Tag Archives: Guitar Building

First Resonator – Dobro Style Guitar Build/Repurpose Project


I saw an ad on CraigsList for a guitar that needed repair… for $15.00. How could I pass that up. In the ad picture it looked like it had been painted blue, but I didn’t care; I had a plan. Since the seller was a few minutes away, I called right then and he answered and said I could come right over. He brought the guitar out to the driveway and it was definitely in need of repair, or in my case, just what I needed to build a resonator style, delta blues slide guitar. I wish I had taken photos of this blue Johnson brand dreadnought with the bridge lifted 1/2″ off it’s very humped up front sound board. I asked him if it came apart “spontaneously”, and he said it did.

After I got it home to my garage “workshop” and gave it a further inspection it showed some evidence of probably being subject to never having been in a case and left here and there where various liquids had been spilled or splashed on it and being knocked around most of it’s life with a fair amount of player use. Since it was a Chinese made guitar and cost 15.00 I had no qualms about cutting it up.

I had purchased a Spider Resonator Kit from a Canadian company selling on EBay and only needed a hardwood bridge and new strings to complete the parts list.

I marked out the 10+” hole on center from the 12th fret and proceeded to cut it out with my 1991 Bosch Jigsaw; what a great investment… 25 years of service and still going strong with a new electrical cord! I saved all the cut out material incase I needed it for whatever reinforcement I might need. I used a lot of it filling the original sound hole and beefing up areas inside the guitar. I used 1/2″ plywood strips cut on my 1991 Delta Contractor 1-1/2HP, 10″ table saw… yep, another great investment. Not as portable as some of the newer contractor saws but I don’t need it to be. The cast iron center table is a great feature for keeping the saw solid feeling while ripping long boards or cutting large sheet pieces of plywood.

Then there was a lot of measuring and trimming, re-calculating, shimming, trimming, etc. Hey, it’s my first time cutting up and re-purposing a guitar and I was trying out for, someday, building one from scratch.

After I was happy with what seemed like the right dimensions for the resonator disc and cover plate a trial fitting worked well and after a few more refinements, I decided to fit the bridge. Whoa, the string height at the twelfth fret was about 5/8″. Wow, that was way too high for fretting, plus I had raised the nut about 1/16″

so string height at the first fret was about 1/8th of an inch. Okay, time to refer to the internet and find out about fitting the bridge on this style of guitar.

After cutting the bridge down and making it two pieces to allow a screwdriver down to the cone tensioner holding the spider to the cone, I strung it up so the string tension would push the cone down and, hopefully, lower the string heights. I did manage to get the string height down to about 7/16″, but that’s still way too high for fretting, so right now it’s a slide player only.

In the meantime, I was toying with a new paint job, but decided to tryout some decoupage of photos of me and my family, my wife’s art, my art and copies of money from some of our travels. It came out looking pretty cool, but I was concerned the layers of paper would affect the tone and volume of the guitar… and it did… in what I think is a positive way. It’s very loud and though there is still some warmth from the plywood body, the paper-glue-shellac shell created a harder, more gourd-like or soft metal resonance that I like a lot. The headstock logo is created from a scan of my business card and website logo merged in PhotoShop CC.

Next step is maybe to re-set the neck as I think that is where I can get the string height down to be fret-able.

UPDATE: I removed the strings, cone cover, cone, spider bridge and removed the hardwood   split bridge and cut it down by about 5/32″ and lowered the nut about 1/16″. Now the playing height is good, but it is strung with D’Addario .16-.56 Reso-phonic strings and they are like cables, so fretting is possible but not that comfortable. It does sound like I hoped it would and I plan to work on the slide playing with it as is for while longer before I test out smaller diameter string sets.

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