Missing image
John Hammond album cover, showing a dobro

Dobro® is a trade name, originally used by the Dopyera brothers and now owned by Gibson Guitar Corporation. In common usage, the term "dobro" has come to refer to a certain type of acoustic guitar with a metal resonator set into the body; the proper generic name for the instrument is "resonator guitar" or "resophonic guitar". Unlike the traditional guitar, the bridge of a resophonic guitar over which the strings pass is attached to a reinforced metal resonator which produces and amplifies the sound; the body of the guitar does not play a significant role. In this sense, the dobro is actually more akin to a banjo with its resonating skin than a guitar, and the tonal quality of the dobro reflects this. The original intent was to produce a louder sound that could compete with the rest of the band, but because the electric guitar was developed around the same time, resonator guitars never became widely popular.

Today resonator guitars are typically played with a steel bar or slide, rather than by fretting the strings with the fingers. The instrument is also sometimes refered to as a "Hawaiian guitar". Dobro guitars come in either a 'squareneck' (or 'bluegrass') style, or 'roundneck' variety, more often used in blues music. The squareneck dobro has strings which are raised a centimeter or more over the fingerboard. The playing position of this type of dobro is with the instrument held turned on its back with the strings facing up.


The dobro in bluegrass music

The dobro was introduced to bluegrass music by Josh Graves, who played with Flatt and Scruggs, in the mid-1950s. Graves utilized the hard-driving, syncopated three-finger picking style developed by Earl Scruggs for the five-string banjo. Modern dobroists continue to play the instrument this way, with one notable exception being Tut Taylor who plays with a flat pick.

Tuning for the dobro within the bluegrass genre is most often an open G with the strings pitched to G B D G B D , from the lowest to highest. Occasionally variant tunings are used, such as an open D; F# A D F# A D.

Other notable bluegrass players include Mike Auldridge, Jerry Douglas, and Rob Ickes.

The dobro was also used in older country music, notably by "Brother Oswald" of Roy Acuff's band, but has been largely supplanted by the pedal steel guitar.

Missing image
Bukka White album cover, showing a dobro

The dobro in blues music

The dobro is also significant to the world of blues music, particularly the southern style of blues that grew out of the Mississippi Delta and in Louisiana. Unlike country and bluegrass dobro players, blues players play the dobro in the standard guitar position, with the strings facing away from the player. Many use slides or bottlenecks, although some do not. Many players in the 1920s and 1930's, including the great Son House, used the instruments because they were louder than standard acoustic guitars, which enabled them to play for a larger crowd in areas that did not yet have electricity for amplifiers. The instrument is still used by some blues players, notably Taj Mahal and Alvin Hart.

Missing image
Son House holding a dobro

Dobro/resonator players


  • Often used in a cliched manner, a dobro will be heard as soon as the scene in a movie or t.v. show switches to a Southern American landscape, whether wilderness or a run-down town (usually in the summer), it will be heard playing a note that lazily slides upward a fourth , generally followed by a few plucked chords descending downward to the original dobro


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