What is a Dobro Guitar? A Guide To The Dobro Resonator Guitar

The Dobro is a unique and distinctive-sounding instrument that can trace its roots back to the 1920s. The design and sound of this guitar is attributed to the blacksmith Frank Dominguez who created it as a makeshift instrument for his three sons.

Dominguez is also credited with designing the Dobro’s resonator body, which employed a metal “bowl” to amplify the sound of the instrument.

Despite its humble beginnings, the Dobro resonator guitar went on to become one of the most popular stringed instruments in history.

Table of Contents


The Dobro was developed by the Dopiro Brothers when they made makeshift instruments for their brothers when they were children. Their father, who was a blacksmith by trade, noticed the boys’ delight in these handmade instruments and helped them make more. He later began to make adjustments based on requests from friends for replicas of the instrument he made for his sons.

In 1929, Dominguez began producing guitars in a shop at his home in Woodland, California and around the same time he took on a partner named John Dopyera, who had a background of building instruments and had partnered with Lloyd Loar to found his own guitar company.

Design and Structure:

The Dobro contains a single resonator tube, of the same diameter as the instrument’s body. The hump of this resonator is slightly less high than the rest of the instrument, with a slight slope along its top—a design which makes it more akin to a violin than many other guitars. This design also provides a relatively flat area that rests against the players left hand on most models.

A guitar made from weather-resistant plywood is preferred for transportation over those made from more sensitive materials, as a damaged Dobro can be irreparably damaged by changes in temperature and humidity.

Very carefully chosen woods are used for the tops of these instruments, with an emphasis placed on the wood’s ability to resist ‘weather checking’—a term used to describe the aging process that is believed to resemble that which results in cracks and other surface blemishes on old outdoor wood furniture.


The majority of the Dobro guitars use a twelve-string sound, but some models also include a ‘bass’ guitar that uses a ten-string or even octave (or ‘viola’) sound. Also, there are those designs which include an ‘electric’ feature, similar to those found on certain guitars made during the 1920s and 1930s.

The sound:

It is said that the tone of these instruments is influenced by many factors and could be described as U2 and Bob Dylan before them — delicate and truthful, with warm overtones and a distinct woody quality.

The instruments are used in both folk and country music, and can be heard on recordings by artists like Emmylou Harris, Mark Knopfler, the Incredible String Band, Taj Mahal, Doc Watson and others.


The Dobro guitars have a slightly different look from an ordinary guitar, and there are many features that set them apart. The first thing you will notice is the double-ended arm extended from the nut to the bridge of the instrument. This feature actually serves as a method to tune the instrument as well as sustain those tones that are unique to this kind of guitar.

The other part that will catch your eye is the square metal plate located near the base of the guitar. This piece allows for a bigger surface area to help amplify those resonating tones coming from your guitar.


  • The Dobro is known for its resonant tone, which is due to the materials that are used to make the instruments. The tops of these guitars are made from spruce, which is somewhat rare for stringed instruments; nevertheless it still produces a great tone.
  • There are no major drawbacks to owning one of these acoustic guitars, and many musicians like them due to their distinct sound. It can be difficult finding one in stores, but they are available online at companies like Amazon.
  • The tone is generally warmer than the sound of most other guitars; very similar to that of an acoustic guitar, but with a unique woody quality that can’t be created by an acoustic instrument.
  • The main advantage of these guitars would have to be the distinctive sound that they produce, which is unlike any other type of guitar. These instruments are also made with quality materials to ensure that it will last for many years to come.


  • The only disadvantage of this guitar would be its hefty price tag.
  • These guitars are not designed for beginners so it may be wise to save up and get one when you are already good at playing the guitar.


If you are looking for something special in your next instrument, then choosing a Dobro instrument may just be the perfect choice for you! Its distinct sound has captured the attention of many musicians who continue to use these sounds in their own works.