Gadgetry: Six String Alternatives

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Sometimes the song or setting calls for something other than the guitar … some other timbre, tone, or feeling. Here are three 6- string alternatives that allow you to instantly evoke new moods and sounds without the need to learn a new instrument.

Deering Phoenix 6-String Banjo
$2998

The Phoenix 6-String banjo exemplifies why Deering has emerged as the world’s premiere banjo manufacturer.

A rich honey-hued maple is used for all the wood parts of this American-made instrument. The neck, pot and resonator are matte finished: a perfect visual counterpoint to the matte gold polymer coated hardware accented with nickel-plated hooks and brackets. The nicely polished frets are fitted on an ebony fingerboard with simple pearl dot markers.

Suspended from the natural-colored Renaissance head is the Kavanjo humbucking pickup, and a finely carved intonated bridge sits upon a PAF wood bridge plate designed to reduce feedback from the piezo pickup attached underneath. These two well-matched pickups feed the head-mounted passive volume and center-notched blend control.

Acoustically, the Phoenix is warm sounding with plenty of cut for an overall volume slightly louder than a Dreadnaught acoustic guitar. Getting a great electric sound is easy: place the blend control in the center detent, and move slightly either way for brighter or warmer tone.

It is easy to get the dirt road vibe and swampy goodness with drop D tunings. Playing finger-picking rolls with open ringing strings moves the instrument from guitar into traditional banjo territory.

National Resolectric Revolver
$2500

When America needed a louder guitar, National rose to the challenge with a means of mechanical amplification. These resophonic guitars caught on not only because they were loud, but because they have a unique voice.

Obviously, National’s innovation didn’t just stop with the resonator. The Resolectric pairs the biscuit style resonator with a Highlander under saddle piezo pickup and Jason Lollar P-90 neck pickup with active circuitry in a solid mahogany body. The mahogany neck has a rosewood fingerboard with expertly polished frets. Pearloid is used for the headstock facing, pickguard and body binding for a look that’s either classy or kitsch depending on your personal take.

Acoustically, this guitar is loud despite its compact solid body. Lead guitarists will find they can finesse their playing in most any acoustic combo and still be heard without digging in. The round neck Resolectric is set up with an action that is high enough for clatter-free bottleneck slide, but still low enough for conventional playing.

Plugged in, the Resolectric sounds strong and bold. Traditional sounds can be produced with the electronics, but there’s tons of fun to be had by kicking in distortion, tremolo and reverb.

Cordoba Guilele CE
$315

The Ukulele craze shows no signs of letting up soon, and why not … they’re cute, portable and fun to play. However, playing conventional ukes can sometimes be challenging for the guitarist. Thankfully, the Guilele removes this challenge by providing sixstrings and familiar tuning intervals.

A solid spruce top caps the cutaway mahogany body of the small but nicely proportioned instrument, which measures 28” in total length. The Guilele is adorned with a rope pattern soundhole rosette and single-ply body binding. The mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard has side fret markers to help guide the player along. But guitarists should beware: the Guilele uses a 10th fret marker instead of the usual 9th found on the guitar.

Tuned A to A, the Guilele tuning is the same as a guitar with a capo at the 5th fret, so familiar fingerings will sound a fourth higher. A first position “C” chord fingering is actually an “F” chord.

The Guilele is surprisingly loud with plenty of cut when being played acoustically, and can hold its own against a duo of big-bodied acoustic guitars. The Guilele CE has a natural sounding piezo pickup with a rim-mounted 2Band preamp for playing live while plugged in.

Island style chord progressions sound authentic on the Guilele, but the tonality of the instrument also lends itself nicely to Mexican and South American folk textures. Pop musicians and studio guitarists will love using the Guilele as a piccolo guitar and traveling companion.

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