4/02/2016

1960s Dobro Model 30 "Blue" Resonator Guitar




It's not often that I get production instruments in the shop that defy the usual snooping-around to figure out what (and when) they are. This particular Dobro is one of them, and while there are one or two other examples out on the net of similar guitars, there's not very much information about them. I scoured old catalogs to ID it, hopefully, as an early model 30 (meaning a steel body and -- in this case -- a biscuit cone), though the serial number at the headstock (0215) places it in that weird early OMI Dobro period between '67 and '70. I would imagine this was built probably right around '68 and it even has those nice, old-style, 60s Grover tuners as evidence of its age.

It's an interesting build in that it's much like a 14-fret 1930s Triolian in shape and sizing, though it's a little shallower (straight 3" depth all around), has that Dobro short 24 1/2" scale, and has a 10 1/2" soundwell with a removable "housing" for the biscuit cone that was obviously added-on at the factory to a body that was meant for a Dobro-style spider cone. It thus, also, uses a Dobro-style coverplate. It's also lighter-weight than a Triolian-style instrument. All of these changes add-up to a guitar that feels like a period Chicago-style/National-brand electric in the left hand and sounds like something between the loud, punchy zing of a steel-body '30s National and the warmer, strumming-friendly mwah of many '70s round-neck Dobros.


I forgot to mention that the original metallic-blue paint is also darn cool, right? It was probably some sort of a cyan to begin with.

Work included a lot of the usual for an older resonator: reseating/resetting the neck's through-body dowel (and it's "islands"), a fret level/dress and setup, tightening-up the fretboard extension to the body, relocating the K&K resonator pickup that was hastily-installed to a better, more functional, position, compensating and adjusting the saddle, a bunch of cleaning, and slightly modifying the way the dowel sat inside and its relation to the drop-in "soundwell" for the biscuit cone so that it wasn't as loosey-goosey.

It now plays spot-on with a dead-straight neck (adjustable rod), is strung with a balanced-tension set of 12s-comparable strings, and plays with 3/32" EA and 1/16" DGBE action at the 12th fret. The nut is 1 3/4" but the neck is actually quite slim (front to back) and has a C/D hybrid shape that's very fast.



The board is Brazilian rosewood and the dots are faux-pearl. The frets are all in good order.


The stamped-style f-holes are smaller than on old Nationals.



I've never seen another biscuit-coned Dobro from this era use a Dobro-style coverplate in quite this way. Usually they just leave them as-is, but this one has been obviously recut (probably at the factory) to suit the biscuit's shape.

The maple biscuit itself was thinned-up at one point and I think it was to make it resonate a little better so the old K&K reso pickup that was installed on the surface (before) would sound better. Nice try, but no cigar, there, so I relocated it.

The cone itself is actually non-original but still the original 10 1/2" size. The one under the hood right now is a newer Beard cone and it sounds great and is in perfect health.


I didn't need to string this one up "backwards" at the tailpiece, but it keeps the tail off of the coverplate and also lets me stuff a bit of string-end muting foam up under the lip of the tail which helps cut down on overtone explosions.





The smartest design decision made by Dobro is where they placed the strap button on these guys. It's actually a disguised "neck bolt" as it runs straight through the back, into a wooden spacer block, and then into the dowel/neck heel area. This keeps the neck angle nice and pat and solves almost all of the various age-related trouble that metal-bodied guitars (read: old Nationals!) have with bad neck angles.

Ironically, the "new" Nationals don't have this super-simple modernized feature and most of the ones that come in for setup work have neck joints that have drifted. When this guitar came in the action was actually almost OK for playing as the neck angle was good, but it had all sorts of other non-maintenance issues to fix before it was dialed-in.







The guitar cleaned-up well but it still has nicks, dings, and a bit of grunge here and there. Note the mark left by the gunk used to hold an external jack on the guitar's side and how I've drilled a jack-hole and installed it internally instead.

Just FYI, the K&K biscuit-cone pickup is ordinarily installed with a screw right into the top of the biscuit. My experience is that this gives a thin sound. I installed mine on the rear of the cone and used the screw that mounts the biscuit to the cone to apply pressure to it. The result is a tidier install and far, far, far better tone and output. It's a win-win.

1 comment:

Jerry said...

I have the twin to this guitar. The only differences are the resonator cover on mine isn't cut round around the biscuit and it's never had a pickup installed. Other than that, exactly the same, color and everything. Mine has the original hard case and is in near perfect condition.