Guitar Tuning Impact On Tone… It all has to measure up!

The best wood bodied resonator guitar, dobro, acoustic guitar, or any other musical instrument for that mater will sound terrible if not in tune. Being in tune is a given and not what this post is about. “Tuning” as part of the construction plan for this resonator guitar is what this project is all about. In my introductory post I mentioned that I wanted to construct a guitar that the player could have the ability to adjust the tone themselves. We do this all the time with electric guitars – why wouldn’t we want to be able to do that on our acoustic instruments?

For starters there are the basics. Those core elements of construction that need to be done really well to ensure playability, guitar intonation, instrument stability, and in my case to provide a solid foundation for experimenting with the “tone controls” I’ve got in mind. This is the phase I am in right now – constructing the “shell”, a well made resonator guitar body and neck that I can use to test and prove out my ideas.

More about the basics: Playability is all about feel and set-up. There is something to be said about guitar scale length and it’s impact on play-ability but ultimately that boils down to personal preference. What feels good.

Guitar Intonation = Math. Dialing in exact string length to match up with upper and lower octaves. This is measured from Nut to 12th fret to bridge. There is also string length compensation usually done at the bridge but can also be compensated at the nut. The elements involved with intonation guitar are also a couple of the key parts that I will be targeting for tone adjustability.

scale & intonation graphic

Instrument Stability. Quality materials, construction methods, and a few tricks of the trade pull all this together. There is a wide variety of methods being used out there and some really interesting tricks I’ve come across which will open up the opportunity for tone adjustability by the player.

Size Matters – Acoustic guitar sizes

I’m basically lumping Acoustic guitar, wood bodied resonator guitar, and dobro into the same bucket when it comes to guitar body size and it’s impact on tone. Generally bigger bodied jumbo guitars will be louder and have more bass, conversely smaller bodied parlor guitars won’t project as much and sound brighter.  This is a generality and I know there are ways to improve projection and modify tone for any body size to a degree. For resonators and dobro the resonator cone will also make an impact on tone depending on brand, design, type, and how installed. I’ll cover all the stuff on resonator cones in a post later on this this project.

For this project, because I like the size, I am going with something between a Parlor and Dreadnought guitar body size. Might be a hair closer to an Auditorium sized guitar body.

Body measurements for this build are: Length = 19 ¾”, Upper Bout = 10 3/8”, Lower Bout = 14 1/8”, Waist = 9 3/8”.

Guitar Body Size Comparison

Neck? I debated on 12 and 14 fret to the body. For this resonator build I’m going with 12 fret to the body and a 25.5” scale. With the cutaway I have planned I think it will feel like a smaller/mid sized guitar but have a wider range of playability. Really looking forward to getting the neck and body mated up to see how it feels!

ENCORE – Come on, one more tune… let’s wrap this up.

We covered being in tune. I’ve talked a little about “tone tuning” and dropped a few hints about where I’m headed with this project. There is one more “tune” worth talking about. Tuning: Standard, E-flat, Open D, Open G, etc… Wonder which guitar tuning has the most impact on tone?… stay tuned! : )


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