If you’re curious about dobro vs resonator guitars and how they differ, this is the post for you!
I actually wasn’t totally clear on the difference between a dobro and resonator, so I thought I’d investigate the issue myself and post my findings here on the blog.
I’ll further discuss the differences between these terms in the sections below.
How Resonator Guitars Came to Be
Before modern amplification, guitars had volume issues.
In the 1920s, the answer came in the form of so-called resophonic guitars. These came with modified resonance boxes.
These resonant boxes had specially designed metal cones. And cones enhanced the sound projection of these guitars.
The amplification result of these cones was impressive! Eventually, the resophonic guitar became the standard for guitar players of the era, particularly for guitarists in big bands.
For more detail on this, check out the history of dobros and resonator guitars in my article about them.
Dobro vs Resonator Guitars: What are the Differences?
So what are the differences between dobros and resonator guitars? Many are asking this question. However, the question doesn’t really make much sense.
Technically, a “dobro” is a type of resonator guitar. When you say “dobro,” you’re referring to single-resonator wooden-bodied acoustic guitars. These can be either “spider” or “biscuit” (reversed) cones.
There’s another way to think about this is. A dobro is a type of resonator guitar, but not all resonator guitars are dobros.
Other resonator guitars can have more cones and metal bodies. Thus, when musicians make distinctions between a dobro and resonator guitars. they’re actually comparing one type of resonator guitar with another.
These days, wooden-bodied resonators only come with one cone. Therefore, the term, dobro, is interchangeable with a wooden-bodied resonator guitar.
So it’s not that hard to make this distinction. In the practical sense, we have two categories. These are dobros and metal-bodied resonator guitars.
Resonator Guitar Strings
Both instruments use the same string spacing typical of regular guitars.
Resonator strings are often made out of the phosphor bronze alloy. This gets the most out of these instruments’ physical characteristics. Resonator guitar strings are usually thicker, especially on the treble side. The gauges are typically .016-.056 or .017-.056.
Regular acoustic guitar strings could also work. However, you wouldn’t get the desired tone with them.
Dobro vs. Metal-Bodied Resonator: Sound Comparison
The tone difference between dobros and metal-bodied resonator guitars is noticeable. For instance, metal-bodied ones have a slightly darker tone. But they still have a sharp attack. At some points, they even sound like electric guitars. Check it out below:
In this video, you can also notice their sustain. This is ideal for slide players.
Below, we can notice how dobros sound more like a regular guitar. The wooden body construction helps.
Both dobro and metal-bodied guitars are roughly the same price. Their prices are typically on par with medium-quality guitars. But of course, there are expensive variants on the market. It just depends on what you’re looking for.
Check out the Gretsch’s Boxcar Model for a dobro reference.
Check out the Recording King’s RM-997 Model for a metal-bodied reference.
Dobro vs Resonator: Learning Materials
Considering that both instruments share many things in common with the guitar, you can use the same fingering, picking, and strumming principles.
Meanwhile, check out the Bluegrass guitar methods.
Square vs Round Necks
Now, round or squared necks are an important distinction. But I’ll boil it down to this:
Round-neck resonator guitars have regular necks just like an acoustic guitar! Meanwhile, squared-neck ones are a completely different deal.
Squared-neck guitars come with (you’ve guessed it) square necks. You can’t play them the regular way. It’s because their action is much higher compared to other guitars. You hold them horizontally in your lap and use a slide or a “tone bar.” In some ways, they’re close to lap steel guitars.
Yes, you can press the strings against the frets on squared necks. But you wouldn’t get a remotely decent tone out of them.
What’s really cool is that you can also play round-neck resonators the same exact way. And that’s the beauty of wooden-bodied dobros and metal-bodied resonator guitars. Both regular and lap steel playing approaches are allowed. And you can choose what works for you the best.
Which Instrument Should You Pursue?
Essentially, the tone is the main point of difference. But there’s no “better” or “worse” option here. Both are good in their own way.
In conclusion, all resonator guitar models are a great choice for all bluegrass, blues, and folk players out there.
You should try both the dobro and other resonators and then see which one fits your needs better! But in the end, it all comes down to the tone, the feel, and your preferences regarding both. That’s all there is to it.
Feel free to comment below if you have further questions about dobros or other resonator guitars!