Johnson JR200 "Chicago Blues" Resonator Guitar Reviews 5

I bought this online at http://www.mandalaymusic.com for $185. That was the best price by far that I found for this model, which lists for about $390.

It has an excellent tone, sounding as good as the expensive Dobros it's copied from, but at a fraction of the price.

It's hard to find fault with this guitar. It has some minor finish imperfections, but for the price I can turn a blind eye to them!

The body of this guitar (as with most traditional Dobros and National-style wood body resonators) is made of a rather heavy plywood with a mahogany veneer. This is appropriate for a resonator guitar, where the aluminum cone is what amplifies the vibrations of the strings and imparts most of the tone. The guitar body acts as a speaker cabinet, and like the speaker cabinet it isn't supposed to vibrate like a normal acoustic guitar top and body. This guitar is built like a Dobro, with the cone sitting in a routed ledge in the top circumference of a round hardwood sound well in the center of the body. The sound well has holes in the sides to let sound out into the guitar body, and may be thought of as an internal baffle in the analogy of a speaker in its cabinet. On either side of the neck are two screen-covered circular vents and between them are three small drilled holes just below the end of the fretboard. Together, these vents and holes act as the soundhole in a regular acoustic guitar does, or like the vents found in many speaker cabinets. The cone itself is made of spun aluminum, as it should be. It is of the Dobro "spider bridge" type, with the bridge saddles set into the center of a cast aluminum "spider" having 8 legs that rest on a raised ridge near the perimeter of the cone. The cone itself is shaped like a dish with a raised conical center. A tensioning screw through the center of the bridge into this raised center adjusts the pressure of the spider against the cone. When the bridge is set on top of the cone, it looks remarkably like a gas range burner with its reflector dish under it. The shiny chrome "hubcap" on the guitar top is a decorative and protective cover for the cone, which is of thin aluminum and is rather fragile. (The other type of cone and bridge found on single-cone resonators is the "biscuit bridge" sort used on Nationals and copies of them. The bridge saddles are set in a hardwood "biscuit" that's just a thick round disk screwed to the top center of a cone that's raised, like a broad volcano.) Johnson makes two kinds of resonator guitars, "roundneck" and "squareneck." Roundnecks have necks like regular acoustic guitars and are suitable for finger-fretting as well as slide playing. Squarenecks are intended only for playing horizontally (in the lap or on a strap) with a steel as the country and bluegrass musicians play their Dobros. The square neck gives more rigidity to resist the tension of extra-heavy strings tuned up to the common "Dobro tuning" or "High-G tuning," GBDGBD. But the bulky square neck and high action of these models make non-slide playing impractical. I can't find anything to criticize about the construction of the guitar. It's well put together. The tuners work smoothly with minimal slack and hold their settings well. Mine came with the intonation adjusted exactly backward, but this was easily fixed by slacking the strings and rotating the spider bridge until the saddles were slanted the right way. (Look at any acoustic guitar to see what I mean. The saddle for the 1st string is closer to the nut than the 6th string saddle.) When it's right, the open strings and notes at the 12th frets will be in tune with each other. After rotating the spider, the tension screw will need to be readjusted. If it's too loose, the bass strings tend to buzz. A suggested starting point is to tighten the screw 1/2 turn past the point where the spider begins to exert pressure against the cone, and adjust according to the sound. It should end up between 1/4 turn to 1 full turn tight, at most. You could dent and ruin the cone by overtightening, as well as by rough handling of the guitar including a hard blow on the strings (which are supported by the bridge resting on the cone.) The finish is attractive unless you look very closely, when you will notice that the sanding is a bit coarse before the finish is applied, and there are some runs in the finish around the end of the fretboard on the guitar top. I can't complain about this at the price I paid, and it sounds absolutely great! One more thing, which I expect is true of resonator guitars in general: Tuning's a bit more finicky than with a wood-top acoustic. Because all of the strings are supported by the single springy aluminum cone, as you tighten up one string after another you'll find that the ones you tightened first have now gone flat as the others push down on the cone and relieve some of the tension on the first ones. It takes about 3 runs across the strings to get 'em all in tune. Likewise, if one string breaks, they all go out of tune! You can't just work around that string and keep playing! That's just a sacrifice you have to make for that sweet resonator tone.

I love playing acoustic slide blues, and I wanted a resonator guitar. The "real" Dobros and Nationals are prohibitively expensive, and I wouldn't have one yet! This little Dobro clone sounds GREAT and is definitely a bargain! Anyone interested in acoustic slide playing, whether blues, bluegrass, country or whatever, ought to check this one out for sure!

John Culp rated this unit 5 on 2001-12-01.

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