Rare Glimpses at Resonator Guitar History


Ed. Note: Take this with a huge grain of salt!


Too late and too early; the sad story of the spun aluminum cones and cover plates of the resonator guitar.

1928 was a year of transition for stringed instruments. As orchestras were getting louder and louder, it became harder and harder for the lowly guitar to be heard above the din of the horns and woodwinds. It was about this time that the Dopera brothers invented the resonator guitar as a means of increasing the guitar’s volume by incorporating within the body a spun aluminum cone (see photo 1) which resonated within an enclosed sound chamber inside the guitar’s body, mechanically amplifying the sound and projecting it through a chrome plated cover plate (see photo 2) on the face of the guitar.

Photo 1
Photo 2

About the same time as the resonator guitar was born, the electrically amplified guitar made its appearance upon the scene and was coming into vogue; what could have been a sea change in the music industry, became a mere stagnant puddle. Simultaneously at the same time, the burgeoning automobile industry was merrily rolling along on vulcanized rubber tires mounted on wooden or steel wheels of 28 to 32 inches diameter. What could have been a propitious moment in music and/or automotive history never happened because of a mismatch in time. It was too late for the resonator guitar and too early for the advent of “Moon Disc” wheel covers (see photo 3).

Photo 3

One hundred and seven year old resident at the Evangeline Marmot Resistive Living Center in Cappybara, Virginia, Maynard Jerboa, (see Photo 4) was a 16 year old punch press apprentice at the Reynolds Aluminum Corporation in 1928. Jerboa said, “Jeez, I used to regularly change the punch press dies to make the resonator discs at the Regal Guitar plant, and if cars at that time had 12 inch wheels, I’m sure I coulda invented those Moon Disc hub caps like those lead sleds of the fifties (see photo 5.)” Unfortunately, Jerboa can no longer change his own underpants.

Photo 4
Photo 5

As it turned out, automobile wheels enjoyed a thirty-year progression of increasingly smaller diameter wheel sizes, reaching its nadir in 1962 with the low-profile 14 inch wheel. With the exception of a few British mini cars, wheel diameter never went as low as 12 inches so the excess production of resonator cones could never be utilized as wheel covers, often misnomered as “hub caps.” Hub caps are the small cups that cover the outer wheel bearings, and never exceed a few inches in diameter. If I may digress, as a side note, the trend to smaller and smaller wheels has reversed itself once again and it is now popular to have the biggest wheels that will fit under fenders to with lower and lower aspect tire ratios (see photo 6).

Photo 6

The early evolution of the resonator guitar cover plate designs had two major variations: the original as shown in photo 2; and later, a more modern ”Poinsetta” model (see photo 7), named for the flower it sort of resembles. A recent cover plate design variation resembles a certain seven leaf plant and is now gaining favor among Dobro pickers in Colorado, Washington State, and California (see photo 8).

Photo 7
Photo 8

This new version of the revised ”Poinsetta” cover plate design has been copyrighted by yours truly, but it is expected that there will be many copy-cat imitations by unscrupulous luthiers wishing to jump upon, and cash in on, this bandwagon before the DEA tries to open a new front on their ill-conceived and even more poorly executed conflict on pharmaceuticals. This country’s so called opioid crisis would quickly evaporate if this cover plate and it’s genre of music were more widely adopted and made available to the general population; pain management could reach a new high. But for the thousands of law enforcement personnel and corrections officers who would be relegated to the dole with the corresponding negative impact on the current Administration’s job statistics, the overwhelming majority of Americans now support such adoption.

Epilogue: Unfortunately, Maynard Jerboa passed away before this article was published; therefore, the planned video interview did not happen and the world will never know what more he planned to share with automotive buffs and music aficionados alike. He will be missed by all (except his health care attendant).

2 Responses

  • Dear Steve,

    You are the Art Buchwald of the esoteric and the maestro of the subtle understatement. Indeed you write quite well.

    However you must take care to insure that your tongue does not get lodged in your cheek.

    Best,

    Allan

  • Excellent article, Steve. Two dobro-related articles and one dobro heavy video in the same issue — that’s my kind of newsletter!

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