Dobro is a registered trademark,[1] now owned by Gibson Guitar Corporation and used for a particular design of resonator guitar.

1928 Dobro style 37 tenor guitar from Lowell Levinger's collection

The name has a long and involved history, interwoven with that of the resonator guitar. Originally coined by the Dopyera brothers when they formed the Dobro Manufacturing Company, in time it came, in common language, to mean any resonator guitar, or specifically one with a single inverted resonator. This particular design was introduced by the Dopyeras' new company, in competition to the already patented tricone and biscuit designs owned and produced by the National String Instrument Corporation.

The Dobro brand later also appeared on other instruments, notably electric lap-steel guitars and solid-body electric guitars and on other resonator instruments such as Safari resonator mandolins.

When Gibson acquired the trademark in 1994, the company announced that it would defend its right to Dobro's exclusive use.



Resonator guitar with single inverted resonator

The name originated in 1928 when the Dopyera brothers formed the Dobro Manufacturing Company. "Dobro" is both a contraction of "Dopyera brothers" and a word meaning "goodness" in their native Slovak, and also in Slovenian, Bulgarian, Czech, Serbian, Croatian, Russian and Polish. An early company motto was "Dobro means good in any language."

The Dobro was the third resonator guitar design by John Dopyera, the inventor of the resonator guitar, but the second to enter production. Unlike his earlier tricone design, the Dobro had a single resonator cone and it was inverted, with its concave surface facing up. The Dobro company described this as a bowl shaped resonator.

The Dobro was louder than the tricone and cheaper to produce. Cost of manufacture had, in Dopyera's opinion, priced the resonator guitar beyond the reach of many players, and his failure to convince his fellow directors at the National String Instrument Corporation to produce a single-cone version was part of his motivation for leaving.

Since National had applied for a patent on the single cone (US patent #1,808,756), Dopyera had to develop an alternative design, which he did by inverting the cone so that rather than having the strings rest on the apex of the cone as the National method did, they rested on a cast aluminum spider that had eight legs sitting on the perimeter of the downward-pointing cone (US patent #1,896,484).

In the following years both Dobro and National built a wide variety of metal- and wood-bodied single-cone guitars, while National also continued with the tricone for a time. Both companies sourced many components from National director Adolph Rickenbacher, and John Dopyera continued to be a major shareholder in National. By 1934 the Dopyera brothers had gained control of both National and Dobro and they merged the companies to form the National-Dobro Corporation.

Man playing dobro.

From the outset, wooden bodies had been sourced from existing guitar manufacturers, particularly the plywood student guitar bodies made by the Regal Musical Instrument Company. Dobro had granted Regal a license to manufacture resonator instruments, and by 1937, it was the only manufacturer, and the license was officially made exclusive. Regal-manufactured resonator instruments continued to be sold under many names, including Regal, Dobro, Old Kraftsman, and Ward. However all production of resonator guitars ceased following the US entry into the Second World War in 1941.

Emil Dopyera (also known as Ed Dopera) manufactured Dobros from 1959 under the brand name Dopera's Original before selling the company and name to Semie Moseley, who merged it with his Mosrite guitar company and manufactured Dobros for a time. Meanwhile, in 1967, Rudy and Emil Dopyera formed the Original Musical Instrument Company (OMI) to manufacture resonator guitars, which were at first branded Hound Dog. However, in 1970, they again acquired the Dobro name, Mosrite having gone into temporary liquidation.

OMI, together with the Dobro name, was acquired by the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1993. They renamed the company Original Acoustic Instruments and moved production to Nashville. Gibson now uses the name Dobro only for models with the inverted-cone design used originally by the Dobro Manufacturing Company. Gibson also manufactures biscuit-style single-resonator guitars, but it sells them under names such as Hound Dog and Epiphone. The Dobro was first introduced to country music by Roy Acuff.

Wider usage of the name

American old-time musicians with the LoBro, a one-of-a-kind bass instrument modeled on the dobro

The name dobro is generically associated with the single-inverted-cone resonator design, as opposed to the tricone and biscuit designs, which are both similarly associated with the National brand.

Gibson now restricts the use of the name Dobro to its own product line, but care should be taken in interpreting documents written before 1993 or from outside the US. In these cases, the terms "dobro" and "dobroist" may not necessarily refer to a Gibson Dobro. For example, consider the references to the use of a dobro guitar on songs like "The Ballad of Curtis Lowe" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Valium Waltz" by the Old 97's, or "When Papa Played the Dobro" by Johnny Cash on the Ride This Train album. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits is famous for his guitar of this style, featured on the cover of the album Brothers in Arms.[2]

Modern instruments

As of 2006, many different makers including Gibson were manufacturing resonator guitars to the original inverted-cone design. Gibson also manufactures biscuit-style resonator guitars, but reserves the Dobro name for its inverted-cone models. These "Biscut" guitars, are often used for blues and are played vertically instead of horizontally like a "Spider" Bridge.

As well as recreating the traditional sounds and look, resonator guitars have also become the foundation for even further developments in the world of guitars. Many Dobro-style guitars are now hybrid electric guitars, and some manufacturers are adding strings to create 7- and 8-string resonator-style guitars.


  1. ^ Registration Number 0950801, registered January 16, 1973
  2. ^

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