The Rayco Squareneck Resophonic is one luxurious guitar. The instrument is made from exquisite maple, quilted and fiddle-back, with the three-dimensional figuring that pops under a rich, hand-rubbed sunburst finish. The body, neck, and headstock are trimmed with natural-colored curly maple binding, and the gleaming art deco-style hardware lends a nice counterpoint to the wood.
And the instrument sounds even better than it looks.
The Rayco has a warm and brilliant tone, drenched with harmonic color. It’s an impressively loud and lively instrument that almost sounds like multiple guitars played at once.
Rayco Resophonics is the brainchild of luthiers Mark Thibeault and Jason Friesen, who founded the company in 2002, adding fellow artisans Damian Jones and Josh Lafountain to the team in 2011. Rayco now offers a full line of resonator guitars—resophonic, Hawaiian, lap steel, and electric—in addition to ukuleles and banjos. For the uninitiated, a resonator guitar is one in which a metal bridge carries the strings’ vibrations to a series of resonator cones to increase the volume.
Rayco’s resophonic has a spider-bridge design—a single, inverted resonator cone patterned after the Dobro Company’s original design. Its neck is square and nut tall—the strings sit a good half-inch above the fretboard, meaning the instrument should be played flat on the lap rather than in a conventional seated position.
For a guitarist accustomed to playing standard flattop and archtop guitars, it’s good fun to venture into lap-slide territory on the Rayco (watch AG’s demo video in which James Deprato plays the Rayco). In open-G tuning, it feels intuitive to play chordal passages with a bar slide, and pleasurable to witness the richness of sound coming from the instrument—tremendously full, with a solid, round bass end, crystalline trebles, and shimmering overtones.
On YouTube, I found a lesson on playing “Foggy Mountain Rock,” by Josh Graves, who worked his lap resonator with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Polishing off a few of the melodic phrases reveals that the Rayco has a strong voice for bluegrass playing—a clear and penetrating sound that will cut through on a jam or recording session, without the harshness sometimes associated with resonator guitars.
The Rayco sounds as nice tuned down to open F when I try another video lesson, playing Jerry Douglas’s solo on “Man of Constant Sorrow.” The ringing open strings offer a beautiful timbral contrast to the notes played with the slide. The effect is almost symphonic.
Tuning back up to open G, I lower the third string to F# and improvise in an impressionistic way using a combination of natural harmonics and open strings. The harmonics are particularly vivid and sparkling and, in concert with the open strings, create richly evocative harmonies.
The Rayco’s build is as impressive as its sound. The frets might not serve the same purpose as those on a regular steel-string, but they’re perfectly dressed. All of the binding is completely flush with the body—the sunburst pattern is beautifully shaped and colored, and the gloss finish is flawlessly buffed on the neck and body.
At $5,200 MSRP, the Rayco might be too expensive for a guitarist looking to branch out to a resonator. But with its superfine sound and craftsmanship, its opulent feel and appearance, the guitar is definitely a fit for a skilled resonator specialist in need of a go-to instrument for recording and performing.
Reserve grade quilted maple top, back and sides
#14 cast-aluminum spider bridge
Chrome screenless soundhole rings
Hand-rubbed sunburst finish
Premium flamed maple with square profile (also available in round-neck)
1 13/16-inch nut
Gotoh 510 mini tuners
Hand-rubbed sunburst finish
5-ply TKL hardshell case
Limited lifetime warranty
From $3,700 direct ($5,200 as reviewed)
Made in British Columbia, Canada.
This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.