August 05, 2009

Dobro Guitar Music - Humble Beginnings and a History of Sonic Influences

Any bluegrass fan will tell you that there is nothing like the sound of a dobro. Looks like a guitar, plays like a steel guitar and adds a truly unique dimension to a song. Here we will look at the inception of the design and the history of it's use in recording and performing.


John Dopyera invented the resonator guitar around the late 1920s based on a request from steel guitar great George Beauchamp. Together, they formed the National String Instrument Corporation and manufactured these under a brand name of National.

Dopyera left National in 1928 and formed the Dobro Manufacturing Company with his three brothers. The name "Dobro" is a contraction for "Dopyera Brothers". It also means "good" in the Slovak language. The word "Dobro" is now used in reference to any resonator guitar, regardless of maker.

The Dobro was introduced to country music in the 1930's by Bashful Brother Oswald as he played with Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys. In this genre, the steel guitar Dobro has largely replaced the dobro. However, it is still used today, just to a lesser degree.

Around this same time period, dobros were being used by blues musicians like Bukka White and the legendary Bo Carter. This was mainly in the southern part of the United States around Louisiana and the deltas of Mississippi. Most players were using acoustic guitars, but electricity was scarce in larger venues and the dobro was louder, thus making it the choice of live blues performers.

This was significant since the dobro is normally played as a lap top instrument. These blues players began to play them as standard guitars, in the upright position. Due to the high action of the strings, all of them used either a slide or a "bottle neck" on the fret board. The sound was pleasant and is still heard today in the southern blues genre.

In the mid 1950s, a fellow named Josh Graves introduced the dobro to bluegrass music. The effect was stupendous and dobro music became a staple of bluegrass almost overnight. Graves had been playing with Flatt & Scruggs at the time. He took Earl Scruggs' three finger picking style for the banjo and applied it to the dobro. This is the way they are played today with one notable exception in Tut Taylor, who used a flat pick.

As you can see, the dobro is an all American creation with roots in the southern United States. The inventor, John Dopyera, was an immigrant but made his mark on the music world with this instrument. First manufacturing them with George Beauchamp, then with his brothers and coined the name "dobro".

Beauchamp attempted to usurp the name, but after a lot of legal wrangling, Dopyera took control of Beauchamp's company. The Gibson Guitar Company acquired the right to make the dobro in 1993, stating that they retained the rights to the trademark name "Dobro". Gibson now manufactures several models under the Dobro name, a few of the cheaper Hound Dog models and another line as Epiphone.

Dobro music is sweet to the ear and the instruments are a treat to the eyes. Even though they are played today, it is best to listen to the great players of the 1920s, 30s and 40s.
To find out more about dobro music, visit: Dobro Music .com

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