Dobro Vs Dulcimer: How These Instruments Differ [2023 Guide]

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If you’re curious about the dobro vs dulcimer and how these instruments are different, you’ve come to the right post!

I’ve never played the dulcimer, but I have played a dobro guitar and I know these instruments are very different.

Also, if you’re curious about how the dobro compares to the slide guitar style, check out my post about dobro vs slide guitar.

But I decided to learn exactly how they differ and share it here on the blog!

Let’s get to it.

What Is a Dobro?

There are some confusions as to what dobro is. The term comes from the Slovakian language, and it means “good.” And it’s actually an instrument brand name, which later became a generic name for an instrument.

Slovak musician and inventor John Dopyera came up with the resonator. In the 1920s, guitar players were in dire need of more volume. No guitar player could compete with other instruments.

Dopyera’s solution was to add resonator cones to a guitar body. Additionally, the earliest resonator guitars had metal bodies. This increased the instrument’s output volume. But the main trick was still in the resonating cones. Wooden-bodied resonator guitars were very loud as well.

Dopyera designed and manufactured these instruments under the National brand. In 1929, he left the company and started Dobro. His most famous products were wooden-body single-cone resonator guitars.

The brand name became very popular. Eventually, all single-cone wooden-body resonator guitars got this nickname. “Dobro” is still a generic term for such instruments.

Dobro Vs Dulcimer: How Does a Dobro Sound?

Paul Beard Goldtone Roundneck Dobro Demo
Of course, the best way to get a sense of this instrument’s sound is to listen to it!

First and foremost, the dobro is an acoustic guitar. You can notice the main sonic characteristics of an acoustic guitar. However, it’s much louder and significantly brighter-sounding. Its metal resonating cones give a different twist to it. For instance, you can notice a sharper attack and louder noise when picking its strings.

How do You Play a Dobro?

In most cases, a dobro is played with a slide. With a regular guitar, you might have issues playing this technique. There’s a lack of output volume and sustain. However, metal cones on the body help with sound reproduction.

Additionally, you can notice a stronger attack on every note. And the instrument brings brightness into the sonic mix. As a result, you get a very unique tone. This makes the dobro popular among blues, bluegrass, and folk musicians. You can say the same thing about metal-bodied resonator guitars as well.

Of course, it’s not uncommon to see musicians playing dobro like any other guitar. You’re not obligated to exclusively play the slide technique on it. This makes it a great choice for anyone who needs a louder output on a regular guitar. Additionally, it also brings a lot of brightness.

Dobro Vs Dulcimer: Types of Dobros

Douglas Francisco playing 1930's National Square Neck at Norman's Rare Guitars
This video features a square-neck dobro.

There are two main types of dobros. These are:

A round-neck dobro has a normal neck. You can play it just like any other guitar. Be it regular or slide techniques, you hold the instrument to your body.

But a square neck dobro is a different story. As the name suggests, it comes with a rectangular neck. Additionally, it has a much higher string action.

It’s impossible to play this instrument the way you play a standard guitar. Instead, you hold it in a horizontal position in your lap or on a stand. In your fretting hand, you take a slide or a “tone bar.” Meanwhile, you implement the picking hand regularly. But you’re advised to use a thumb pick.

What Is a Dulcimer?

Amazing Hammered Dulcimer Musician - Joshua Messick
This is a hammered dulcimer.

The name “dulcimer” refers to two different types of instruments. Hammered dulcimers have trapezoid soundboards and strings stretched over them. The instrument lays in front of the musician. It’s played with mallets.

Appalachian Dulcimer - Amy Fabbri - The Mountain Traditions Project
This is an Appalachian dulcimer.

The Appalachian dulcimer is a different instrument. However, it’s based on some of the same principles. But at the same time, it also has bears a closer resemblance to a guitar than a hammered dulcimer. Most importantly, it’s a fretted stringed instrument with three or four strings.

As you have probably gathered, the Appalachian dulcimer is likely a more relevant instrument to compare to the dobro for this article. The instrument also has other names. Some call it a Kentucky dulcimer, a fretted dulcimer, a picked dulcimer, or even a “hog fiddle.”

Dobro Vs Dulcimer: Construction and How to Play a Dulcimer

This is a folk instrument with a lengthy history. The fretboard goes over the body, covering its entire length. It’s performed by pressing the frets and picking the strings, just like on a guitar.

The body is a resonator box with sound holes. However, it’s usually smaller than one on the guitar. The sound that it produces is also noticeably smoother.

Some of the modified versions have larger bodies. This refers to the so-called “resonator dulcimer.” This one even has a resonating device which helps with the volume and the tone.

The Appalachian dulcimer and its variants are usually played the same way. You place it horizontally on your lap, similar to the lap steel guitar. The fretting hand presses the frets, utilizing all five fingers. The picking hand plucks the strings. You can use both a plectrum and fingertips.

Additionally, you can also play the dulcimer with a slide or a tone bar. This makes it somewhat similar to a lap steel guitar.


There isn’t any “standard” tuning for a dulcimer. That said, certain tunings are more popular than others. Some of them even include two strings in unison. For instance, G3-G3-C3 is an old traditional tuning, and so is C4-G3-C3.

As years went by, the string naming was reversed. It’s now the usual way, going from a lower to a higher string. Additionally, dulcimer players preferred to use higher tunings. This includes D3-A3-A3 or D3-G3-D4.

Dobro Vs Dulcimer: How do These Instruments Compare?

Hammered dulcimers bear almost no resemblance to any guitar. The Appalachian dulcimer, however, is closer to a guitar.

This is a fretted stringed instrument. Although it has three or four strings, it can serve the same purpose as a guitar. The same goes for any of its variants.

We can compare the so-called “resonator” dulcimer to a square-neck dobro. Both instruments have wooden bodies and metal resonators. They are also held horizontally in a lap.

There are noticeable differences, however. Resonator dulcimers have four strings and the body follows the entire neck length. Their tone is also different. Although both are bright-sounding, the dulcimer sounds more like a banjo rather than a guitar.

On a dulcimer, you press the strings against the fretboard, just like on a regular guitar. However, it’s becoming more popular to play it with a tone bar or a slide. The use of this technique makes it closer to a square-neck dobro.


In short, these are two different instruments with some similarities.

In fact, a dulcimer and a square-neck dobro can serve the same purpose if played with a slide.

Do you own a dulcimer or dobro?

Let me know in the comments!

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