The Resonator Guitar : Resophonic Guitar, Dobro, National Guitar

Have you ever played a Resonator Guitar? Also known as at resophonic guitar, it was invented in the early 20s before The Electric Guitar came into being. Many of the Guitarists in the 20s and 30s used this Guitar so they could be heard better when playing in a band.

Blues legend Son House playing a Resonator

In the old days before The Electric Guitar came on the scene, If you can imagine a Guitar player who was playing a juke joint that was noisy, you can see why the louder Resonator Guitar was desirable. And to those so called legitimate Guitarists who read music, and played in large orchestras, and could barely be heard with an acoustic Guitar made of wood, with no amplification, the Resonator Guitar was heaven sent. So the Resonator Guitar caught on pretty fast.

The Hawaiian Guitar Players loved the Resonator Sound as a Slide Guitar. The Blues players would do their bottle neck style on the Resonator instrument, and the Guitar gave them a very special sound they loved. The old time Country Musicians Found the Dobro to be an instrument they wanted for their music. Before the Electric Guitar was invented, all genres of popular music used the Resonator Guitar.

Some famous Guitarists like George Barnes Played the Resonator Guitar before The Electric Guitar Came Into Being. I took Guitar Lessons from Harry Barnes, Brother to George Barnes. Harry Barnes told me that his Brother George Barnes Played a Resonator Guitar before Electric Guitar came into being. I'm sure there were other great Jazz guitarists who used the Resonator Guitar before the Electric Guitar Came on the Scene. Every Guitarist wanted to be heard when they played, and the Resonator Guitar allowed them to be heard in all types of Bands.

With the advent of the Electric Guitar, the Resonator Guitar went into near obscurity. The Lead Guitarists for popular country music Singer Roy Accuff, Brother Oswald, Played a Square Neck Dobro, a 1929 model, and this kept the instrument alive, at least to some degree. Roy Accuff made it big about 1938, on the Grand Ole Opry. Shot Jackson played a Square Neck Dobro behind Johnny And Jack in the very late 40s, or very early 50s. And the Slide Dobro Playing of Shot Jackson Caught everyone's ear; he had some unique slide guitar licks.

Brother Oswald and Shot Jackson were the only well known Dobro Players before Uncle Josh Graves came along and joined the Flatt and Scruggs Bluegrass Band showing the world what could be done on the instrument. Josh Graves inspired many people to play the instrument, and many players that were inspired by Uncle Josh Played both Blues and Bluegrass on the slide dobro.

Nashville started using the Dobro Resonator Guitars in the 60s, as a back up instrument. For a while, Dobro Licks were prevalent on most Country Music Recordings. Chet Atkins made some recordings with Resonator guitars. He managed to get a very special sound from the Guitar. Nashville used the Wooden Dobros, or Resonator Guitars, which were Round Neck Dobros. Of course the Blue Grass Slide Dobro Players use a Square Neck Wooden Dobro for they prefer the sound of this Dobro to the Sound of the all Steel National Guitar, or Resonator Guitar.

Jerry Douglas made some Blues type of Recordings in his "Under The Wire Album" in the 80s. I'm sure that many Blues Guitarists started playing the instrument after hearing the Blues that Genius Guitarists Jerry Douglas Recorded. Jerry Douglas is backup on many Bluegrass Recordings, As is Mike Auldridge. The fantastic Slide Dobro Playing of these Two Artistic Geniuses popularized the instrument. These two great Dobro Players also played on many Country and Pop Songs as backup artists.

The Dobro is one of the most versatile of all Musical Instruments. The sound of the Dobro fits very well in any kind of music, from a soft Ballad, Bluegrass, Blues, to the Very energetic Rock Music and even in Jazz, though the instrument is seldom used in Modern Jazz.

The sound of the Steel Resonator Guitar is very Unique. It's a great acoustic sound.

Resonator Guitars come in two types:

1. The Round Neck Resonator Guitar
2. The Square Neck Resonator Guitar

The Round Neck Resonator Guitar

Round Neck Resonator Guitar

This is a fretted model Dobro and is played exactly like a regular Guitar. Most Resonator Guitar Players have licks which suit the personality of this great Guitar. The All Steel National Guitar, or Resonator Guitar, has a kind of Gut Bucket Sound that is perfect for Blues, and so the Dobro made completely of Steel, with the tri cone Resonator setup, is the one preferred by most of the Old Time Country Blues Players.

The Old Time Country Blues Players would often hit many bottle neck licks in their songs. The bottle neck playing is accomplished by using a slide, sometimes a real Bottle Neck, and touching the strings with the slide as they pick. This gives a really different sound and can express some great emotions.

The Country Blues Players often tuned in an open chord when they were going to play extensive Bottle Neck Guitar on a Blues Number. There are as many different open chord tuning for Bottle Neck as there are Bottle Neck Blues Players. Each open chord tuning has it's own personality and lends itself to certain sounds that a Guitarists may be looking to get in a song. The tuning is often changed when the bottle neck Blues player is playing his many different songs.

Country Music Guitar Players who play the Round Neck Dobro often put some Blues Licks in their playing, as do many Rock Guitarists. Of course many Rock Guitarists use the bottle neck Technique on their Electric Guitars also. And a few Country Guitar Players do the same bottle neck technique on their Electric Guitars. Bottle Neck on the Electric Guitar is a very unique sound which can be quite effective when used in the right portions of a song.

The Square Neck Resonator Guitar

Square Neck Resonator Guitar

This model has the strings raised high off the neck for playing with a Steel Bar, Lap Style. Many tunings are used on this Square Neck Dobro, or Resonator Guitar. Bluegrass Dobro Players use the tuning that Uncle Josh Graves uses, the GBD GBD tuning. Jerry Douglas, Premier Slide Dobro Player, uses this tuning and can get about any chord he wants, which is pretty amazing in and of itself. Another tuning that is used is the open E tuning. For Blues I like the open E tuning with the 1st string tuned down to a D to get the 7th sound that is so prevalent in Blues. I also use the GBD GBD tuning. I have the open E tuning with the 1st string tuned down to a D on the Resonator Blues here on This E 7th tuning is perfect for the song, and other songs. I have began to use it on more songs

When the Resonator Guitar was going big, there were many great engraved designs on the Guitar which were made totally of metal. The Engravings on the guitars were a work of art. After the resurgence of the Resonator Guitar more beautiful engraving designs were put on the Dobro and National Guitars. Dire Straights put out an album with a Cover filled with a Picture of beautiful an All Metal Resonator Guitar that had very artistic Engravings on it. I would think this Album Cover on the Dire Straits Album Sold a Lot of All Metal Dobro Guitars.

For your information a man name of John Dopyera invented the Resonator Guitar. He first invented a kind of metal Resonator pickup for the Mechanical Phonograph. His invention converted the vibrations from the phonograph needle into sound that could be heard by the human ear, without the aid of mechanical headphones. His Phonograph Metal Resonator Pickup was the most superior mechanical pickup that existed for non electronic phonographs. It is historically recorded that the Resonator Pickup that John Dopyera invented had the best Sound Fidelity that had ever been produced by any Mechanical Phonograph.

Being a violin player, and therefore a creative type, the thought came to John Dopyera that he could use the Resonator in his violin. However that was not the case, so he placed it inside a Guitar. This worked out great, giving the Guitar a louder sound. The Resonator Guitar was the first attempt to make the Guitar loud enough to be heard in orchestras.

The first Resonator Guitar was the tri cone. Then in 1928 John Dopyera and his brothers founded another company and named it Dobro. He developed the single cone Resonator Guitar, and with the mechanics of this Guitar Achieved a purer tone than the Tri Cone Resonator. The first Resonator Guitar company had been called the "National Guitar Company." The name of the new company that was formed in 1928 used the First two letters of DOpyera , and the first three letters of BROthers as the name of the New Instrument, Dobro, with one cone which produced a purer tone. The Dobro Brand was made of Wood, except for the Resonator itself. The Wood Body of the Dobro added to the purer sound of the new Resonator Guitar. The National Guitar had been a Guitar Made of all metal. Little did the Dopyera Brothers know that the word Dobro is a word in many European Languages which basically means "Good."

The sound of the National Guitar, the all metal Guitar, with the three cones, has always been preferred by the Blues Players. The tone is not pure, but the dirtiness of the tone makes it a great Blues Instrument; just the right sound to play the Acoustic Country Blues that were so popular for many years, and are still popular today.

If you want to play some great slide acoustic Blues, get a resonator Guitar, they are fantastic.

There are many Guitar makers who are producing Hand Made Resonator Guitars, which look Identical to the Dobro. These Guitar Makers use the finest of woods, Resonators, and the other metal hardware that makes up a Resonator Guitar. However, Dobro is a trade name and can be used only by those who happen to own it, which is the Gibson Guitar Company at the Present time. Those who handcraft the Resonator Instruments usually refer to them as "Resophonic Guitars," or "Resonator Guitars." However, the Dobro name is how the instrument is most strongly identified. Dobro is just a neat sounding word that everyone seems to love. The Price of a handmade Dobro usually start around $2600.00..

The Demand for hand made Dobros is so great that you must put in your order, then wait at least a year for the instrument to be delivered. With some Guitar Makers, the wait can be from one and a half years to two full years to get delivery on a Hand Crafted Resonator Guitar. The Handcrafted Dobros can be found on the Internet.

The Gibson Guitar Company owns the Dobro Name and produces a number of Signature Models by the better known Dobro Players. There is also a National Guitar Company. And Tut Taylor, famous Dobro Player of many years, has a son who is Manufacturing A Dobro Type of Instrument. There are more manufacturers of Dobro Type instruments which you can find if you search the Internet.

There is a Regal Dobro. I own one of these instruments. My Regal was made in the 1980s. The neck had broke on the Regal Dobro I bought, but had been Repaired and re-enforced, made very strong, before I purchased the instrument. I got an extra guarantee since the Neck Had Broke. I bought the Regal from a very reputable Dealer who I knew would make good on the instrument if it should give me trouble. My Regal has never given me any trouble, and it sounds and plays great. The neck is in good shape, and I have owned the Guitar for four years now. The woods and the paint are very beautiful on my Regal Dobro.

I understand the Regal company made inexpensive Resonator Guitars in the 30s. The 30s model Dobros are now collectors instruments and are in great demand.

The Resonator Guitar, Resophonic Guitar, Dobro, National Guitar, comes in both All Steel Models, usually with beautiful Engravings, and in the Wood Models which have a much warmer and pure tone, but still the tone is different to a non Resonator Guitar for the sound is produced primarily by a Steel Resonator which is shaped much like a Speaker. There are Resonator Guitars which have three cones, or Resonators. The sound of the Tri Cone Resonator is different to the single cone Resonators. Many Artists who do Blues Licks in their music prefer the All Metal Round Neck Resonator Guitar, with the tri cone Resonator setup, and they play many bottle neck licks on the instrument.

Generally Speaking, A good Resonator Guitar sells for at least $1595.00, that is the starting price. They go up to around $2600.00 for the factory made models, about the same price that Handcrafted Resonator Guitars start in price. You can also get some reasonable ones these days for under $500.00.

The Melobar company has some Resonator Guitars that are priced under $1000.00. This is not a recommendation, for I have never played a Melobar Resonator Guitar and do not know what the instrument sounds like. However, it is a Dobro type instrument for under $1000.00. Melobar says it is a great instrument, and uses innovative technology, and the best Cones and Hardware Available. Melobar has a model that utilizes Fiberglass with Wood, their experimental model, which the company says is far superior in sound to a total wood body Resonator Guitar. Search the Internet on Melobar and you can find their Web Site, if you so desire.

Also see Bob Brozman --National Guitar Master
Informative artist site with useful links for players. Bob is an interesting and multi-faceted guitarist, considered by many to be the top player of National resonator guitars, and all other kinds of slide guitar, bottleneck and lap style. He tours worldwide all year, playing blues, Hawaiian, Caribbean, Asian, and African based music. Bob also authored The History and Artistry of National book.

Originally published in Edition #68 of Guitar News Weekly

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I have just bought a

I have just bought a bottleneck guitar and would like to know if the sound cones should touch the body
as these do and the sound is a bit dead.

Wow, the guitar looks awesome.

Hey thanks for sharing the guitar pics. I love collecting guitar pics and these are going to be my favs.


I love the sound of the resonator and Son House is an awesome blues player that you don't hear too much about. I like some of the new folk guys, like J.Tillman that use the resonator. It goes really well with a soulful vocal. Thanks for posting

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