5/11/2012

c.1935 Regal-made Hawaiian Radio Tone Squareneck Resonator Guitar





Update May 13: Apparently the odd cone used in this guitar is a variation on the Schireson patent cone, which Dobro effectively forced out of production with a lawsuit in the mid-1930s. FYI this cone is basically made as a non-ribbed, inverted version of a Nat'l biscuit bridge cone. It's also possible the body was made by Kay rather than Regal, but I'm just not sure.

Despite the faux (painted) binding and all-ply body, this really is a true resonator guitar with a cone, coverplate, and everything. It even has a Dobro-style serial number stamp on the headstock which approximately dates it to 1935. These lower-grade "Hawaiian Radio Tone" models were built by Regal in Chicago (I'm pretty sure) and have lightweight ply-birch bodies and square necks meaning they're suited only to Hawaiian/Dobro lap-style play. There are also examples of higher-grade "Hawaiian Radio Tone" models which are "cyclops" style Dobros with spider cone construction.


This model is super cool and after setup work and adjustment has turned into a real tone-monster. It has a peculiar tone halfway between a biscuit-style resonator (think duolian or triolian or wood-bodied Nationals) and a spider-bridge Dobro kind of sound. Well, why is that?

Next picture, please.


Here's what's under the hood, that's why! It's a reverse cone similar to a spider-bridge cone but rather than the usual "spider" shaped bridge this just has a tall, very lightweight biscuit instead. This means that while it has the sweeter but honkier biscuit tone it also has the more lingering-sustain and Dobro-style overtones going on. The above photo is the "untouched" biscuit.


Here's the reverse side. Looks spun to me.


I had to reshape the saddle bit of the biscuit because the slots had all been filed too much in improper ways and were buzzing all over.


Here's my own little mod. First I masking-taped the lip of the "soundwell" (hah) that holds the cone in place. This cuts down on unwanted noise in case the cone isn't sitting nicely 100% around the circle. National did a similar thing in their own metal-bodied guitars by adding felt padding to make sure the cones sat nicely in the interior.

The next mod I did was to cut a square-shaped brass hoop to fit along the interior of the circle. The idea here is to add volume, sustain, and a more even and sweeter overall tone by having the cone's lip sit on a tone enhancer (brass). This works essentially like a "tonering" on a banjo.

...and the result? Compared to the original tone, the "upgraded" tone is far superior -- more cut, more fundamentals, more volume, and a sweeter rather than raspier high end. It definitely paid off!


And now back to the "after" photos. Here's the headstock with the bone nut. The original tuners are still there but someone installed aftermarket ivoroid buttons at some point.


Rather than frets, this fretless fretboard has a thick paper sheet glued to the top of it with notation for old open A tuning. For me this is kind of cool because I tend to tune to open E, so the outer string notation marks actually correlate to the chord I'm playing at a certain fret (ie, 10th fret is D, 5th is A, etc.).



Apparently this was a teaching (possibly mailorder?) guitar.


Here's the funky coverplate -- the same as is often found on "faux" resonator guitars -- and a peek at the biscuit. Note that I've added foam to mute the extra string length at the tailpiece. This clears up unwanted overtones.




The guitar is in really good shape -- good neck join, the finish had tons of scuffs and paint specks (and still has some) but is overall in good shape, and as far as cracks -- nothing going. There are some scrapes/gouges on the rear that you can see but they don't go through the first layer of veneer, even.





Tuners work nicely.



The end pin was missing but I managed to scrounge this old cream plastic one from my parts bin which fits the guitar just right.


And yes, it came with a beat-up original chip case.

Did I mention the "Radio" lightning bolt soundholes? Oh yeah, they're killer!

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