In the mid-1980s, a young Paul Beard—having degrees in aviation mechanics and mechanical engineering under his belt but unable to find work in those fields—turned to his other love: music. As a performer, teacher, and stringed-instrument repairman, he became disenchanted with the quality of many resonator guitars on the market and set out to use new technologies to create a better instrument.
This would be no mean feat, as it required looking forward while also honoring the tradition of resonator guitars established in the 1920s and ’30s by the Dopyera brothers, makers of the first National and Dobro resonators. But Beard succeeded, to say the least. He finished his first instrument in 1985 and now makes his namesake Beard Guitars for a stable of players including Vince Gill, Jerry Douglas, Cindy Cashdollar, and Keb’ Mo’, among many other phenomenal musicians.
I recently got to spend some time with the A-Model Odyssey, an instrument fitted with Beard’s triple-spun Legend cone, coupled with a tuned spider-bridge system. If the review model is any indication, that hardware—and the beautifully crafted, all-solid-wood guitar on which it’s mounted—makes for a brilliantly voiced resonator.
At Once Retro and Modern
With its mixture of vintage and modern appointments, the Odyssey has a stunning look that is certain to captivate the audience at any gig. From its Maccaferri-style oval soundhole to its distinctive resonator cover to its curly maple binding, the Odyssey stands apart from the typical resonator guitar. A sloped headstock also gives it a whimsical flare.
Every detail, from the fret dressing to the wood choice, shines through on this extremely well-made guitar. The instrument is available in a variety of tonewood combos; the test model’s solid mahogany back and sides have a light, almost greenish hue that is reminiscent of koa, and the contrast between the tannish maple binding on the neck and body and the brownish-orange coloring of the back and sides is particularly elegant.
In addition to those cosmetic details, the Odyssey has a couple of interesting structural features that make it stand out from the crowd. Beard looked to loudspeaker design in making a resonator guitar with increased projection and bass response. The luthier refers to the Odyssey’s oval soundhole as a bass port, with the internal architecture designed to focus the low-end frequencies towards it. The port is divided internally from the resonator by a reflex baffle, which leads to increased bass focus and separates it from the treble springing from the cover plate. Also, the Odyssey is missing the sound ring found in many other resonators; in its place there are two sound posts, resulting in a more open-sounding instrument.
Bass for Days
There are, of course, distinct design-quality and tonal differences between spider-cone resonators and biscuit-bridge and tricone versions. Relative to its counterparts, the spider-cone produces a honky, nasal quality, at least to my ears. This resonator type is favored by bluegrass players, who tend to play square-neck dobros. Blues guitarists also use spider-cone instruments, but it’s the biscuit-bridge type that is more associated with players like Booker “Bukka” White and Son House.
In any case, I was expecting the spider-cone-equipped Odyssey, with its relatively wide 15-inch lower bout and four-inch body depth, to have a powerful bass, and I wasn’t disappointed. A rich, deep low end emanated from the oval soundhole and resonator as I played some Delta-style blues in dropped-D tuning. It was tempting to keep a steady drone, with the sixth string sustaining, and soak up all the creamy bass goodness in the open position, but I ascended through the middle strings and on up the neck, which were equally inviting.
In all registers, the Odyssey has a decidedly dark timbre that invites you to dig in without experiencing the bright, high-end shrieks that are common on resonators. Whether I played with or without a bottleneck slide, a rich, deep tone permeated throughout the guitar’s playing range, from low sixth-string notes through the highest register on the first string. But the sound was never muddy or undefined; it’s just an appealingly unique tonal character.
The Odyssey is equipped with a Fishman Nashville Series Spider-Style Resophonic pickup. I plugged into an AER MM200 amplifier (reviewed in the January/February 2020 issue) and, with the EQ controls on the amplifier set flat, I found the high end a little lacking. The Odyssey doesn’t have onboard controls, so all volume and EQ adjustments must be made on an amplifier or outboard preamp. When I notched the treble up slightly on the AER, the Odyssey sounded in accord with its acoustic self: warm and full.
The Odyssey feels as good as it sounds. With its factory-set low action, it’s a breeze to play, whether flatpicking or fingerpicking up and down the neck. I particularly enjoyed using a pick on this instrument, which played like an electric guitar, but with a slightly stiffer feel. Fingerpicking also felt great and not too cramped, thanks to the 1.75-inch nut. As a blues fingerpicker first and foremost, I gravitate toward guitars with wider fretboards and V-shaped necks. The Odyssey’s C-shaped neck definitely has a more modern feel, but it’s not so narrow that bigger hands would feel uncomfortable.
The Bottom Line
Beard’s A-Model Odyssey is a beautifully designed and built guitar that looks, feels, and sounds every bit like the boutique instrument it is. A modern vibe, combined with some traditional appointments, gives this resonator a distinct sound and feel. Those who favor the sound of spider-cone instruments should definitely check out the Odyssey.
BODY 15″ lower bout; solid spruce top; solid mahogany back and sides; curly maple binding; tuned oval soundhole; custom Beard bass reflex baffle; triple-spun Legend cone; solar cover plate; adjustable 14″ spider bridge
NECK Mahogany neck; 25″ scale length; ebony fretboard; Waverly open-gear tuners, 1-3/4″ bone nut
OTHER Fishman Nashville Series Spider-Style Resophonic pickup; Schaller S-Locks; D’Addario EJ17 strings (.013–.056); TKL hardshell case
MADE IN United States
PRICE $3,900 street
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.