Beltona Triplate Resonator

In the mid 1920’s when John Dopyera invented the first resonator guitar, it was the beginning of a long history of personal and company feuding, wrangling over patents and court battles with pretenders to the throne. Despite all of these troubles, it is widely agreed that all the best instruments were built in the ‘golden years’ up to 1942. Fifty years later, most of us have only seen poor attempts at recreating the classic metal or wood bodied Nationals and Dobros. But right here in England is a small company dedicated to making just a couple of guitars a month to the standards which the inventor would have demanded. Bill Johnson and Steve Evans of the Beltona company will make just about any resonator instrument you could imagine: ukuleles, mandolins, single and tricone guitars, electro-acoustics in fact, they are positively committed to producing unique instruments, tailored to the specific needs (and dare I say, whims) of the individual customer. My sample for review is a Triplate – this name derives from the three speaker shaped cones (hence tricone) which are mounted in a one piece pressed ‘resonator well’ within the guitar body. A bridge on a T shaped bar transmits the string vibration to the top centre of each cone. These cones act like speakers on a baffle and project sound into the body which works like a normal acoustic guitar in further amplifying, developing and colouring the sound. The triplate body is made of brass which is heavily nickel plated. Nickel plating is not as brash in appearance as chrome but is prone to corrosion from sweat. Regularly wiping the instrument with a cotton or chamois cloth will minimise the ‘cloudy’ effect that builds up over the years. This cloudiness should be regarded like the patina on antique furniture – there is no need to remove it as it adds to the charm of the instrument. Construction is remarkably similar to wooden bodied instruments in that the top, back and sides are separate pieces. The marvel of well made metal bodies is that the joins are so well soldered, finished and plated that it is hard to believe that these three components ever existed separately – the Beltona is of the ‘absolutely incredible to believe’ type. Styling is close to the original and the characteristic ‘waffle grating’ on the sound-holes maintains the Art Deco appearance. After some dissatisfaction with their original cone supplies, Beltona decided to design and make their own – you can take it from me this is a highly skilled operation! They worked out that by making a slightly domed shape cone they could keep the aluminium thinner than other manufacturers were currently using, while maintaining the strength. They have kept the stamped spiral pattern which also contributes to extra strength and vibration transmission and the result is a distinctive cone which is the very heart of the Beltona Triplate, pumping sound into the body. The mahogany neck is fitted with an ebony fingerboard which meets the body at the 12th fret. It is set in position using a banjo style neck pole which is mortised into the heel and runs through the body to the endpin. The fingerboard is bound with ivoroid and has mother-of-pearl dot markers. Frets are finished to an exemplary standard – they are level, well profiled, beautifully polished and the ends are individually rounded. The classic slotted headstock is faced with plastic mother-of-pearl which does not look at all tacky!
After all, it’s part of the tradition and looks just right in this application. It’s a shame that the Beltona decal on the headstock is a shade bubbly in appearance – it is probably a water slide transfer which has ‘reacted’ when the headstock was lacquered. A really trivial fault, but as it is about the only thing wrong on the whole guitar, I just thought I would mention it to prove that the instrument is not a divine creation! The engraved Schaller machine-heads have mother-of-pearl plastic buttons which ideally suit the headstock adornment, and work smoothly and accurately. The triplate has been set up for a sensible compromise between normal and slide playing. You should never expect a resonator guitar to be easy to play because it is essential to use medium or heavy gauge strings gauge strings in order to exert sufficient pressure on the cones to make them operate efficiently. Old resonator guitars had necks of substantial proportions as they only had a fixed steel reinforcing rod. Sometimes the necks were just a square slab because they were designed purely for slide. Beltona have introduced an adjustable truss rod and have therefore been able to use a thinner neck profile which is more acceptable for current requirements. The old V profile and wide fingerboard are still evident but the change definitely makes the triplate more user – and repairer – friendly. The sound is full and surprisingly warm when finger picking. I have often commented that poor resonator guitars are quieter than normal guitars – pretty damning of a guitar specifically built to be loud! But the Beltona really does deliver a big, loud sound. What’s more it projects so well that I honestly thought it sounded louder 12 feet away than close up! For lap and bottle neck styles it is simply sensational – the tone is clear and liquid with long almost reverb-like sustain. You can hear harmonics bursting out all over the place and the body picks up any external noise and converts it to a mellifluous resonance. If you even cough near the guitar it sings cough mixture back at you! This is truly a very high quality guitar. Many improvements have been made to the original John Dopyera design and the result is a credit to Steve Evans and Bill Johnson. Because Beltona are a small and flexible company, they encourage customers to choose individual specs and requirements; they have even made one for Eric Clapton. Finally, make sure you learn how to care for your guitar. The cones and bridge system are very delicate and can be damaged by shock even when the guitar is in it’s case. Also, never exert heavy pressure on the resonator cover as compression could deform the cones. Any repair work should be carried out by repairers who are familiar with the quirks and vagaries of this type of guitar. As there are not many about it is best to refer to the manufacturer for guidance. Steve Evans also specialises in repairs to all resonator guitars, so if you are in doubt, give him a call. Beltona kindly thanks Guitarist Magazine for allowing the reproduction of this review.