The resonator guitar has a long history and it was first created as a method of making the humble acoustic guitar louder so that it could be heard when played with other band instruments. Don’t forget this is long before the advent of the modern electric guitar.
The first efforts in developing a resonating guitar were in the mid twenties by John Doperya, a Slovakian immigrant living in California. Doperya did several experiments which led to the first resonator, which had no less than 3 six inch aluminium cones – the term “Tricone” came later. The cones themselves were vibrated by the strings via the bridge. It’s a simple idea but worked beautifully and the sound level was significantly higher than the standard acoustic guitar. The next step was to mass produce the guitars, with Beauchamp and Doperya forming The National Corporation to manufacture the new resonator guitar. These new resonators were marketed as National Silver Amplifonic Guitars.
Four years later, in 1929, Dopeyra left the company to form another company called Dobro, this being an abbreviation of the term Doperya Brothers. Patents for the original guitar manufactured by National were still held by them and therefore Doperya developed a different type of resonator with a single cone. This cone was placed upside down within the guitar body and the bridge sat on the edge of the cone. The sound was very different and became extremely popular when playing bluegrass.
Dopeyra eventually had the last laugh since National found themselves in some financial trouble and he bought them to form the National Dobro Corporation. This new company manufactured thousands of resonator guitars over the next few decades before the demand for aluminium during the Second World War prevented them from obtaining the material which was key to the resonator cones. The company survived by making a number of different fretted instruments and did not actually begin manufacturing resonator guitars again until 1959.
Seven years later Dopeyra’s company was taken over by Mosrite for a brief period of three years before calling in the receivers. The Dopeyra Brothers regained the Dobro name in 1970 and began manufacturing under the moniker of OMI (The Original Musical Instrument Company) before Gibson acquired the name in 1988. Gibson continued manufacture of the resonator guitar.
Around the same time a new company called National Reso-Phonic Guitars relaunched the original National brand and manufacture has continued to this day.
Despite the obvious popularity of the electric guitar, the resonator remains the choice for many guitar players, having a very different and distinctive sound which is perfect for country, blues and bluegrass music.
Even amongst the family of resonators, there are many different sounds and the choice is a wide and varied one with different types of instrument being preferred by different players. Take a look at our reviews here.