Tampa Red and the birth of resonator guitars

“Interesting, keep up the good stuff.”
ResonatorGuitarGuide @ResonatorGuide, October 5, 2013. 

“The story of National/Dobro/Rickenbacher guitars would make a great movie. Roaring 20s, Great Depression, etc.”
Al (@Resoguitar), October 5, 2013.

“Great post! Worth also exploring the hoops Dopyera had to jump through in launching the Dobro not to compete with HIS OWN patent.”
ResonatorGuitarGuide @ResonatorGuide October 1, 2013.

“Awesome reading here Paul.”
 DJ Bob @zczbob September 27, 2013.

BLUESMUSE38.  A kind tweet about last week’s blog from Al@resoguitar prompted this latest post.
Al’s Twitter profile says he is a resonator guitar enthusiast, “National,
Dobro, etc.” so I thought why not throw in a few facts about resonators gleaned
while researching How Blues Evolved Volume Two?

Al probably knows much
of this, but the problem with acoustic guitars in the pre-electric era was that
they were always drowned out by the rest of the band. Only when Sylvester
Weaver was recorded in

The first recorded blues guitar from 1923.

1923 playing individual acoustic slide guitar with a
knife, and picking out individual notes, were the unbounded possibilities of
the blues guitar unveiled to the world. See From Russia With Love (14 May

One guitarist, in
particular, who wanted a louder sound was a white 26-year-old lap-steel player,
originally from Texas, called George Beauchamp. It was 1925 and George, now
based in Los Angeles, wanted to stop his Hawaiian guitar-playing being
overwhelmed by brass and reeds. A former vaudevillian (as were most musicians in
those days), George Beauchamp approached a 32-year-old Slovakian inventor and
instrument maker, who had moved to L.A., to help solve the problem.
   This was John Dopyera and his solution was
to create his resophonic or resonator guitar, an instrument three or four times
louder than conventional acoustic guitars. The extra sound was due to the three
amplifying metal cones Dopyera put under the bridge. With George Beauchamp, John
Dopyera and his brothers founded the National Stringed Instrument Corporation and,
in 1927, they launched the National resonator.
This was a guitar perfect
for playing blues, as part-African-American blues pioneer Tampa Red

Tampa red & resonator

the following year, becoming the first black guitarist to buy one in 1928. Growing
up in Tampa, Florida, as Hudson Woodbridge, Tampa Red acquired his nickname due
to his light-coloured reddish skin. He had started off accompanying the
formidable Ma Rainey, as one of her Blues Assassinators, and now specialised in
hokum blues, a near-the-bone comic blues of the sort mentioned in Dirty Blues
Lyrics and Filthy Rugby Songs (21 August archive).

Tampa Red’s first 78
rpm recording was the raunchy, ‘It’s Tight Like That’, recorded with Georgia
Tom in 1928 and produced by Lester Melrose. (See The White Guy Who Gave use
Chicago Blues in the 20 May archive.) Have a listen on the link below.
It’s Tight Like That sold in its millions, being one of the best-selling songs of the era. By definition of its recording date, it also has
to be one of the first resonator guitars on record. The most prolific blues
artist of his era, Red often played in the single-string bottleneck tradition
forged by Sylvester Weaver, except louder (now that he had his resonator guitar).
Tampa Red’s magnum opus surely has to be his 1940 blues classic, ‘When Things
Go Wrong (It Hurts Me Too)’, covered by Elmore James amongst many others. Altogether,
it’s been estimated Red made over 300 records.
John Dopyera
   But back to 1928. Almost as soon as they had
released the National resonator, John Dopyera decided to split from George
Beauchamp and leave the company. With his brothers, the resonator’s original inventor
then founded a rival company, the Dobro Manufacturing Company. Dobro stood for
Dopyera brothers, and also meant ‘good’ in Slovak. The brothers quickly launched
the Dobra resonator guitar in competition to National’s resonator. 
With neither company able to manufacture the vital aluminium resonators,
however, both National and Dobro continued sourcing their metal bodies and
other components from a Swiss-born engineer called Adolph Rickenbacher, based
in Santa Ana, California.
George Beauchamp, meanwhile, still persevering
with his idea of an electric Hawaiian guitar, then teamed up with Adolph Rickenbacher
in 1931 the hope of producing a electric lap steel. This they did, and the
electric guitar was born; but more about that later. 
For more information on the birth of the electric guitar, why not invest (going for a song) in How Blues Evolved Volume Two. Here are the links and here’s a picture of the Ebook.
How Blues Evolved in the UK is on the following link:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital- text&field-keywords=how+blues+evolved+volume+one

In the USA, please follow this link:

Sunday, 29 September 2013. London. Down by the River Thames at Greenwich, by the restored tea clipper, Cutty Sark, a busker plays and sings some pretty decent blues on a shiny all-metal resonator guitar. Not a soul watches or listens. A couple of hundred yards away, a one-man band plays an MOR version of the Stones’ Get Off Of My Cloud on a banjo, tambourines on his ankles, and draws a crowd. Was it just down to the location of their patches? I hope so. 



Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.