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Dobro Vs Mandolin: How These Instruments Differ [2021 Guide]

If you’re curious about the dobro vs mandolin, this post is for you!

I actually don’t own a dobro, but I have played them and would love to own one.

And I did own a mandolin for about a decade and really enjoyed the instrument!

But I decided to sell my mandolin and purchase a mando-guitar instead.

That said, I am very familiar with both instruments and thought I’d compare them in this post!

Although both are string instruments and have some similarities, dobro guitars and mandolins differ in many aspects.

To better understand the difference between the two, I will briefly look at the most important and distinguishable features of each instrument individually.

Then I’ll compare them.

Dobro Guitars

Dobro is one of the most famous and recognizable resonator brands out there. 

The Dopyera brothers founded Dobro, a guitar manufacturing company, in the 1920s. The company became part of Gibson in 1993.

These guitars were made in a time when guitar amplifiers did not exist. The reason being that standard acoustic and hollow-body guitars were not loud enough to match the brass instruments.

So they added metal cones, also known as resonators, to increase the volume of the guitar body. This is where they got the name “resonator” from.

Unlike the first resonator guitars which have three metal cones (tricone) and are made entirely of metal, the Dobro has a wooden body and only one cone and a “bowl-shaped” metal plate.

This system is significantly louder than the tricone model and cheaper to produce as well.

For these two reasons, the dobro guitar is the most popular resonator guitar on the market.

In fact, we now use the very word “dobro” to refer to any resonator guitar.

Mandolin

The mandolin is a small wooden string instrument from the lute family – the distant ancestors of the guitar.

The form of the mandolin we know today evolved in the 18th century from the 16th-century mandora.

In a short time, it became the most popular lute instrument in Western Europe, especially in Italy, France, and Germany.

There are many varieties of the same instrument all over the world as part of folk music.

With the Italian emigration to America in the late 19th century, the popular Neapolitan mandolin spread like wildfire.

This type of mandolin has become one of the most dominant instruments in American folklore.

The next evolution of the mandolin occurred in the early 20th century when Gibson created the Gibson “A-4” model.

This revolutionary type of mandolin differs from the Italian models mostly in its body.

Unlike the traditional bowl-back form, the A-4 has a flat back.

This change made the mandolin a great well-balanced resonant instrument.

Dobro Vs Mandolin: What do they have in common?

Before we take a look at the differences between the Dobro and the Mandolin, let’s take a look at their similarities.

These two string instruments established a strong connection through the companies that produced them in parallel.

The most obvious similarities are that they are steel-stringed fretted instruments.

Plus, with the introduction of resonator guitars, resonator mandolins came into existence as well.

The purpose of the resonator mandolins was the same as for the guitars – to create a loud acoustic instrument that would match the volume of brass instruments, piano, or even drums.

Also, these instruments have genre overlap.

Both the dobro and the mandolin are a big part of American folk and bluegrass music.

Dobro Vs Mandolin: How do these instruments differ?

To make it easier for us to focus on the differences between the Dobro and the Mandolin, I have divided them into 7 sub-points.

Construction

Both instruments have a headstock, a fretboard, a hollow body with a soundhole, and a saddle.

The difference is that dobro guitars always have a single metal cone.

Most mandolins are made entirely of wood, with the exception of the resonator mandolins.

Resonator mandolins have a metal cone as well.

Also, you can remove the saddle of the mandolin and hold it only by the pressure of the strings.

The saddle of the dobro guitars is static.

In other words, guitars are usually fixed bridge instruments whereas mandolins are floating bridge instruments.

Strings

The most significant string difference between these instruments is the number of strings.

A standard Dobro guitar has 6 steel strings.

The standard mandolin has 4 doubled steel strings, 8 in total.

Tuning

A dobro guitar has a standard guitar tuning – E A D G B E.

In addition to this, there are three other popular alternate tunings – open D, open G, and open E.

D tuning – D A D F # A D

G tuning – D G D G B D

E tuning – E B E G # B E

The mandolin is tuned the same as the violin – G-D-A-E.

But because the mandolin has 4 doubled strings, the strings will be tuned in the following order – GG-DD-AA-EE.

Just like the guitar, the mandolin has alternate tuning as well.

The most popular are G-D-A-D, A-D-A-E, G-D-G-D, and G-D-G-B

Size

A standard dobro guitar is around 40 inches (101 cm) long.

In contrast, a mandolin is about half as long, around 22 inches (55 cm).

Body type

Although there are flat-back mandolins, most of the mandolins have a bowl-shaped back which is not the case with the Dobro guitar.

Material 

Much of the quality of the instruments depends on the material from which they are made.

With dobros and mandolins, the type of wood varies depending on the budget.

The most common materials for a good wooden stringed instrument are mahogany, spruce, maple, rosewood, etc.

There are also resonator guitars that are made almost entirely of metal (brass, bronze, aluminum, steel) with the exception of the neck and the fretboard.

Sound

Finally, we must mention that these two instruments have very different sounds.

The sound that the Dobro produces is really loud and metal-sharp that meets the needs of the slide and bluegrass guitarists as you can tell in the video below.

The mandolin is one octave higher than the guitar and the sound is brighter.

This makes the mandolin a great lead instrument.

You can get a sense of the sound of the mandolin in the video below.

Dobro Vs Mandolin: Conclusion

Although they have some similarities, the dobro and the mandolin are very different instruments.

I hope this guide has helped you understand their similarities and differences.

Let me know if you have questions in the comments below!

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