1936 Dobro Electric Hawaiian Guitar and Amp

The merger of National and Dobro shouldn’t have created any significant marketing challenges for the resulting corporation. Dobro guitars were intended to be cheaper than their National counterparts, and if there was actually a significant overlap in price range between the two brands, the difference in sound meant that Nationals could be sold alongside Dobros without redundancy. Still, for some reason, National-Dobro sold similar electric instruments under both names. In fact, the corporation’s first electric lap steel was introduced with a new name altogether: Supro. While intended to be cheaper than its National and Dobro counterparts, the cast aluminum Supro steel was similar to the National and Dobro models that followed it except for a smaller, less ornate body. The decision to produce a similar product under three brands is baffling, especially for an instrument that was still in its infancy and without wide demand.

The Dobro and National Electric Hawaiian guitars followed similar evolutionary paths in their brief production lives. The fretboards were lengthened, tone controls were added, and pickup height adjustment screws were introduced to improve string balance. Both had 25” scale lengths and real frets that would never actually come in contact with a string. Both were available with 6 or 7 strings and were intended to be paired with matching amplifiers. Initially, these amps featured rectangular black cabinets with resonator-style cover plates over the speakers; later models featured striped coverings and shield-shaped speaker cutouts. The Dobro and National amps were very similar, though the early models featured different cover plates over the speakers.

The steel above is probably a year or so younger than the amp below, which appears to be a very early example from 1935. Each sold for $67.50 plus $15 for a case for the steel; at $150 total, Dobro was at the same price as Gibson’s EH-150 set. Both the steel and the amp are in exceptionally good condition given their age, and both are in perfect working order. The amp has very low headroom, even with the steel’s moderate-output pickup. Aside from normal servicing on the amp (including a modern grounded power cord), neither piece has any damage or replacement parts. Like my National steel of the same era, this Dobro exhibits a casting flaw: a void at the surface.