Resonator guitars have their origins in the 1920s, when the California based Dopyera brothers started the National String Instrument Corporation to turn out a completely new design of stringed instrument that incorporated a spun aluminium cone inset into the top. The history of that company and later the offshoot Dobro Corporation is a long and convoluted tale of family falling outs and financial instability, factors which meant constant upheavals and the relocating of manufacturing facilities but not the production of large numbers of diverse resonator instruments. ‘National’ and ‘Dobro’ are now generic terms for the resonator even though there are a number of other companies that have got involved with the design. Gretsch distributed a small range of resonators in the late sixties and throughout the seventies under the Sho-Bro brand, made by the Sho-Bud company in Nashville. Not the best looking guitars ever produced, they are extremely rare and have been generally forgotten about.
However, Gretsch is now firmly back in the frame with a new range of square and round-neck resonator instruments available from its affordable Roots Collection, which also includes mandolins, banjos, ukuleles and a couple of New Yorker archtops and a parlour guitar.
The G9210 Boxcar Square-Neck, as its name suggests is constructed with a rectangular shaped neck, which means that the most comfortable playing position is with the instrument across your lap, with your chosen slide in the left hand and probably a set of picks on your right, although you can just use your fingers or a flatpick. Tune to an open chord, usually G (D B G D G D high to low) or D (D A F# D A D high to low), and you’re away.
To produce the characteristic tone, the Boxcar features an all-new Gretsch ‘Ampli-Sonic’ aluminium diaphragm or cone, which is sourced in Eastern Europe and consists of 99% pure metal. Body, back and sides and top are constructed with laminated mahogany finished with a semi-gloss honey stain. It’s a beautiful looking colour and the mahogany is close-grained and very even. This is a very compact and light instrument with a mahogany neck that joins the body at the 12th fret and with a 25” scale. There are 19 frets but you won’t be touching them; the strings are raised well above the fingerboard; 10mm at the nut and 13mm at the 12th fret. This allows you to press as hard as you like with the slide to produce whatever volume is required, you just have to position the slide accurately square over the fret. Gretsch has given the G9210 a further vintage vibe by fitting a pearloid headstock with an inlaid logo and Grover Sta-Tite open-gear machine heads with black buttons. Finally, the Boxcar is factory fitted with a set of .016-.056 Phosphor Bronze strings.
It is generally accepted that wooden body resonators are louder than their metal counterparts. By coincidence, we were able to compare the G9210 with a real metal-bodied Dobro but the results were inconclusive as the actual tone is so different between the two instruments. The metal one was, well, more metallic and harsh sounding whereas the Gretsch Boxcar was considerably mellower and easier on the ear.
Whichever model you favour, square or roundneck, the very affordable Gretsch Boxcar is a lot of fun and if you have ever mucked about with open tunings and a slide on the guitar, you will have no trouble playing it.