1940s/2016 "Del Oro" Cobbled Solidbody Resonator Tenor Guitar/Dulcimer

Update: The other night I replaced the strings, re-intonated the saddle, changed how the cone was seated a bit (jacked it up another 1/4"), and set this up like a mountain dulcimer (2-1-1 configuration, "high" where the low should be, and tuned DAD). I also swapped the tuners to guitar-style ones for simplicity's sake. The above pic, soundclip, and next few pics are of the modified version. The open tuning and strummy approach really suits the tone of the instrument -- which was an awful lot like a dulcimer to begin-with.

Gauges are 10-10-16-28w and tuned DD-A-D. Unlike a regular dulcimer, this has even fret spacing and can use a capo to get into any key. You can also play it in the lap dulcimer-style to get that wispy right-hand technique and pick-attack or strum it in the lap like a guitar which gives you more of a bouzouki effect. Strumming it over the fretboard at the end of the neck really gives a good percussive tone.

Frets got leveled and side-dots added, too.

And now back to the original pics and post...


For a couple weeks, now, I've been mostly working all day long on quicker, while-you-wait, drop-off/pick-up customer repairs and today I finally got to "dig back in" to longer-term repair and sales pieces, prepping them for later work. At the end of the day I finished cobbling this curious object together -- made from spare parts.

It's got a 1940s Kay-made, Del Oro-branded tenor banjo neck mated to a slab of pine I cut in the shape of a foreshortened Octofone (there's one in the shop for reference). There's a cone and rear coverplate left-over from my long-ago-partsed-out reso Tele installed, a 1940s "b-stock" coverplate off of a Kay-made resonator guitar, a parts-bin Fender bass bridge cover used as the bridge cover, and a set of nice new Gotoh UPT tuners at the headstock.

I have this strung at the same pitch as a low-G uke (GCEA) with gauges 20w, 14, 11, 8 on a 23" scale. The best use of solidbody resonator instruments in an unplugged environment seems to be high-end strummy chime and for a long time I thought it'd be cool to use one for "Nashville" tuning on a shorter-scale instrument. This gets the same autoharp-style vibe but in a uke-friendly tuning instead.

The neck is maple, has a "painted on" fretboard, bone nut, and cool stencil at the headstock. It's got the longer 23" scale length.

Pearl dots and original brass frets (that need to be leveled/dressed).

Fitting the neck was a little funky due to the way the heel was cut, but it got done. I left the board high and dry off the top to give this an "archtop" sort of feel and approximate "acoustic" depth in the lap.

The tailpiece is the "string catcher" off of an old trapeze tailpiece that was otherwise wrecked.

So -- the way this is built -- is simple. I cut a big hole in the middle of the instrument, installed the coverplate on the rear as a "floor," and then jacked the cone up slightly with wooden "legs" around the edge of the inside "floor" which both elevates the cone to where it needs to be and also lets the air chamber under the cone vibrate effectively and push its volume forward from around the edges of the cone's foot. It works the same way as a banjo's resonator in terms of activating the rear airspace.

Check out the Harmony/Kay-style "bolt on" pattern borrowing here...

I simply stained the body a murky brown with "gel stain" and left it -- as it matches the neck, more or less, and would've looked silly finished "nicely" with the rest of the bits also "doggedy dog." The pine (or is it fir?) was spare board from a house project.


bonnybroome said…
Should that neck look familiar?
Unknown said…
Is it for sale? I need this in my life...
Warren said…
Where did you come across that railroad badge/sign? I see that one out in Montana all the time. Nice work!
Jake Wildwood said…
Zak: This one's for our family, but I can make another from parts at some point.

Dan: Yup! That neck SHOULD be very familiar to you. :)

Warren: My Grandpa, among other things, worked as a mechanic for the railroad. Later on he was heavy into model railroading and Northern Pacific was his line of choice. I picked up the sign on eBay a while back because it's a fun reminder. I still have a number of his NP-badged "rolling stock" waiting for the day when we have room for a layout.