If you’re curious about dobro vs slide guitar, this post is for you.
There seems to be some confusion about what exactly a dobro is.
I’ll do my best to clarify in the following sections and then explain how this instrument is related to slide guitar.
Let’s get to it!
What Is Dobro?
The actual name “Dobro” has been somewhat misused by guitar players and guitar fans these days. It’s generally an accepted generic term for resonator guitars. However, the “dobro” name, with a lowercase “d,” actually comes from a brand name.
It goes way back to the 1920s when John Dopyera, a Slovak-American, started his instrument manufacturing business. The brand name “Dobro” is a word from Slovak and other Slavic languages, which translates to “good.”
Dopyera pretty much invented the so-called resonator guitars. These are still available today in a few different shapes and forms. These days, the term “dobro” is used for any wooden-bodied resonator guitars that have one resonator cone. As for the brand, Dobro is currently owned by Gibson.
You can get a sense of the sound of a Dobro resonator guitar in the video below.
What Are Resonator Guitars?
In order to fully understand what dobro actually is, let’s first take a closer look at resonator guitars. Aside from the famous brand name, the dobro is actually a type of resonator guitar, as explained above.
But what are resonator guitars? Don’t all acoustic guitars resonate? In order to explain this, we need to go to the 1920s. Back then, there were no electric guitars. And amplifying an acoustic guitar in an orchestra or a band was pretty difficult. The answer to this problem came in the form of resonator guitars.
John Dopyera made these instruments when musician and inventor George Beauchamp was looking for ways to amplify the output volume of guitars. The solution came in form of metal resonators.
Other solutions also included guitars with entirely metal bodies. Of course, they also came with resonators on the body. Dopyera and Beauchamp came up with the tricone design and these guitars were produced by their company called National. Later variants included single-cone designs. Eventually, Dopyera began producing single inverted-cone resonators under the Dobro brand. These were used for both metal and wooden-bodied guitars.
After a while, the name of the brand, Dobro, became synonymous with the wooden-bodied resonator guitars. These all feature single inverted-cone resonators. They are also known as “spider” resonators. These are the most widespread variant.
What Makes Resonator Guitars So Special?
Various types of resonator guitars are still available on the market today. Yes, these days we have ways of amplifying acoustic guitars. However, resonator guitars still have a very desirable tone. Resonator guitars are usually popular among blues, country, bluegrass, and folk musicians. However, they also find their way into other genres when needed.
But no matter the type of resonator guitar, they are all known for two things. Their output volume is significantly louder and they sound really bright. This enabled them to cut through the mix easily so they became popular among guitarists who played with larger bands.
Slide guitar refers to the specific technique of playing with a slide. Slide guitar does not refer to a particular type of instrument. However, there are guitar types that are designed to be played with a slide. These are pedal steel and lap steel guitars.
The technique, also referred to as the “bottleneck” style, requires the use of a hard smooth object that goes over the strings. These are usually either metal or glass objects (typically slides). A slide is a hollow cylinder that goes over one of the fingers on your fretting hand.
However, it’s a bit different with pedal steel and lap steel guitars. Instead of slides, we have specialized steel bars. These are also called “tone bars.” But the concept remains the same. Both slides and tone bars only touch the strings without pressing them against the frets.
As a result, you get a true glissando and a true vibrato. This means that you can also play the “in-between” notes. It’s more than just having 12 notes in an octave. This also makes it a more challenging technique in terms of getting a hang of proper intonation.
Check out the below video for a fun demo of slide guitar.
And if you want to explore slide guitar more, check out my post about alternate tunings for the slide guitar.
Dobro vs. Slide Guitar
It’s not uncommon to find less knowledgeable guitar players asking about the difference between the dobro and slide guitar. However, the question itself is flawed. As explained, the dobro is a generic term for wooden-bodied resonator guitars. Meanwhile, “slide guitar” refers to the technique of playing.
But here’s the interesting part. You can’t really use just any guitar for slide playing. Well, you could, but you’d have a hard time playing it.
This goes for both acoustic and electric guitars. It’s a challenging technique and it gets really hard to get a louder output. The guitar should have a higher string action and it should resonate more.
This is why resonator guitars are popular for slide playing. This is especially the case with dobro guitars. They are common among blues guitarists playing this technique.
You can check out Charlie Parr playing slide guitar on a resonator in the video below.
Types of Dobro Guitars
You can play the round-neck one the usual way. You implement the fretting and picking hands the way you would on any other guitar. However, it’s a bit different with square-neck dobros. You play them horizontally, just like lap steel guitars. For this purpose, you should use a slide or a tone bar.
Square-neck dobros also have a very high string action. In fact, there’s no chance to play them like regular guitars. You can try, but that’s not their design.
Dobro vs Slide Guitar: Conclusion
I hope this post has clarified the difference between a dobro vs slide guitar.
If you have other questions about either resonator guitars or slide guitar, please let me know in the comments!