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The Bluegrass Dobro

The Bluegrass Dobro

America’s Second Native Instrument

by Bobby Wolfe

Originally published in American Lutherie #5, 1986 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie, Volume One, 2000

There is a little ditty known as “The Duck Principle.” It says: If it looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck. Well, since the Dobro only looks like a guitar, and even in this respect with significant differences, and doesn’t qualify in the other ways, I say it’s not a duck.

Seriously, in my opinion, the mechanically amplified instrument known as the Dobro does qualify as America’s second native instrument.

This article is designed to acquaint you with the Dobro and to provide information on common repair and setup needs of the instrument. Today, in addition to the members of The Original Family building the original instrument, there are many individuals building their versions. Most of these people have their own ideas and opinions about what works best. Therefore, I am not presenting my ideas, experiences, and working practices as the “last word.”

First, let’s define Dobro. It is a registered brand name that is now also used generically to describe most resonator-type guitars. The name comes from the Dopera (Dopyera) brothers. There are five Dopera brothers. There are five letters in Dobro. The word dobro means “good” in their native Slavic language. Take your pick!

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