet then that would be a very large positive in it's favor.
    Either instrument would "fly" in modern roots-rock / Americana type genres - if you can play wicked slide and have great pitch control, you'll be in demand no matter which one you choose.

    Personally I'd be inclined to get the roundneck, but I already play slide guitar, so the transition would be relatively easy for me. I also dabble in lap steel, but it uses a completely different set of techniques for the left hand, with no chording in the traditional "guitar" sense - for that reason, if you want to learn regular guitar, you'll gain more experience that will directly translate to a "normal" acoustic or electric guitar if you go with a roundneck - and while I know you don't want to mess with it, you CAN switch back and forth between Lap and Spanish style with a roundneck - that's simply not an option with a squareneck resonator.


    (3) A squareneck, from what I understand, is typically tuned to open G. That's just fine with me, regardless of what Dobro I get I hope I'l be able to play it that way.
    You can. I play in Open G a lot, using regular guitars. It's one of my favorite tunings for slide - and I do play banjo too, and again, the chord "shapes" you make with your left hand are very similar.

    I also use standard tuning (with a slide) as well as Drop D, Open D and Open E a fair amount too.

    However, in regards to the roundneck, it seems it's more common to tune it different ways, mainly standard, open G, and open D. On the roundneck is any tuning more, I guess, expected than any other (especially in certain genres) and does any tuning have any natural disadvantages or advantages compared to the other ones?
    There are advantages and disadvantages to all tunings really. Certain things will be easier with some than with others. Many guitarists like to experiment with and use alternate tunings for the different sounds they offer. No one tuning method is "standard" for Spanish style slide - all of the ones you mentioned are commonly used. If you do go with a roundneck, I'd recommend starting with Open G, Open E, and maybe Open D first... find the one that speaks to you and that you like the sound of and go from there. Or go with your instructor's recommendation. You really should consider taking lessons IMHO - videos are great and can help teach you a lot if you're willing to dedicate the time to watching them and practicing what they're showing you, but there's nothing like having someone knowledgeable there who can give you feedback about what you're doing right, and tips to help you do better on the areas where you're struggling.

    Whichever you choose, I wish you the best of luck. Please don't hesitate to ask for help from the good people here too - that's what we're here for - to talk about music, gear and playing.
    **********

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    • #3
      Hi GT and welcome to the forum. You have asked some good questions, lets see if I can help. My small bit of credentials here is that I play both lap style and Spanish style guitar (as well as build and repair them). I'll try to answer your specific questions but let me also make some generalities.

      First, there are at least three varieties of resonator guitars based on the kind of cones in them - spider bridge, biscuit bridge and tri cone. Spiders are almost always wood bodies, the other two can be wood or metal. Spiders have a long attack and sustain (there is a lot of mass in that bridge assembly) - they typically have what I would call a sweet singing sound. Spiders are usually associated with bluegrass dobro ("Dobro" is a registered trademark, lower case "dobro" is often used to describe the style of play). When I think of dobro players I think Jerry Douglas, Cindy Cashdollar, Josh Graves.

      The other two forms of resonators are usually not used in bluegrass style music - they have much quicker attack and short sustain, and are frequently used for blues.

      As you have noted, spider bridge instruments can be constructed in two different ways - with a round neck like almost any other guitar and with a big fat square neck. The square neck may be slightly stronger and more stable but they both use the same kind of neck joint (usually a neck stick like a banjo) so really the difference comes down to one thing - a square neck sits nicely on your lap when sitting and doesn't slide around, a round neck can be held like a standard guitar (call Spanish style). In lap style there is only one way to play - you hold a steel bar (either shaped like a rail road track or sometimes cylindrical) between the first three fingers of you left hand and you fret EVERY note it (single notes and barres). In order to get good clean sounds the string action is set very high off the fretboard - typically about 3/8 of an inch and you cannot press the strings down to the frets. Your fretting hand is up over the top of the fretboard - you can slide into notes from either above or below.

      Most lap style dobro players do use a thumb and finger picks just like most banjo players choose to. The picking technique is similar but since the guitar is held flat the action is slightly different. You tend to pick the three bass strings with your thumb and the treble with your fingers, sometimes you strum with your thumb.

      The most common tuning for a bluegrass dobro player is so called "hi bass G" or "dobro G", GBDGBD which is different from normal open G (DBDGBD), Because it is a major chord you can play in any key by barring at any fret. You can also add minor or 7ths on individual strings or by slanting the bar.

      OK, that pure bluegrass dobro, there are other ways to tune a lap style guitar - typically another open chord. Open D is second most common (its almost never used in bluegrass but often in solo play - listen to Jerry Douglas rip off Little Martha in open D or Steel Guitar Rag). Before we leave this, there are other lap style instruments, including the Weissenborn guitar and so called "slack key" guitars used to play Hawaiian music).

      Now to round neck guitars. First, they can be set up and played like any acoustic guitar - thumb behind the neck, fret or barre the strings with your fingers. They can be strummed or finger picked or a combination, you can play with or without picks. They can be tuned like a standard guitar or to any of many open or altered tunings (always best to tune them down because of string tension issues). Most importantly they can be played with a steel or glass cylinder on one of the fingers of your fretting hand - we know that as slide guitar (or bottleneck). Most of the time the setup will allow both fretted and slide notes to be played and most players will do some sort of fingerstyle picking to get both a bass and melody line.

      I will add here that while a round neck spider bridge can be played this way, most of the time it will be a biscuit or tricone - they just seem to fit it better. But my point is, a round neck spider can be played just like any other guitar.

      The last thing you can do with a roundie is to raise the action at the nut (which makes it almost impossible to fret) but now you can play lap style. The minor difficulty is that it wants to slide around on your lap, but you get the best of both world. You can buy a little device called a "nut extender", pop it over your standard nut and, presto, you've got a lap guitar.

      I currently own three resonators including a 1932 round neck Dobro (tm). I play it both styles - lap style with a nut extender, Spanish without. Here are my '32 Type 27 spider bridge and my 1980 Duolian biscuit bridge - two very different guitars

      Click image for larger version

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      Here is a small collection of slides and bottlenecks. A lap style "steel" or "bar" is in front

      Click image for larger version

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      There are a lot of other aspects of resonators that we can talk about - strings and setups and stuff but those are the main differences. A square neck MUST be played lap style, a roundie can be played Spanish style or easily converted to lap. When you are playing lap you pretty much will finger pick and probably use picks, when you are playing Spanish you can do anything you please. With lap style EVERY note will be fretted with your bar, with Spanish style you can fret with fingers, a slide or both. Neither style is locked in to one genre of music, but lap dobro will probably be more towards bluegrass, Spanish might be more towards blues and Americana.

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      • #4
        I was going to add that I have some clips of different types of resonators playing different songs in different tunings but unfortunately I can't get them to work right now. If I do I'll post them
        Last edited by Freeman Keller; 10-18-2017, 10:23 AM.

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        • #5
          I'll add a couple of thoughts about tunings to what Phil has already said. First, as you know, in "standard" tuning you can play in any key you want, however some might be fairly difficult. Open tunings are just a subset of "altered" tunings where one or more string is tuned differently, usually to make it easier to play in some keys (and usually much more difficult in others). Dropped D and DADGAD are good examples - you can play easily in D (but not Bb for example) and DADGAD give some wonderful drone notes that you don't get in standard.

          Open tunings almost always means you are tuned to a major or minor chord - when you play all strings unfretted you get the three notes of the chord. The most common for an acoustic guitar are open G and D (and I like C a lot) - these are the same as open A and E which I don't recommend for an acoustic and particularly not for a resonator because of the increased string tension). Notice that both G and D have the three defining notes of the chord (1st, 3rd, 5th) but they are in a different sequence. With G you tonic note is on the 5th string, with D its on the 6th.

          The nice thing about an open major chord is that you can play most of the blues, rock and country styles with the I, IV and V chords conveniently located at the open, 5th, 7th and 12th frets. With only a single finger barre (or a piece of broken wine bottle on your pinky) you can play pretty good blues with just those three chords. This is slightly different from the usual dobro tuning which we've already discussed (however there is no reason you can't tune a lap style guitar to open D or G).

          Let me digress here for a minute too, you really don't need a resonator to play lap style guitar - Kelly Joe Phelps, John Fahey and may others us a standard acoustic guitar with a nut extender to play lap style (both of them used open D a lot).

          I happen to think that open G has a slightly raunchier or nasty sound while open D is somehow a little sweeter or "prettier" sounding, I tend to play more Delta blues in open G (Roll'n'Tumble, Walkin' Blues, Come In My Kitchen) and songs like Little Martha, Police Dog Blues, Poor Boy in open D. There is one cool trick in D, you can play any open G song by moving it up (from the floor) one string, in other words any thing you played on the first string in G moves to the 2nd.

          I usually keep my metal biscuit in G for blues, my tricone in D (its a lot prettier sounding), my spider is in dobro G, my Weissenborn is in open D and one old acoustic is in open C. Some of these have string sets optimized for the tuning. I also have a 12 string that mostly stays in open G (but down several steps) that I play Leo Kottke stuff on.

          Click image for larger version

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          Last edited by Freeman Keller; 10-18-2017, 10:51 AM.

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          • crustoleum
            crustoleum commented
            Editing a comment
            Freeman , i posted a link to a recorder , "encoder" and "file host" place. Check them out , if you or anyone for that matter , is so inclined. And yes . I would certainly listen to a performance by yourself. You do have some very spectacular instruments Oh yes you do I bet , well , know, you are great

        • #6
          A square neck thing is used "lap style" with a bar slide and steel thumb and finger picks. A round neck resophonic guitar can be used to perform anything a "normal" round neck guitar can. But, the "sound" of a resophonic is ...well...it is different, in a good way imho . I like resophonic guitars , standard and open D , G , E and the lap top thing in C6 or whatever happens to interest me , that day. Yes I enjoy resophonic guitars too, a lot , actually










          I don't play the lap thing enough and , I never obtained a square neck thing , just tthe lap Some day maybe . I do like the lap thing and the stand and carrying case bag , fun as heck , maybe I'll assemble it an mess around with it a bit later. Yes , today , that may be something to do. How would you tune a 6 string lap thing ? What might be your favorite lap steel guitar tuning ?
          Last edited by crustoleum; 10-18-2017, 03:01 PM.

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          • #7


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            • #8
              Originally posted by crustoleum View Post
              What might be your favorite lap steel guitar tuning ?
              Honestly my favorite tuning is open D, as I said before I can transpose all of my G songs to D but I can't (easily) go the other way. I wish my sound clips link was working, I would post a few


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              • #9
                use vocaroo that works for me pretty good , actually ... I do believe

                https://vocaroo.com/i/s0zXHqHQfU8L

                Audacity and the "LAME" encoder that also works with that , USB mic. Seems to work ok)


                https://audacity.en.softonic.com/

                http://lame.sourceforge.net/
                http://www.audacityteam.org/download/windows/
                https://vocaroo.com/



                you have a "USB" microphone.... right ?


                everyone needs those imho they make having a computer more fun imho
                Last edited by crustoleum; 10-18-2017, 02:58 PM.

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                • #10
                  Originally posted by Freeman Keller View Post

                  Honestly my favorite tuning is open D, as I said before I can transpose all of my G songs to D but I can't (easily) go the other way. I wish my sound clips link was working, I would post a few

                  good stuff there

                  Comment


                  • #11
                    Thanks for all of the helpful input so far guys! Really helpful.
                    I have to ask some more about something, though. String tension, this is completely new to me. I guess it is not a problem in mandolin circles because I've never heard anyone mention it (although, I do know that some fiddlers, when cross tuning, will tune to GDGD instead of the typical AEAE because the former has less stress; but I've never really thought about that until now). So too much tension can actually run the risk of breaking a guitar? I've heard recommendations against tuning a roundneck to high bass/Dobro open G because of string tension. I assume regular open G (is this low bass open G?) is safer, correct? As for open D, which a lot of people seem to like, that would have less tension and I'd be able to capo it to get open G but with less tension, right? Now, I don't know if this question will sound really dumb, but does Dobro/high bass G have a D equivalent? In other words, is there an open D which I'd be able to capo to get a high bass open G? Forgive me if these questions sound ignorant. I don't capo a mandolin, mando players don't even cross tune like fiddlers. I'm to a mandolin what fiddlers are to the violin, we don't study music theory or sheet music, we just learn to play tunes and jam. Hence my dumb questions.
                    Last edited by GTS9; 10-18-2017, 06:59 PM.

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                    • #12
                      I believe if you put a capo on the 5th fret position on a guitar tuned in "open D" , the guitar would then be in "open G" maybe ...am I incorrect ? Capo across the 2nd fret would be "open E" Again , I believe I am correct maybe. I'm sure someone will let us know, positively , for sure for now I'm going to say that , I am correct , maybe

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                      • #13
                        All I have is round necks. One is a 33H biscuit cone and the other is a F60 wood body spider cone.

                        I play them like a guitar in either open G or D or in standard tuning, capo as needed.

                        The dobro company is kinda gone, National have rather wide fretboards and recently I saw Jeff Foucault play a Mule resonator that sound amazing.

                        _____________________________________
                        Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.

                        Join Date: Aug 2001
                        Location: N. Adams, MA USA
                        Posts as of Jan 10th 2013: 82,617

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                        • #14







                          I am a fan of bluegrass music. Jerry Douglas is the bomb

                          _____________________________________
                          Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.

                          Join Date: Aug 2001
                          Location: N. Adams, MA USA
                          Posts as of Jan 10th 2013: 82,617

                          Comment


                          • #15
                            Originally posted by crustoleum View Post
                            I believe if you put a capo on the 5th fret position on a guitar tuned in "open D" , the guitar would then be in "open G" maybe ...am I incorrect ? Capo across the 2nd fret would be "open E" Again , I believe I am correct maybe. I'm sure someone will let us know, positively , for sure for now I'm going to say that , I am correct , maybe

                            Well, not really. You would be playing a G triad, G, B and D, but the usual definition of an "open tuning" is that when the guitar is played open - ie no strings are fretted - that particular chord is sounded. However you are certainly playing in the key of G.

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