Price paid: $ 318
Purchased from: ebay
Features: Ah, yes, the Johnson JR-550 FEN Resonator guitar. Her wooden body shimmering in poly finish over a deep wine red stain, the grain of the mahogany front, back, and sides just peeking through... I remember her well, probably because I still have her, although an alternative theory would be that those multi-vitamins have been improving my memory.
She was Asian, a native of China, sent to America to fall into the slave-driving hands of some faceless Imperialist Swine; her only purpse in existence being to make money (a paltry $300, minus shipping) for her fatherland. I just happened to be the Imperialist Swine that found her in an electronic catalogue and sent for her to come and do my bidding.
Out of the packaging that covered her, it was apparent that she had been neglected. It had never occured to those who made her that she could ever be found by somebody who would truly love her. She had been basically well-built, but attention was not given to her details. There was residue left around the edges of her f-holes, tarnishing her otherwise lovely appearance. Instead of giving her a sturdy, resonant biscuit and saddle to crown her well-crafted resonator cone, a thin, cheap biscuit with a smallish ebony-capped maple saddle was given her. A twine ring for the finger of a sweet maiden.
Adding the greatest insult, however, was her tailpiece. No doubt in a hurry to meet production demands, the half-trained drunkard who had been hired to oversee her formative days had put in the screw that affixes her tailpiece at an odd angle. This caused the tailpiece to be one-eighth of an inch out of alignment and therefore her strings traveled the length of her body at an off-kilter pitch. This misalignment forced her biscuit to move to the side, where it chaffed at the hole in her coverplate. I was instantly overtaken by a sense of deep pity.
Her straight shaft tuners and slotted headstock being, as they were, in reasonably functional (although by no means great) condition, I set the priority at fixing her tailpiece and getting her a new, suitable biscuit and saddle. // 4
Sound: I fashioned her a biscuit out of oak flooring and a saddle out of corian. A labor of love for a new sweetheart. I gently removed the offending screw that had been so twistedly misdirected into her tailpiece. Using a drill, I ever so carefully bored a new path for the screw to follow, even using the original screw hole as a starting point so as to avoid causing her further pain and disfigurement. The old, tired strings that had adorned her when she arrived were tossed away from her forever. Shackles cast into the sea.
Her aluminum Continental cone was bejeweled with my rich oak-corian bridge. I even offered her the added gift of a corian nut. A crude offering for my pretty one, which she accepted. She was restrung with new .13 gague strings. New vestments for a chosen princess. She was carefully strummed and adjusted until she was comfortably in tune with herself. She was invited to sing.
She started softly, a glass slide smoothly gliding over her steel threads, high notes lilting out of her nine and a half inch plate and wavering slightly with every movement of the hand, every twitch of the slide. As she built in intensity, the stacatto snaps of her strings were more readily heard, the harmonic overtones created by the glass cylinder began to chorus behind the melody.
She sang from a place that you and I have probably never been and maybe, hopefully, will never have to go. She wailed in operatic sobs and she growled in rage and defiance of everything that was her history. The notes began at her strings, but she refused to let them end there. She guided them through her long, satin finished neck (not letting them trip at the joint where neck meets body) and led them all the way back to the depths of her corps, which vibrated and shook with her strength. Her creators had had the foresight to fit her with a passive pickup (purportedly Fishman in variety) and it reinforced her voice well enough to be heard throughout the land, though without the nuances of her natural vocalizations because they are inimitable.
When she had finished, the entire kingdom stared with me, stupefied at what we had witnessed. We had, none of us, no sound to make, no words to speak. Whereas before we had seen nothing but a trampled upon peasant, worthy at best of a 3 or 4 rating, there now stood a queen of at LEAST a 9. // 9
Action, Fit & Finish: I feel that I covered this pretty well in the "story" section of my review. I am only writing this because I cannot submit this review unless I have something written here. The action, fit, and finish was okay, but not good or great. Obviously, the tailpiece was a big deal, borderline inexcusable. I have played Regal, Republic and National resonator guitars in music stores before and they are obviously far superior in this and other categories. That said, though, this guitar COULD have been as good as those others (well, maybe not National) if it had been given the level of detail that its build quality merits. I still have plans to put new tuners on this guitar but the ones on it are not performing badly up to this point.
Bottom line: not perfect right out of the wrapping, but she can be formed into a pleasing, soulful creature. // 3
Reliability & Durability: She has been with me since, bringing good cheer to all subjects of the kingdom for the past 3 years. However, due to her neglect and mistreatment she has her frailties. The tailpiece that was so poorly fitted to her has developed a crack and will no doubt have to be replace in the near future. It will be an operation, but we both know it is for her benefit.
Indeed, even if some of her extremeties are showing negative repercussions from her harsh existence prior to meeting me, it is from her body that her voice comes and that, my friends, will never age. // 8
Overall Impression: A man has not truly lived if he has not loved, and loved well. I have truly loved. I have truly lived.
On the serious side: I really do like this guitar. It's not a 10 out of the box, at least, mine wasn't. However, you can make it a really great sounding guitar if you replace the biscuit and Bridge with something more substantial. Also, the nut could stand to be tossed out and replaced. In my thinking, when it comes to resonator guitars, nothing matters as much as the soudwell and the neck. If those two components are in order, you will be okay. This guitar was good on both counts. One note, it is primarily a slide guitar. I pulled a couple of tricks to lower the action to allow for some fingerstyle, but it is designed for bottleneck.
Great guitar. If you can find it for $200 or less used, and you don't mind making your own improvements, do it. // 10