Friday, February 29, 2008

Warning: dobro arcania ahead

Unless you're a dobro player or familiar with or care about Dobro/dobro history, the following is not likely to be of any interest. Please don't say you weren't warned.

The Dobro/dobro (I'll get into the reasons for caps-no caps in a sec) is a relatively new instrument, invented 80 years ago. However, it has a complex history of ownerships, and production rights. The Dobro is named for the Dopyera Brothers, who invented the coned, resonator guitar. Dobro also means "good" in Slovak.

For a long time, the only dobro one could buy was a Dobro. Therefore, the word became a generic term for a resonator guitar. The owners of the Dobro company vigiliantly tried to protect the name. Beverly King, a player of old-time country and bluegrass, once published a small photocopied newsletter called The Dobro Nut. Dobro made her change the name. References to Dobro had to be followed by the trademark sign.
Bluegrass Unlimited refers to dobros as resonator guitars, and will even put parentheses resonator guitar end parentheses in someone's quote if he or she says "dobro".

In the meantime, there are many luthiers making dobros, and there are several imports.
In the mid-90s, Gibson, makers of guitars, banjos, mandolins, bought the Dobro company and name and moved production from California to Nashville.
Gibson even went so far as to put its own name on the venerable Dobro logo.
Complaints about quality increased, and the number of available models shrank down to only 1.

I just noticed that for several months, Saga Music has been running ads in Bluegrass Unlimited for the Regal Black Lightning resonator guitar The ads refer to the instrument as "...a new Regal dobro..." note the lower case "d" and of course, the use of the word itself.
Is Gibson working to enforce the protection of its trademark, even though the Dobro franchise is a fraction of what it once was?
I would have to think that someone at Gibson has noticed the ads. In days gone by, the company would have swooped in with a cease and desist letter.
I think it's time to freely for any maker of resonator guitars to refer to these instruments as dobros.

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