Sometimes confused with a resonator guitar, Dobro Guitars refer to a particular design of resonator guitars and is now a registered trademark of Gibson Guitar Corporation. The design of a Dobro Guitar is interwoven with the development of the resonator guitar as we know it today, and can be played with many different styles of music that commonly call for the use of a resonator guitar. The Dobro guitar however, may bring its own sound to the table.
The long and storied history of the Dobro guitar has roots with the original Dobro company, which also produced other offshoots of the resonator guitar design. These other offshoots also became the foundation for further pioneering designs of electric guitars later in history, helping to pave the way to the sound of rock and roll as we know it today. Resonators also come in 7 and 8 string varieties, among other kinds of Dobro guitars.
History of the Dobro Guitar
The name of the Dobro company comes from the name “Dopyera Brothers,” with the Dopyera being the last names of two eastern European immigrants who started the company. The early company motto was “Dobro means good in any language;” the word did, in fact, mean “good” in several languages, including Slovak, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Czech and other languages common around the Eastern Bloc.
The Dobro guitar as we know it today was in fact the third resonator guitar design by the Dopyera brothers, who were also credited with inventing the first ever resonator guitar designs. This design integrated a single resonator cone and was inverted, with the concave side of the metal resonator facing upwards. The bowl shaped resonator did not share the same tricone design as previous resonator blueprints the Dopyera brothers had made before.
The improvements present on the Dobro guitar, however, were twofold: The Dobro design proved to be much cheaper to produce, as well as being a louder more fuller sounding design for a resonator guitar. Resonators of the time had been priced beyond the reach of the players during the Great Depression, so the cheaper design proved to be popular to musicians at the time.
The manufacturing of Dobro Guitars ceased during World War II, but resumed shortly after the war ended. The Dobro guitar soon made a resurgence and in 1959, was sold under the brand name Dopera's Original. The Dobro name was merged with the Mosrite guitar company, but was only produced for a limited time.
Two of the other Dopyera brothers, Rudy and Emil Dopyera, created the Original Musical Instrument Company in 1967 to create resonator guitars. They managed to re-acquire the Dobro name after the Mosrite Company went into temporary liquidation.
Dobro enjoyed an independent manufacturing life cycle until 1993, when the Dobro name and the Original Musical Instrument Company was acquired by Gibson Guitar Corporation. Production of all Dobro guitars was moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where some lines of Gibson Guitars are made today. The Dobro brand name is also strictly regulated by Gibson, and sells them under their Epiphone and Hound Dog brand names.
Dobro Guitars Today
The single inverted cone resonator design made popular with the original resonators made them synonymous with the name Dobro. Many guitar manufacturers aside from Gibson continue to produce guitars with this inverted cone design, and can sometimes be called Dobro guitars due to the company that pioneered this design.
This innovative inverted cone design gave way to other resonator instruments which may or may not have been produced by the Dobro Company, such as the resonator mandolin. The LoBro was also a notable instance of this resonator design, only utilized with a lower tuned bass setup. The possibilities of the original Dobro design have proven to be endless as well as flexible.
Other instruments using the Dobro design also range from electric lap steel guitars to traditional solid body guitar designs. While many of these instruments do not bear the name Dobro on them due to Gibson's aggressive copyright enforcement, each of these instruments possess their own unique characteristics that make them suitable for playing a wide variety of musical styles with.
Hybrid guitars that utilize innovative designs from Dobro also exist, such as 7, 8, and 12 string instruments. Hybrid electric guitars utilizing the Dobro styling help retain the traditional sounds and look that many seek when searching for a Dobro guitar, only with more modern features in order to keep up with the ever changing tide of rock n' roll.
Famous Dobro Players
As the Dobro design was innovative for its time, many skilled players who picked up the instrument found it to be a fun instrument to play in addition to being unique and full sounding. One of these players was B.B. King, one of the oldest living blues guitar players today, and a pioneer of the genre. King picked up an early Roundneck Dobro and honed his legendary skills with it, helping to associate resonator guitars in general with the blues.
Josh Graves was another prominent guitar player who picked up a Dobro guitar to hone his own skills on another particular genre, bluegrass. The introduction of the Dobro into bluegrass helped pave the way for this genre too, meshing well with the traditional slide playing and lap steel guitars common in bluegrass. The Dobro guitar still maintains a strong presence in other musical genres until present day.