How to Set Up a Resonator Guitar

When you have purchased a resonator guitar, particularly one that is pre-used, the question of how to set it up is frequently asked. To sound its best a resonator guitar needs to be setup correctly. This effectively means making sure that the saddle, spider bridge, cone and soundwell interact together correctly.

When you first set up a resonator guitar, it’s worth fitting a new set of strings.

Next check out the cone. No other component will destroy the sound of a good resonator more than a damaged cone. Many people choose to fit a Dobro style cone and the beauty of this is that you can take the opportunity to thoroughly inspect the soundwell for drips of lacquer or glue residue. This should be cleaned off with a scraper to ensure the sound well and cone are in good contact with each other. If you tap around the outer bead of the well you’ll notice some differences in sound as you tap around the circumference. The idea is to try and find a position where the sound indicates a good contact in as many areas as possible. The cone should not be glued to the soundwell, and where people have done this the sound quality suffers tremendously.

The spider bridge should always contact the cone with an equal pressure with no rocking motion. If it rocks then bend the legs slightly until it doesn’t.

The saddle should be a nice press fit into the spider itself. This can be a difficult one to get right. It needs to be able to be pushed in without too much effort but not be loose. The saddle string spacing is normally two and one quarter inch which means that the spacing between strings should be 0.450 of an inch.

The cone is held to the spider bridge with a tension screw and this should be adjusted when the setup is complete to get the best possible tone from the instrument.

Once you have the new strings in place, fitted only loosely for the time being, then move the cover plate aside and make small adjustments to the actual saddle height. This can take a while and the required height of the saddle is determined when a half diameter of string is in the slot.

String height from the fretboard at the nut is around three eighths of an inch and therefore the slots for the strings should be quite shallow. Most instruments are set with the base of the string at 0.005 to 0.020 of an inch above the first fret.

Tighten up the strings and tune as normal. There should be no buzzes or rattles of any kind. Sometimes a cone rattle might be heard and this is usually caused by the tension screw on the spider bridge being too loose. If you tighten it to stop on contact with the bridge and then a quarter more turn. You may have to experiment with this since it is quite sensitive and makes a real difference even with quite small adjustments.

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