I bought the Alligator (Guitar).

I recently wrote how I was trying to talk myself out of purchasing another resonator guitar. It didn’t work. I am now the owner of a Gretsch G9240 Alligator resonator guitar and I couldn’t be happier. Here’s a review of the instrument.

Left: Gretsch Alligator
Right: Royal Trifonium

The Alligator is a wood-bodied, single cone, biscuit bridge resonator guitar. This is the third resonator guitar I have owned and the second one in my current collection of instruments. The first resonator I owned was a National Reso-Phonic Style O, also a single cone, biscuit bridge guitar but with a nickel-plated brass body etched with Hawaiian scenes. I loved that guitar and should have never sold it.

The other resonator I currently own is a wood-bodied tricone from Royall Imperial Guitars. I’ve enjoyed playing the tricone but one of the reasons I ended up purchasing the Alligator is that I missed the distinctive sound of the single cone resonator. The tricone doesn’t sound bad, just different. But comparing the two guitars side-by-side, the single cone resonator is more expressive. The tone rings out like a bell while the wood body gives it a warmth my Style O didn’t have.

Appearance and Size

The neck on the Alligator has a nice V-shape. The Royall tricone is a clunky baseball bat neck. The Alligator neck is much nicer.

The guitar is smaller than a standard Triolian but still comfortable. I’ve read a user reviewing the Alligator online mention that it is too small—a parlor sized instrument. It is smaller in some dimensions but larger in others. It’s close to a Martin-00 sized instrument (Martin specs here). The body depth is 3.5 inches making it slightly deeper than most resonators though not as deep as the National Reso-Phonic El Trovador or M-14 Thunder Box which both have a 4-inch body depth (National NRP Specs source).

GuitarBody lengthTotal LengthUpper BoutLower BoutDepth
Royal Parlor Wood
Resonator
17
9.25123
Gretsch Alligator18.8737.6259.87514.1253.5
Martin 00 12-Fret19.62537.75?14.1254.0625
Martin 00 14-Fret
thin body
18.87538.625?14.6253.25
Royall Trifonium Wood Body Tricone19.8126391014.253.25

The Alligator guitar is much lighter than my tricone. I couldn’t find specifications for weights so I weighed the guitars on a kitchen scale. The Alligator weighed 5 lbs 3 oz while the Royall Tricone weighed 6 lbs 14 oz For comparison a National NRP M1 Tricone specs indicate it weighs 5 lbs 14 oz and NRP wood Triolian weighs 5 lbs 12 oz.

Gretsch G9240 on Amazon

Gretsch G9241 (with pickup) on Amazon

Setup and Strings

Out of the box, the Alligator was setup fine for playing fingerstyle guitar. The string action was identical to National’s specs and how I set up my tricone. The setup gives enough height for slide guitar but still allow fingerstyle playing. The only thing I might change is the neck relief. But even that isn’t too far off.

I always used medium gauge (13-56) strings on my Style O and have medium gauge strings on the tricone. I had ordered a new set of medium strings for the Alligator before the guitar arrived. Gretsch ships the guitar with D’Addario EJ-16 light gauge (12-53) Phosphor Bronze strings and I wanted to be ready to upgrade as soon as the guitar arrived. But, of course, I played the guitar first. To my surprise, the guitar with the lighter strings sounded wonderful. Why would I want to change that?

One reason guitarists string their resonator guitars with heavier strings than are customary on acoustic instruments is to provide extra tension which makes it easier to play slide without having the slide bounce against the frets. Many slide players also exchange the two high strings for heavier gauges. I did the same the first year or two I owned the National. I learned that being able to play slide guitar without banging against the fingerboard was a matter of technique and practice. That is why I stick with 13 gauge strings for the 1st string. Going down to 12 or 11 on the first string makes slide guitar more difficult.

Another reason to use medium gauge strings is, in theory, they will be louder. I thought the EJ-16 light gauge strings hit the sweet spot in terms of sound, and fingerstyle without a slide is great. Slide, not so much. About a week after receiving the guitar I replace the EJ Phosphor Bronze with a coated medium gauge string set. I’ve used D’Addario EXP coated strings for years but I recently changed the tricone to D’Addario’s new and improved XT series of string. The Alligator is now louder and still sounds good. Slide is easier but still takes practice to not buzz or bounce against the neck on the first string.

I wondered how my tricone resonator guitar would sound with strings at a tension comparable to the 12-53 set on the Alligator. I didn’t want to change my strings to find out. Instead, I calculated that the tension on each string of the 13-56 medium set would be close to the Alligator’s light strings if the tricone were detuned from Open D tuning down to Open C (2 half-steps down). I’ve also tried down a 1/2 step to Open C# as well as Open G down one and two steps. The tricone needs the higher tension of 13-56 strings in open G or open D.

Light gauge string tensions for standard and open D (Vestapol) tuning.

String654321Total
Gauges (1000ths)534232241612
Notes Std TuningE2A2D3G3B3E4
Std Tuning Tension25.028.929.330.123.323.4159.9
Open D NotesD2A2D3F#3A#3D4
Open D Tension19.828.929.326.820.818.5144.1
Open D# (D + 1)22.232.532.930.123.320.8161.8
Open E (D + 2)25.036.536.933.826.223.4181.6

Tensions for medium gauge strings for standard and open D tunings.

String654321Total
Gauges (1000ths)564535261713
Std Tuning Tension27.131.934.633.426.327.4180.7
Std - 1 (D#)24.228.430.829.723.524.4161.0
Std - 2 (D)21.525.327.426.520.921.8143.4
Std - 3 (C#)19.222.524.523.618.619.4127.8
Std - 4 (C)17.120.121.821.016.617.3113.8
Open D21.531.934.629.723.521.8162.9
Open C# (D - 1)19.228.430.826.520.919.4145.2
Open C (D - 2)17.125.327.423.618.617.3129.3
Open B (D - 3)15.222.524.521.016.615.4115.2

The above tables show that Open D on light gauge strings has a set tension (total) of 144.1 pounds. If the medium gauge strings are detuned by 1 (a half-step down) from D to give open C#, the set tension is 145.2 pounds. The set tension on the Alligator would be about 4% less than indicated because of the shorter scale length. It works the other way too. When I tuned the Alligator’s EJ-16 light strings up to Open D# the set tension is about the same as the medium strings in open D. That was the experiment that convinced me to change to the 13-56 medium strings on the Alligator as I intended.

Value

If I were wealthier and lived in a larger home, I would get another National, probably the El Trovador. But one of the calculations I always consider is how much better do I think the National would be compared the Gretsch. Twice as good? I might be willing to pay twice as much for twice as good. But as nice as the National Reso-Phonic guitars are, I don’t think they sound twice as good as my guitar and in terms of build quality, no more than three times better. Which makes it difficult for me to justify paying six to seven times what I paid for the Gretsch. I’m very happy with my new pet Alligator.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: