My brass bodied, single cone Mule resonator - Four months on...
I'm four months into Mule ownership. That notion is still sinking in somewhat, but I thought this would be a good time to write a feature on my Mule, number 257. I'll start by rewinding a little because as of four months ago, I didn't actually realise I would become a Mule owner. Simply blissfully unaware of meeting this instrument.
I'd finished grasping onto my youth with the comfort of my 20s and joined club 30. To help soften the blow, to my utter surprise, my wife, entire family and the guys at Mule decided to do something that I won't forget any time soon. Although I do think it was to just stop me moping around every time a customer's Mule got delivered and I knew I had to give it away. It's a bittersweet experience being a dealer for my most coveted instruments.
So there I was, stood in front of a guitar which has my name written on the label. A surreal moment, symbolizing so much more than just a guitar to me. ALL of the emotions let me assure you, but I was of course itching to get to know it and begin to pull sounds from it. Which is the part of the article you'll likely be most interested in reading about today, so let's dive in to the details.
The spec of #257 is a brass bodied, single cone Mule, with a cutaway and slotted headstock. It was built back in April of 2017, so it features a couple of the previous standard spec options such as conventional maple neck and saddle. With the latest builds seeing quartersawn torrefied maple neck and saddle the standard along with a baffle by the f-holes. I'll delve into that in a bit more detail shortly now I've had chance to spend time with both types. Although the guitar was a surprise, my wife and Matt at Mule had managed to read my mind and it's the exact spec I'd have ordered. I hope my further paragraphs will explain why it is I would have chosen these options for my use.
First thing you may have noticed is the cutaway. When it comes to resonators, cutaways seem to divide opinion. Whether it's because of the aesthetics or traditions, it does seem that most will love or loathe it. For me, both functionally and aesthetically, I'm so glad it has that added curve. Many existing resonator players will be used to a conventional, full bodied guitar with the traditional 12th fret neck join. My previous resonator, an 90s Dobro, was just that, but despite the number of years I owned that guitar, I just couldn't help but feel a little restricted by it. 14th fret body join resonators really didn't do it for me either, something about it didn't feel right to me. Perhaps the different feel to the scale length or how it sits whilst playing, but anyway, I digress.
The first Mule I ever played was a standard body model, and I definitely felt the benefit of their 12.5 fret body join, having that little extra breathing room makes a big difference if you like to slide up to the 12th fret. It might not sound like much, but with that little extra space I found it helped improve hand positioning when 'fretting' the slide at the 12th. After a little while of playing that guitar, It wasn't long at all before it just felt 'right'. This lead me to thinking more about a cutaway and how that would benefit my playing.
I really favour Open D tuning, on both acoustic and electric guitars and started experimenting more with it when I began writing music for my band. The songs I began to 'write' (I use the term lightly as most of it was jammed out at practices), ultilised quite a few chord shapes upwards of the 12th fret. Many of these songs translated nicely to acoustic and I've enjoyed playing them away from an amplifier. The cutaway comfortably allows me to do this and it's so nice not feeling restricted or making me reach for a guitar with better accessibility to those upper frets. But also for capo use, it keeps the access easier which suits me well. It's not for everyone, granted, but for me it totally opens up the guitar, no sense of restriction that I had with my previous 12th fret body join Dobro and with a guitar which sounds and plays like a Mule does, that's a good feeling indeed.
I mentioned a little earlier about the maple neck on this early 2017 built guitar, so I'll talk about how I feel it compares to the torrefied maple necks seen on current Mule Resophonic builds. The main reason for the change to Matt using torrefied maple for his guitars was the added stability 'roasted' woods offer. It's a no brainer. When an instrument could potentially be residing anywhere around the world in varying humidity's, used with various string gauges and tunings, extra stability is most certainly not a bad thing. But I must say, I've put my guitar through it's paces with multiple string gauge experiments whilst finding something that felt right for me, along with constant tuning changes and it doesn't move. Matt appears to build a bomb proof neck (although I won't be taking a bomb to my Mule any time soon!). But I do feel that the change to using torrefied maple for it's stability is a superb change, for the good of the instruments and what might get put their way, it's a no brainer.
Stability aside, how does the change affect how they feel? Well I'd say in comparison my neck has a more 'open grain', tactile if you will, feel to it. It's smooth, but you can feel the grain with your palm, whereas the new torrefied necks are absolutely silky smooth. I've been lucky enough to play two Mules so far with the new neck option and both were absolute butter. As for playing experience on mine, it feels like the neck profile was made to my hand shape. Full, but not cumbersome. It also features some really characterful maple grain, which along with the colour stain applied by Matt, really makes it pop. It really is a joy to pick up and play, if a guitar starts it's life like that, it's only going to get more enjoyable in your hands I think. It feels good to be inspired by the instrument you use.
I'm a self confessed Mule obsessive. I genuinely don't think there is a 'bad' choice of spec at all. Each variation is just beautiful and all have slight nuances in character along with a plethora of underlying similarities. A feel and tone which I've never experience with other resonator brands prior. For me, the moment I played a brass Mule I knew that it was 'me'. Something about the subtle tonal difference that the brass offers paired with a single cone, simply suits my ear very well, it offers a touch of warmth for regular finger style which I enjoy but once you dig in or use picks it's just as alive as it's steel brethren can be too. I'm not a straight slide player, nor a strict finger style only player, but the single cone works well and delivers a dynamic tone whatever I choose to do with it that given day. One detail I do really love on the newer builds is the use of a torrefied maple biscuit bridge saddle. The denser maple seems to help deliver a more responsive tone, so I've ordered a replacement torrefied bridge from Matt and the guys for 257 to see how it compares directly.
Looking a little closer, finer details like the rugged f-hole cutting marks pictured above, show how much harder the brass is to work with, but details like that remind me that these are made by real humans. A machine hasn't perfectly cut it, along with hundreds of others, this has been made by a human, one at a time, for another human to make music with. That's cool. Along with the rather heavy patina that adorns 257, it simply works and for an obsessive like myself is a work of art too. After four months of nearly daily play, the signs of use is slowly but surely showing it's presence, with the right arm area beginning to buff a little. I'm excited to see how and where it grows and changes over the many years to come.
I've been lucky to own many guitars over the years, and it's been great. Each of those guitars has reflected a direction I've wanted to grow musically, and also helped sculpt the guitar choices I make today through experience. Now, reaching the ripe age of 30 I actually own the least amount of guitars I ever have, 2 personally I think now. But when number 257 Mule Resonator is one of those 2, I understand why that is. An acoustic instrument which doesn't hide anything, one that allows me to not worry or consider the tonal variables like pedals, amp settings or electronics is making a BIG difference in how I look at playing the guitar. It's the true 'sound in my head', and the past four months have been a chance to really get to know that sound. The Mule's unique feel, incredibly comfortable neck & dynamic tone to name a few details makes it an engaging play and a consistantly inspiring instrument.
I've never 'named' a guitar before. But I've not had a guitar I've wanted to keep forever either, so I think it's only fitting to come up with a name for this so it's no longer just a 'thing'. It deserves more than that. I'll keep you posted on what we decide on!
Thanks for reading,