This weekend I am going to Nelson to play at a special guitar event – The Resonator Festival.

This has been organised by Russ Mattsen, a Nelsononian who makes glorious resonator guitars (like the one on my back in the picture) His guitars are a stunning combination of tone and beauty.

The Resonator Festival will be a homecoming for many of the guitars he has built over the years. For Russ it will be like a family reunion seeing many of his 'children' and hearing their voices, their stories of travel, the songs and the hard nights of shifting between open and standard tuning that really made them work.

The daredevil stories of traveling by plane will probably make most musicians cry.


The resonator design came out of a time when the guitar was becoming a feature in jazz and big band music, growing beyond its humble beginnings in acoustic blues, folk and country styles. This was before the electric guitar, when being heard was a problem without amplification.

The resonator cone (picture a frying pan shape without a handle in the body of the guitar) bounces the sound out with a very loud ringing tone that can rise above the sound of other instruments.

Perhaps the best-known example of the distinctive resonator tone can be heard in the song Romeo and Juliet which Mark Knofler plays on a National resonator guitar.

The next workout for my much-travelled resonator guitar will be a solo show at Space Studio and Gallery in Whanganui on Saturday April 21st.

I will be playing a bunch of my songs, some new and some favourites along with reading some of the best bits of columns I have written over the past year. I go to Germany regularly to perform in small venues and accidentally discovered that people enjoyed the little stories behind the songs.

This came about when journos doing a gig review wanted me to explain the English lyrics so they could understand and write about the songs. My German is passable so I gave this a shot and audiences enjoyed it.

A yell from the crowd would give me the right word or phrase if I got stuck. This was a novel kind of audience participation and was a lot of fun.

When you come down to my gig at Space Gallery on April 21st, take the chance to come a bit earlier, before my 7pm show and take a look around the Gallery at a family of wonderful instruments built by Mikel Durel.

They are amazing sculptural stringed instruments, assembled from beautiful finished wood and polished metal.

Some of the instruments show their connection to the guitar family while others appear to have been born out of wedlock with only a vague resemblance to their siblings. Not only do they all look glorious but they do function as musical instruments. The sounds defy easy description.

Imagine cello-like tones, drum rolls and percussive springs and you are part way there.

The guitar events go on with Darren Watson and band doing a set of his blues influenced material at Lucky Bar on May 4th.

Last time he played In Whanganui he brought the house down with a blistering set and stunning performance that equals acts that come out of the USA.

The man is a titan on guitar, with a powerful voice, who plays like a man possessed so it is bound to be a great night. I will be there – it would be remiss of me not too as am playing a short opening set.

Terry Sarten is a writer, musician and social worker. Feedback:

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