Review: National Resolectric Revolver Guitar

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Videos by American Songwriter

The natural course of progression almost dictates that after a guitarist develops their signature sound, they then look to conquer new tonal arenas. This is why studio guitarists bring an arsenal of instruments to a session, and sidemen need a tech by their side on tour. And this is also why instruments such as the National Resolectric continually find their ways into the hands of such players.

The visual aspect of the Resolectric alone speaks volumes. Our test model features a mahogany body with a matte “Revolver” finish (black to grey sunburst) with a pearloid pickguard, headstock facing and binding. The overall effect is quite stunning and creates a look that would equally be at home at Madison Square Gardens or an Alabama barbeque party. The chrome hardware plays off the pearloid and darker finish nicely, and the National Shield logo works well with this scheme.

The substantial mahogany neck (think mid-fifties Gibson Les Paul) is capped with an ebony fingerboard that is 1 ¾” wide at the nut. The factory set action is set moderately high, allowing the Resolectic to function well with a bottleneck slide (as the guitar’s heritage dictates) as well as conventional fingering.

This guitar is clearly something different. Perhaps the Resolectric could best be described as a hybrid acoustic/electric that combines nearly 100 years of mechanical amplification along with more conventional electric guitar amplification. Taking up a great portion of the guitar’s lower bout is the resonator. Essentially, the resonator is an aluminum speaker that is set into motion by the vibration of the strings: A National Guitar innovation from the 1920’s, and one that’s still made in the U.S.A. to this day.

Even though the Resolectric is a solidbody guitar, the resonator produces considerably more volume than a standard acoustic guitar without even being plugged in. Lead guitarists using the Resolectric in unplugged settings will find that they can finesse their playing rather than having to dig in to compete against heavy-handed rhythm players.

The unplugged tone is a somewhat nasally sound similar to a banjo, and could be used as a substitute in that role. It could also be used for those looking for a shortcut to recording lo-fi or period pieces for soundtracks and music libraries.

For electric amplification, the Resolectric uses a combination of a Highlander piezo pickup hidden under the saddle and a Jason Lollar P-90 inthe neck postion. Located on the upper bout near the pickup selector are volume controls for each pickup as well as a master volume control for the overall mix. An on-board pre-amp matches the signal of the two different types of pickups and puts out a considerable amount of gain. The pre-amp requires two 9 volt batteries that are hidden in a rear routed chamber with a screwed- in pearloid cover.

We plugged in the Resolectric directly into recording consoles, P.A. systems and various guitar amps. Regardless of what we plugged into, the sound the guitar produced was huge! The nasal quality the guitar produced acoustic became subdued and the low-end became more pronounced, with a decidedly more hi-fi sound than guitar produced un-amplified. A wide array of tones became accessible, including some more conventional sounding acoustic guitar sounds and jazzy electric guitar sounds.

Neither pickup could be named the “resonator’s pickup” as the unique character of the resonator was present regardless of which pickup was being used.  Therefore, the volume controls don’t function as blending the resonator with conventional guitar sounds, but rather mixing different tonal colors together.

The guitar is surprisingly resistant to feeding back, which was unexpected since it is so responsive and loud acoustically: The Resolectric was able to kick it in a loud rock band setting no problem. The tonality of his axe had the band gravitating toward the Faces and the Stones. In other settings its red dirt Americana roots shined equally as bright.

As good as the guitar sounds plugged in, in the studio guitarists are also going to want use a mic on the Resolectric in addition to running a direct line in; there’s just too much mojo projecting out of the resonator to waste. The larger neck may not appeal to every player: and for those folks a slimmer, more modern neck profile would be a nice option. But if those that are not instantly won over by the Resolectric’s down-home tone acoustically, they’ll be true believers once plugged in.

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