1930s Regal-made MayBell Spruce-Disc Resonator Guitar

Regal made this down-market adaptation of the "actual" Cathedranola balsa-disc resonator guitar for Slingerland's MayBell brand. I happen to think those balsa-disc versions are one of the coolest guitar innovations ever (I want to build a modern take on it at some point), as they give a gypsy-jazz guitar tone on steroids. Click here for more on the balsa-disc version's internal build.

Many people think of these plainer versions as a "faux-resonator" guitar because they've never taken the coverplate off and only see that there's flat wood under the coverplate holes and no aluminum, National or Dobro-style cone. That's because there were a ton of actual faux-resonator guitars which were just regular tailpiece-style flattops with a coverplate attached to give the look.

Surprise! What you actually see under that coverplate on this is a spruce disc soundboard (what I'm calling a spruce-disc resonator) that's suspended below the top wood. Said top wood is actually thick ply and the builders routed the first few layers of ply and then installed the soundboard/resonator into that "well." The rear of this spruce disc is ladder-braced across the middle but has a pattern of radial braces coming out of its center. Surprise again! Some modern classical guitar builders use a very similar pattern when building their instruments these days.

In the above pic you can see the brown-stained spruce resonator/soundboard installed with a lip of ply about 1/16" tall above it on the outside. The bridge is pin-style and glued to it as-normal for a flattop.

Anyhow, this type of resonator/soundboard design yields a tone that's akin to a standard wood-bodied parlor but with more Dobro-centric snap, punch, and twang. With the coverplate off it sounds a bit more like a mid-grade archtop guitar from the times but with a bit more bite to it. With the coverplate on, the tone is fixed directly into that mids-and-highs emphasis that you'd expect from a roundneck Dobro of the '30s... but a lot less metallic. The plate adds a brassier overtone sequence and lingering, reverb-like sustain on the high notes which helps fill-out the lost sustain from the resonator-style design. It also makes a small, secondary soundbox on top of the guitar that adds a little extra oomph over the same design without its coverplate on.

Of course, the coolest feature of the guitar is its alarmingly-great looks. The soundholes and coverplate are both tres cool. This guitar, too, is original and pretty clean save for its bridge pins and endpin, new bone saddle, and the shafts and ferrules of the tuners.

My work included assessing and sprucing-up an old "neck bolt" job that was installed in the heel, replacing said bad replacement shafts on the tuners, much work at the bridge (shave, bridge pin hole fill and relocation job, recut of the saddle slot to get it in the proper place and compensated, and recoloring/finishing back to black), a fret level/dress, side dot install, and good setup with 54w-12 strings. It plays perfectly with 3/32" EA and 1/16" DGBE action at the 12th fret and the neck is straight. There's good back-angle on the saddle and a full 1/8" or so of height at the saddle area for seasonal adjustments (though the design of these guitars makes them pretty dang stable).

Specs-wise, this guitar is basically a "parlor" shape -- just a hair smaller than Martin's 12-fret 0 size. The lower bout is 13" across and the sides at the endblock have 4 1/8" depth. It has a 24" scale length and a 1 3/4" nut width. The board is flat and the back of the neck is a big D-shaped profile. String spacing at the nut is 1 1/2" and it's 2 3/8" at the saddle. Anywhere where you might use a smaller-bodied resonator is where you'd use this -- country-blues, fingerpicked ragtime or old-time, choppy chord-chomping for jumpy jazz or old popular tunes... stuff like that. It also works in a pinch as a zippy lead instrument, though the short scale grack of the tone tends to suggest a bluesbox to me.

The woods used are pretty typical for a Regal-made MayBell guitar, save the thicker birch ply top which is usually found on Regal-made aluminum cone resonator guitars. The sides and back are solid birch, the neck is poplar, and the fretboard and bridge are "ebonized" maple.

The tuner ferrules and shafts are replacements, though the original wood nut is extant.

The fretboard has 3 pearl dots in it. The frets are the smallish, original brass ones and they've still got some life left in them after the level/dress job.

Who can argue with the hardware? Those soundholes are so cool. The binding, by the way, is celluloid and not painted-on. Regal was smart when putting these together, too, and added felt backing to all of the metal bits touching the top -- no rattles, please!

The bridge is a pretty normal flattop-style pin bridge, though it doesn't resemble its original configuration much anymore save in its black-painted color. Regal seems to have always made the bridges just a little too high because the last few times this same-model guitar came into the shop, the bridge was rubbing-up against the coverplate in each case. I had to shave them down beyond it and once I did the volume easily doubled (and then-some).

Here's what the bridge looks like under the coverplate. The new saddle slot is compensated and the new saddle is, too. My new pinholes follow the line of the saddle for equal back-angle on it like on many new Martin guitars.

Regal-made MayBells always have such cool sunbursts!

There's some minor scritchy-scratch on the back and sides, but overall the guitar is very clean.

Here's the inside of the neckblock. Note the big bolt coming through (that was in it when it came to me) and then the smaller one (that's the one I added as well just in case). The heel, thus, has a patched area that replaces a weird wooden plug that was installed by whoever else mucked-about with this.

Here's that little patch on the heel in the harshest light possible...

Also, here's the only crack on the guitar -- a tight, glued-up, small hairline on the side near the heel.


craig said...

I was waitin' for you to break out your slide chops....?

Jake Wildwood said...

I used to do bottleneck around 2002 but don't anymore. The only slide I'm really comfy with is Hawaiian-style, which would just sound like zipzipzip with the strings so low... :D