The Dobro brand later also appeared, quite legitimately, on other instruments, notably electric lap-steel guitars and solid-body electric guitars and on other resonator instruments such as Safari resonator mandolins.
When Gibson acquired the name in 1993, the company announced that it would defend its right to the Dobro's exclusive use.
The name originated in 1928 when the Dopyera brothers formed the Dobro Manufacturing Company. "Dobro" is both a contraction of "Dopyera brothers" and a word meaning "good" in their native Slovak language. An early company motto was "Dobro means good in any language."
The Dobro was the third resonator guitar design by John Dopyera, the inventor of the resonator guitar, but the second to enter production. Unlike his earlier tricone design, the Dobro had a single resonator cone and it was inverted, with its concave surface facing up. The Dobro company described this as a bowl shaped resonator.
The Dobro was louder than the tricone and cheaper to produce. Cost of manufacture had, in Dopyera's opinion, priced the resonator guitar beyond the reach of many players, and his failure to convince his fellow directors at the National String Instrument Corporation to produce a single-cone version was part of his motivation for leaving.
Since National had applied for a patent on the single cone (US patent #1,808,756), Dopyera had to develop an alternative design, which he did by inverting the cone so that rather than having the strings rest on the apex of the cone as the National method did, they rested on a cast aluminum spider that had eight legs sitting on the perimeter of the upside-down cone (US patent #1,896,484).
In the following years both Dobro and National built a wide variety of metal- and wood-bodied single-cone guitars, while National also continued with the tricone for a time. Both companies sourced many components from National director Adolph Rickenbacher and John Dopyera continued to be a major shareholder in National. By 1934 the Dopyera brothers had gained control of both National and Dobro and they merged the companies to form the National-Dobro Corporation.
From the outset, wooden bodies had been sourced from existing guitar manufacturers, particularly the plywood student guitar bodies made by the Regal Musical Instrument Company. Dobro had granted Regal a license to manufacture resonator instruments, and by 1937, it was the only manufacturer, and the license was officially made exclusive. Regal-manufactured resonator instruments continued to be sold under many names, including Regal, Dobro, Old Kraftsman, and Ward. However all production of resonator guitars ceased following the US entry into the Second World War in 1941.
Emil Dopyera (also known as Ed Dopera) manufactured Dobros from 1959 under the brand name Dopera's Original before selling the company and name to Semie Moseley, who merged it with his Mosrite guitar company and manufactured Dobros for a time. Meanwhile, in 1967, Rudy and Emil Dopyera formed the Original Musical Instrument Company (OMI) to manufacture resonator guitars, which were at first branded Hound Dog. However, in 1970, they again acquired the Dobro name, Mosrite having gone into temporary liquidation.
OMI, together with the Dobro name, was acquired by the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1993. They renamed the company Original Acoustic Instruments and moved production to Nashville. Gibson now uses the name Dobro only for models with the inverted-cone design used originally by the Dobro Manufacturing Company. Gibson also manufactures biscuit-style single-resonator guitars, but it sells them under names such as Hound Dog and Epiphone.
The Dobro is often used in a clichéd manner in movies or television shows to indicate that the scene has shifted to a Southern American locale or landscape, whether wilderness or a run-down town (usually in the summer). When this happens, it's playing a note that lazily slides upward a perfect fourth, generally followed by a few plucked chords descending to the original note.
Gibson now restricts the use of the name Dobro to its own product line, but care should be taken in interpreting documents written before 1993 or from outside the US. In these cases, the terms "dobro" and "dobroist" may not necessarily refer to a Gibson Dobro. For example, consider the references to the use of a dobro guitar on "The Ballad of Curtis Loew" by Lynyrd Skynyrd on the Second Helping album or "When Papa Played the Dobro" by Johnny Cash on the Ride This Train album.
When Gibson informed other dobro guitar makers of their intention to reserve exclusive rights to the Dobro name, some players began to refer to their instruments as TIFKAD guitars, meaning the Instrument Formerly Known as Dobro.
As well as recreating the traditional sounds and look, resonator guitars have also become the foundation for even further developments in the world of guitars. Many Dobro-style guitars are now hybrid electric guitars, and some manufacturers are adding strings to create 7- and 8-string resonator-style guitars.