Square neck versus round neck resonator guitars

Square Neck versus Round Neck Resonator Guitars

An important decision when buying a resonator guitar (AKA a dobro) is whether to get a “Square Neck” or “Round Neck”. The neck style is important because it affects a number of things, including: your playing technique, what tunings you use, and even what type of music you play.

The basic difference between a Square neck versus Round neck resonator:

  1. Square-necked resonator guitars are set up with a high nut to be played with a bar or a slide, only in lap-style.
    Round-necks are set up for regular fretting or slide-playing in the normal, “Spanish”-style posture.
  2. Squareneck resonators are traditionally used by bluegrass and country players (picture Jerry Douglas).
    Round neck resonators are typically used by blues slide players (picture Bonnie Raitt).

A few details about Square neck resonators:

  • The neck of a square resonator is wider than on a round neck guitar.
  • Most squareneck resonators have a very tall nut and heavy strings.
  • Squarenecks in this type of setup are played with a steel bar called a ‘slide’ (e.g. Jim Dunlop, Shubb, etc)
  • The tuner knobs on a squareneck resonator point up, which makes them easier to access.
  • Some squareneck resonators don’t have frets. This is because you are not actually ‘fretting’ the neck. The slide itself acts as the ‘stop’ for the string, and the frets are just used as visual guides.
  • Some folks feel that the square neck is stronger and able to hold up better to the strain of raised action and heavy strings.
  • Additionally, some folks would say that the square neck plays more accurately in terms of intonation.
  • Square neck resonators in bluegrass are typically tuned to GBDGBD, while roundneck resonators are tuned to standard, open G, or D.
  • The joint of the squareneck resonator joins the body at the 12th fret while most roundnecks are at the 14th fret.

More about Round neck resonators:

Round neck resonators look very similar to the traditional acoustic guitar. Oftentimes, you can play one of these just as you would a normal acoustic, holding it upright and strumming it. Why would you? You may just want that “Dobro” tone.  Or you may be thinking that you can just buy one guitar and use it for multiple purposes…

…and it’s true. You can switch a round neck resonator back’n’forth between a regular-nut position for strumming and a high-nut position for lap-style slide. This is accomplished by using a nut extender to change the height of the strings. You may want to do this to save money.  You could theoretically buy one guitar and use it as both a regular steel-string acoustic and as a lap-style resonator.  But it’s usually not advisable because:

  • It’s hard on the guitar to switch it back and forth consistently.
  • The round neck doesn’t lay easily across your lap when in “resonator” mode.
  • The round neck may not stand up as well to the strain from the higher nut and string tension.
  • It takes a bit of time and effort to switch the guitar back and forth.

Choosing between the two neck styles boils down to two questions:

  1. How do you want to play: in the Jerry Douglas lap-style, or the Bonnie Raitt normal-acoustic position?
  2. What style of music do you want to play: bluegrass and country, or blues?

Of course, there’s always going to be cases of people doing their own thing, using squareneck resonators in blues, roundneck resonators in bluegrass, distortion pedals on acoustic guitars, whatever. But hopefully this gives you some background info as you decide.


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