Pros:Great looks, good acoustic guitar tone with a hint of the cone sound.
Cons:As is, not a suitable resonator guitar for what this type is used for.
The Bottom Line: Not a great dobro, but a good value and different. That'll limit the audience.
The Gretsch G9200 Boxcar Round Neck Resonator is one of the nicest looking dobro type resonators in it's price range, and maybe going up into the mid-range. It's like the very nice Epiphone Biscuit of years ago, but bigger and with a beautiful vintage style headstock.
Recommend this product?
The only problem is that this is a classic case of cosmetics over sound, and as a result, limits it's utility.
A round neck resonator, which in this case is a dobro type as it has a wood body and spider bridge, needs to have certain essential qualities. The resonator needs to be the type that pushes out a very loud and distinctive sound, made even louder by the use of a slide. The ideal type is the square neck, which has even more tone and volume but has to be played on one's lap or hung from the neck.
A round neck permits the dobro to be played in the standard guitarist style sideways, and often are set up with lower action so that the player can also fingerpick regular melody and rhythm.
Whatever the setup, it does have to be loud, and have that distinctive tone.
The main problem with this Gretsch is that when picked at less than an aggressive way, tends to sound like a medium volume guitar. The Gretch Ampli-Sonic cone needs a lot of sound to drive it. In other words, pick it quietly or at normal attack, and it sounds like a regular acoustic guitar with just a hair of the normal dobro tone. This wasn't a problem with the Epiphone Biscuit, a dobro that was cheaper but sounded good enough for even Steve Milller to use on tour.
One possible reason is that it's got a bigger body than the Epi had. That bigger body is going to be more resonant, but that extra space will absorb sound that won't hit the cone, thus less volume. Solo performers who want a guitar that can sound like a guitar, and a dobro when pushed will find this one right up their alley.
However, the main application for a dobro is in country, bluegrass, Hawaiian music, and blues. Certain styles of blues require hard picking, and so this subtler (or weaker) cone will probably not be a problem, but there are Regals, Johnsons, Fenders, and other brands in the same price range that may not sound as good as a guitar, but outclass it as a dobro/resonator guitar.
It has good basics. Excellent mahogany body and neck, great looks and a comfortable design. There's a lot of potential in this one. I imagine the followup would address what could either be a simple setup or design problem, or an improvement in the cone design. The Epiphone Biscuit, a very similar type, used a smaller body and a more traditional cone design, which made it sound like a dobro even at low volume. This model seems like it was designed by guitar makers with no experience with the resonator type.
I tried two Gretsches, both at different stores and at first look, it's a resonator guitar that makes you want to pick it up and play it. Handled right, it will produce a resonator tone at less than thrash metal level picking, but that's not a problem I want to have with this type.
Also, in all fairness, it does have a nice pure acoustic guitar tone. If you're looking for an acoustic guitar that's not boring (like most in this price range), this could be a viable alternative.
Since it does produce a dobro sound when handled more aggressively, I hesitate to condemn or marginalize this model outright. But certainly, try before you buy and compare it to other brands in this price range, particularly the Regal line. Given that it's cone is a new design, one could also assume that it's sound may not emulate the traditional cone types (and thus my ears could be biased).
The Gretsch Roots Series of guitars and banjos is one of the best I've seen in years at this price range, so I'm sure the next iteration of the Boxcar will be louder. Until then, there's plenty of competition in this price range for this type of guitar, and for 150.00 more, you can get the Gibson made Hound Dog for 500.00, which has almost the same look but sounds much better.
I'll be interested in seeing if Gretsch upgrades this model and keeps it at this price range. If it does, I'd be a customer unless Epiphone reissues the Biscuit. Until then, I'll have to admire it more than want it.