Resonator guitars have become synonymous with traditional American music. For the player making an initial foray into the resonator realm, a new or vintage National or Dobro brand guitar can be a bit out of reach. In the recent past, demand for entry-level reso-guitars has led companies to produce instruments that played more like modified electric guitars, complete with skinny necks and little thought for traditional appointments such as bone nuts and vintage aesthetics.
Recording King is known for its budget models of traditional-style guitars, including the popular Dirty 30s series. The company’s instruments may lack some of the sophisticated sounds and finer appointments of their more expensive brethren, but a recent offering, the RR-41-VS Rattlesnake Wood Body Resonator, provides plenty of mojo and character for the down-and-dirty style associated with traditional blues.
LOOKS WITH ATTITUDE
I was struck by how light the Rattlesnake is. I didn’t have a scale handy, but it felt much lighter than most wood-bodied resonator guitars I have played. The instrument covers the visual essentials for a vintage vibe, with its chicken-foot resonator cover plate, banjo-styled headstock, sunburst mahogany top, and black butterbean open-geared tuners. It doesn’t so much scream attitude as it invites you with a nod, saying, “Yeah, come check me out.”
Recording King calls the neck profile a “thin C” shape, but it didn’t feel too thin to me. My frequent pet peeve with typical bargain resonators is that their necks are too slim, like they’re designed for electric guitarists, rather than traditional blues players, who tend to prefer necks with more girth. The neck on the Rattlesnake in fact feels sufficiently chunky, though the 1-3/4-inch-wide nut and 2-inch spacing at the bridge might feel a little cramped for players with bigger hands.
The guitar is set up with medium-gauge strings and medium-high action. In standard tuning, the 25-inch scale length makes the guitar feel a little stiff, and the instrument’s relatively high action required a bit more muscle on my part to play fingerstyle ragtime. The same could be said for single-string runs up and down the neck; bending strings is difficult, and excursions beyond the 12th fret are challenging. I’d consider getting a professional setup and experimenting with different string gauges for ideal playability.
With its higher action, this Recording King is a perfect match for some bottleneck slide. When I tuned to open D (D A D F# A D) to try some Tampa Red-inspired slide lines, the Rattlesnake’s tonal range went from a high midrange growl to a lower midrange bark, which made me want to dig in with a pick and fingers. However, the low-E string had a tendency to pop out of the saddle when I dug in too hard. I was able to fix this problem by removing the hand rest over the biscuit bridge—many biscuit-bridged guitars have covers soldered to the cover plate, but thankfully, Recording King uses four Phillips screws—and notching the sixth string’s groove a little deeper.
I continued my slide excursions and shifted into open G (D G D G B D) to play some Robert Johnson and Son House tunes. The Rattlesnake definitely has a swampy vibe. Again, the midrange bark gives it the proper growl factor that Delta blues requires—and it’s loud. You might think that a guitar this light would be delicate, but it’s got plenty of punch and should provide you with more than enough volume in any acoustic jam situation.
The Recording King Rattlesnake is a fun guitar to play, especially for slide in open tunings. A little more attention to some of the finer points of setup would make it even more attractive. The 12th-fret neck junction may feel a bit limiting to some, but if traditional blues is your thing, you won’t miss the highest notes.
BODY 14-1/4″-wide laminated mahogany body; ivory binding; handspun resonator cone; open pedestal soundwell with Sitka spruce top braces; steel chicken-foot pattern cover plate; gloss sunburst finish
NECK 25″-scale mahogany neck; 1-3/4″-wide bone nut; thin C profile; 19-fret padauk fretboard with pearloid dots; 12 frets clear of body; white pearloid headstock overlay; Grover open-geared tuners with black plastic buttons
EXTRAS Ebony-capped maple biscuit-bridge; removable hand rest
PRICE $399 (MAP)
MADE IN China
This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.