Have you ever heard of a dobro guitar?
Despite its intriguing nature, its roots are often shrouded in mystery. It’s an anomaly to most, a brand name for many, and a generic playing style for some.
Now if you’re wondering what type of musical instrument a dobro is, fear not, you’re not alone in your confusion, and we’d better take you to its roots.
So what is it exactly?
The dobro guitar interestingly has a rich history and has been played by some of the most legendary musicians of all time, including Mike Auldridge.
Given that, here’s a toast to those who have set the standard for the dobro as we delve into what makes it such a unique and fascinating instrument! Let’s show you what it means to be a dobro bro!
An Intro to the Dobro Guitar
The Resonator Guitar
The dobro guitar belongs to a family of guitars called resonator guitars.
But what exactly is a resonator guitar?
Resonator guitars are those funky looking gits that look more like a piece of artwork than a traditional musical instrument. Take for example the Regal Metal Body Tricone Resophonic resonator guitar, which is as much a visual masterpiece as it is a sonic one.
A resonator guitar is an acoustic guitar and can even be similar in shape, although the shape has little to do with the sound of a resonator guitar.
Features of a Dobro Guitar
It’s not just the dobro’s appearance that sets it apart – it’s the sound. Resonator guitars, including the dobro, lack the traditional soundhole found on acoustic guitars. Instead, they have a round, perforated plate cover with a built-in bridge that carries string vibrations through a system to be amplified by one or more resonator cones.
A dobro features two sound holes on each side of the fingerboard. They can be round like this Rogue Classic Style Dobro guitar on the right. Or they could be f-style holes, which are becoming more popular on dobro guitars.
This unique design aimed to make the resonator guitar louder than its acoustic counterpart. So the result is a distinctive, banjo-like sound beloved by bluegrass, blues, folk, and country musicians.
If you’re still curious about the dobro guitar and what makes it such a sought-after instrument, keep reading!
Diving Deeper; What is a Dobro Guitar?
If you have ever heard a dobro guitar’s twangy, metallic sound, you might wonder how it’s produced. Well, you’re in luck because we’re about to dive into the specifics of this fascinating instrument.
So, where does the dobro come in? The terms resonator, dobro, and steel guitars are sometimes used interchangeably, but there’s a subtle difference.
In fact, the dobro is an adaptation of the resonator guitar, with some unique features that give it its signature sound.
The Dopyera Brothers, one of whom was also the inventor of the resonator guitar, created the dobro. Since then, Gibson Guitar Corporation has acquired the brand name for this type of guitar.
The Epiphone Dobro Hound Dog is a good example of one of Gibsons’ more affordable dobro guitars.
The dobro has particular features that make it a dobro.
- Single, inverted cone design
- 8-legged spider system
- Round, perforated, metallic plate
- Center-set bridge
How does the signature sound of the dobro work?
Well, the combination of these features results in a bright, metallic tone that’s instantly recognizable. The center-set bridge transmits the string vibrations, which then resonate through the perforations on the plate and the sound holes via the eight-legged spider system. The reverberation then occurs through the inverted cone design.
Types of Dobro Guitars
When it comes to types of dobros, the sound and design system is the same.
Given that, you’re looking for differences in the shape of the neck.
The square neck dobro guitar is typically played “lap-style”. It rests comfortably in your lap with its strings up.
With high string tension, playing with frets isn’t usually the norm. Rather, players often use a steel slide to glide along the strings of a square neck dobro.
This Gretsch Boxcar is an excellent representation of a square-neck dobro with a twist: the f-shaped holes. Despite the modern touch, the dobro’s core features – the cover plate and the spider inverted cone – remain intact, staying true to its original design.
The classic round-neck dobro, such as the Washburn Resonator guitar, offers versatility for various playing styles, whether played conventionally or lap style.
When used with bottleneck slides, the dobro produces a distinctive Delta blues whining.
However, we can’t limit the dobro to just one style of playing. Finger picking is very popular with dobros. Many modern guitarists also experiment with alternate tunings, action levels, and various slides to create unique sounds that push the boundaries of traditional music genres.
Dobro vs Steel Guitar
Now that you know what a resonator guitar is and how a dobro fits in there, what’s with the steel confusion?
There are two types of guitars when people refer to steel guitars.
The first is more of a playing style with a steel bar used for glissando, portamento, and slide techniques with a steel slide. Steel guitar players use steel slides with high action tension.
The second is a steel resonator guitar that’s constructed out of steel. A perfect example of this is the Gretsch Honey Dipper Metal resonator guitar.
A steel guitar or a guitar used with a steel bar isn’t a dobro unless it has the noted dobro features.
The Honey Dipper Metal guitar mentioned above may look like a dobro, but it’s a resonator guitar with a biscuit-style cone design – not a dobro, just another resonator guitar.
So, can a steel guitar be a dobro guitar?
If the guitar has the inverted dobro cone with the spider legs and is being played steel style with a steel bar like this Dunlop Lap Dawg one, then yes!
Be a Dobro Bro!
Whether you’re a blues fan or a musical maverick, the dobro offers endless possibilities for expression and creativity.
Gibson is restricting the use of “Dobro” for their brand line. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a dobro guitar, it doesn’t necessarily have to be labelled a dobro, although Gibson is a brand worth buying from! Just look for the signature characteristics of a dobro by identifying the single, inverted, spider cone and you’re good to go!
If you want to be as good as Josh Graves, Pete Kirby, the “King of Blues” B.B. King, and even Mike Auldridge, then you better get to being a dobro bro!
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- What is a Dobro Guitar? A Guide To The Dobro Resonator Guitar
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- Guitar Tonewoods Guide: Which Tone Wood is Best for Acoustic (& Acoustic-Electric) Guitars
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Trent is a music lover, musical instrument player and passionate audio afficionado.