In recent years, Fender has made a splash with its Acoustasonic series—hybrid guitars that take the shapes of iconic solidbodies like the Telecaster and the Stratocaster, while delivering many different acoustic and electric tones in a single package. At the same time, the company has bolstered its more traditional acoustic offerings. The Paramount line features player-friendly fretted instruments that are affordably priced, each selling for under a grand. I tried the Paramount PR-180E, a mahogany-bodied resonator guitar, which I found perfect for reproducing the rich sounds of classic bluegrass and blues.
Vintage Vibe and Setup
The PR-180E has a simple, unadorned look. With its aged white binding, the mahogany body reflects a down-home sensibility, while the open-gear tuners and soft V-shaped neck lend vintage mojo. Sun-ray stamping on the resonator cover plate is also a nice touch. The guitar sports solid craftsmanship—I could spot no flaws or imperfections in construction.
Most of the entry-level resonators I have played had smaller necks and tighter string spacing, geared towards resonator-curious electric players. But the generous nut width (1-3/4 inches) and string spacing (55mm) on the PR-180E provide ample room for fingerpickers, flatpickers, and strummers alike. At the same time, this is a smaller-bodied guitar with a tight waist and relatively shallow depth that should be comfortable for all players.
The string height on the guitar I received was a little high for non-slide playing. But if you don’t mind high action, it’s not too difficult to navigate the neck. To lower the action, you would need to remove the spilt saddle from the biscuit bridge and sand it down, a simple and inexpensive repair any tech should be able to handle.
As I played up the neck without a slide, the pitch seemed a little wonky. Pulling out my tuner, I confirmed that the intonation at the 12th fret was indeed off. Again, this would probably be remedied by lowering the action—higher action can lead to intonation issues when fretting strings up the neck.
In any case, the intonation is obviously less of a concern for bottleneck playing, and the setup on the review model was ideal for slide. The action kept my bottleneck from banging into the fretboard and made it generally easier to navigate from the nut to the 12th fret.
A potential issue all bargain-resonator shoppers should know about is the string harness that sits atop the cover plate. I have found that these will often produce an audible rattle. This was indeed the case when I first tried the PR-180E. An easy fix is to place a thin piece of felt or cloth between the harness and the resonator cover plate, eliminating the offending sound. This hack worked like a charm here.
Warm and Mellow
There are three resonator styles—biscuit bridge, tricone, and spider. The PR-180E is of the spider variety, which is known for a warm sound that works well for bluegrass or any ensemble setting with instruments like mandolin, fiddle, banjo, and stand-up bass.
That said, the general sound of the PR-180E is mellower than I expected. Sometimes resonator guitars have a harsh growl, but the test model’s mahogany top, back, and sides made for a warm and even sound over all of the strings. The resonator cone does amplify the sound but is not excessively loud.
I started out playing the PR-180E in standard tuning without slide, finding the sound quite inviting as I strummed through the opening chords of the Allman Brothers song “Melissa.” This got me thinking that the guitar could work well as a player’s main instrument, rather than just adding to a tonal palette.
After playing some strummed standard-tuned pieces, I tuned the guitar down to open D (D A D F# A D) and tried out a glass bottleneck. While Fender mentions on its website that the PR-180E is great for both bottleneck and lap slide, the instrument I received was in fact set up for bottleneck style. If you were to play lap slide you would probably need a nut extender—an inexpensive device placed under the nut of the guitar to raise the strings higher off the fretboard. (Note: if you use a nut extender, you will be unable to fret notes with your fingers, hence lap style would be the preferred method for playing the instrument.)
I then played a couple of choruses of Sylvester Weaver’s “Steel Guitar Rag.” Even with the slackened tension, the strings still held firm, with no buzzes or fret clanks. The mellow spider cone gave off a pleasing, Hawaiian-like vibe.
The PR-180E has a Fishman Nashville series ceramic piezo pickup installed with the split saddle. It does a more than adequate job of amplifying the acoustic sound. There are no onboard controls, so if you want to tweak the EQ or volume you’ll need to use an external preamp. However, I was very satisfied with how the guitar sounded through my AER MM200 acoustic amplifier, achieving good volume without feedback and a warm, clear tone.
Slide guitarists, fingerpickers, flatpickers, and strummers should all find something equally appealing about the Fender Paramount PR-180E. The guitar has a sweet sound that could make it well suited to be your main instrument, or something you pick up for a change of color, whether live or in the studio. The vintage vibe and subdued charisma should also appeal to folks who want to put a little more down-home flavor into their visual presentation.
BODY Laminated mahogany top, back, and sides; spider cone resonator; trapeze tailpiece; 55mm bridge string spacing; satin Aged Cognac Burst finish
NECK 25″-scale mahogany with walnut fretboard; soft V profile; dual-action truss rod; 19 frets; 1-3/4″ bone nut; nickel open butterbean tuners; satin finish
OTHER Fender nickel-plated steel strings (12–52); Fishman Nashville Series Spider-Style Resophonic pickup; hardshell case
MADE IN China
PRICE $549.99 street
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.