1932 Dobro Tenortrope model 60

The first National instruments – particularly the square-necked tricones – found an immediate following on their debut on 1927. Some of the finest Hawaiian-style players around, including the virtuoso Sol Hoopi, were seen flaunting their silvery new instruments at live shows and in photographs. When several founding employees of National left to form Dobro in 1928, the new company tried to attract prominent players to as endorsers. Hawaiian players never really warmed to the spider-bridge sound the way they did to National’s tricones, so Dobro signed on an endorser of a very different stamp: Cliff Edwards, also known as Ukulele Ike.

Dobro did make some ukuleles, but they were never a big part of the company’s sales. A somewhat more profitable item was the tenor guitar, an instrument which Edwards was seen to play occasionally (though many sources suggest that he strung it as a baritone ukulele). Instead of just putting Edwards’s name on an existing product, Dobro created a new design just for him: the Tenortrope. Company literature claimed that Edwards designed the instrument, but he was not often seen playing it. Most likely, he simply specified the round, banjo-like body and left the rest up to the Dopyera Brothers.

The Tenortrope was, effectively, a cross between a resonator guitar and a tenor banjo. As always with a Dopyera creation, however, there are a few quirks. One is the 20th-fret neck joint, which gives tenor players one more note than most tenor banjos. Another is the fingerboard extension, which includes a 21st fret and then a short unfretted bit before the cover plate; the two dots at this end hide screws that hold the board to the body. Finally, there is the dot marker at the 9th fret instead of the usual 10th – a Dopyera trademark that has confused the odd player for many decades.

While the spider-bridge resonator doesn’t share the banjo’s sharp attack and quick decay – a biscuit-bridge tenor will get you closer – the Tenortrope can be surprisingly loud when strummed and has a sweet sound that is heavy on the mids. It was offered in three variations: the plain model 45, the “French scroll” model 60, and the luxurious model 75 with gold engraved hardware. These models were introduced in 1929 and had their designations upgraded to nos. 50, 75 and 100, respectively, in 1932. All were withdrawn in 1934, probably because 4-string players were starting to prefer the tenor guitar.

This Tenortrope is a model 60, and its decoration is analogous to the model 65/66 guitar. The laminated body was sandblasted through a stencil, which gave it the appearance of having carved decoration. A lighter finish inside the sandblasted areas helped accentuate the excavation. All Tenortrope models are thin on the ground, but the deluxe models are especially rare. Some have Cliff Edwards’s name on the headstock as a separate decal from the Dobro logo; this one does not, apparently to accommodate the sandblasted pattern. This one is in extremely good condition, with just some buckle rash on the back. All parts are original except for the tailpiece, which was originally fitted to a Dobro tenor guitar.