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The resonator guitar reviews database is here to help educate people before they purchase an instrument. Of course, this is not meant to be a substitute for playing the instrument yourself!

263 reviews in the archive.

Janet Davis: Teach Yourself To Play The Dobro

Submitted by michaelmx (see all reviews from this person) on 9/20/2015

Where Purchased: Amazon

Overall Comments

I believe that there have been several versions of this book, CD and/or DVD released.  I am reviewing and recommend the full package:  Book, CD and DVD.  While each of the individual components is interesting, the full set together delivers a nice, clear dobro primer.  

In both the book and DVD, Janet has a nice, straight-forward delivery.  After a preliminary look at the basics of tuning the guitar and holding the bar, she starts you off with playing the melodies of some simple folk/country tunes and progresses from there.  As you might expect, the CD lets you hear what the songs are supposed to sound like and the DVD lets you watch how Janet plays them.  

Although the focus is on folk and bluegrass tunes, a wide range of material is presented including a pair of Hawaiian songs.  Most of the tunes in the book will probably be familiar to anyone wishing to play beginning dobro.  Some of the topics and techniques covered include: Getting Started, Reading Tablature, Finding the Melody, Roll Patterns, Hammers and Pull-Offs, Playing Up the Neck, Capos, Minor Chords, Harmonics and so on.  There are very few scales and exercises here; Janet seems to prefer to teach everything in terms of playing songs.  

I believe that I got my copy from Amazon, but it is also available from Janet Davis Music, Elderly and wherever quality music books are sold.  The first page is a brief history of the reso guitar.  With a start like that, how can you go wrong?  If you are looking for good beginner instructional material, get this set!  

NB: All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.  They are used for descriptive purposes only; no infringement is intended.  



Overall Rating: 10

Steve James : Roots and Blues: Fingerstyle Guitar

Submitted by michaelmx (see all reviews from this person) on 12/21/2014

Where Purchased: Elderly Music

Overall Comments

Steve James is pictured on the cover of my copy of this book with a National biscuit bridge guitar.  However, this book is good for any picker of all sorts of guitars, not just resos.  This is a great first book for fingerstyle playing in both standard and open tunings, with and without a slide.  The CD lets you hear how things should sound (essential for me) and he also plays some pieces at about half-speed to help get you going.  

He covers the basics pretty fast and moves the player fairly quickly into intermediate material.  As the title suggests, the song selections are drawn from that vast pool of the folk music and folk blues traditions.  Although Steve covers technique when encountered and theory as needed, his instruction is entirely song based so don't look for any scales or warm-up exercises here.  I rate this book as beginner/intermediate, but for someone with absolutely no prior experience with stringed instruments something a little simpler and slower paced might be a better place to start.  

I got my copy from Elderly, but it is available wherever good music books are sold.  

NB: All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.  They are used for descriptive purposes only; no infringement is intended.  


Overall Rating: 10

Steve Toth: Dobro Roots: A Photo Tour of Prewar Wood Body Dobros

Submitted by michaelmx (see all reviews from this person) on 7/21/2014

Where Purchased: From the author

Overall Comments

The title sums it up.  This book is a collection of descriptions and photos of all sorts and models of prewar Dobros.  Examples of just about every style of instrument offered for sale in that era are provided.  The chapters divide the material into various production eras and locations.  The photos are of instruments from many different collections including the author's own.  There are a few catalog page reproductions in each chapter along with a few photos of Dobro players.  There is also an included audio CD where Mr Toth plays some of these fine old instruments, and plays them well, too.  

The instrument photos show front and back views.  There are close-up shots of headstocks, coverplates and other instrument features.  Information about the construction details and factory methods are given.  

This book has one major short-coming: There are no photos of the inside details of any instrument.  I would very much have liked to see pictures of the soundwells, cones, spiders, bridge inserts and other internal details.  While this oversight is not a deal-breaker for me in terms of recommending this book, I find it to be a serious omission. 

All in all, this book is an excellent addition to the library of any fan of resophonic guitars or collector of music picture books.  I got my copy from Mr Toth, but it is available wherever quality music books are sold.  

NB: All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.  They are used for descriptive purposes only; no infringement is intended. 


Overall Rating: 8

Josh Graves, Ed. Fred Bartenstein: Bluegrass Bluesman: A Memoir

Submitted by akfb (see all reviews from this person) on 10/28/2012

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

A version of this article appeared October 27, 2012, on page C8 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: That Old Appalachia Sound.

That Old Appalachia Sound
A plain-spoken memoir from the man who turned bluegrass into a global sensation.


The typical country-music memoir these days—a paean to self and flag-waving kin—can be a sentimental, smoothed-over thing, closer to a sales pitch than the scars-baring grit of classics like "Coal Miner's Daughter" (1976), Loretta Lynn's famous chronicle. So it's a bracer to hear an old-timer talking straight, with nothing to peddle or prove. "I just play it the way it comes down," says resonator-guitar legend Josh Graves (1927-2006) in his posthumous memoir, "Bluegrass Bluesman." "I wouldn't hype nobody." Not himself, and not his family either.

Graves tells of threatening his sons when they quarreled by invoking the discipline meted out by a "real mean man," his Uncle Bud. In the family's part of east Tennessee, Uncle Bud was known for his ornery ways and his 12-gauge shotgun. And what exactly was Uncle Bud's approach to childrearing? Graves says that, when Uncle Bud's boys "was drinking and all this," he warned them: "Next time you come around like that, I'll fix you." And so, Graves says, "a couple of weeks went by and they done it again. He lined every one of them up and shot them in their ankles. He got their attention. My cousin told me, 'I picked buckshot out of my ankles for three months.' "

This happened in Tellico Plains, "the wild-boar capital of the world," deep in the Smoky Mountains where Graves grew up hard in the Depression. It was a remote place where generations lived and died and never left. But Graves managed a getaway at age 15, when he decided to make a go of it with his Dobro guitar—and without the blessing of his father, who said: "I don't care where you go or what you do. Don't ever ask me for anything, and I hope you starve to death." Recalls Graves: "There's been a few times I've come close to it."

Graves's name won't ring a bell for many outside musicians' circles, but Burkett "Uncle Josh" Graves helped take bluegrass from southern Appalachia to college campuses and beyond, to the world-music status it enjoys today. When he joined Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in 1955, his fiery, blues-inspired playing on the Dobro resonator slide guitar gave the Foggy Mountain Boys a signature sound that set the band apart from the herd. The Foggy Mountain Boys played fast and hard-driving and as loud as acoustic music can get. Their dynamic stage shows, featuring acrobatic turns at a lone mic for breakneck solos, remain the stuff of legend.

Cobbled together from interviews conducted before Graves's death, "Bluegrass Bluesman" is unfiltered, off-the cuff oral history. Graves clearly relishes the chance to tell what he saw and heard in his 15 years with what many deem the finest bluegrass outfit ever. He shows respect and affection for his former bosses, Flatt and Scruggs, though he was grossly underpaid, even after the pair became stars in the wake of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," a million-selling hit in 1962. "Maybe they didn't pay as much as they should have, but they paid you what they said they would," says Graves.

In exchange for the low wages, Graves had the freedom to experiment and develop into an adventurous innovator on his Dobro, a guitar played strings-up with a steel-bar slide whose metal resonating chambers work as amplifiers to produce a brash sound that can clear a room of polite company. Graves adapted Scrugg's three-finger banjo roll for his vintage 1935 model Dobro, giving bluegrass a bold new instrumental voice.

"Play the melody on the first part of your solo," Scruggs told him, "then I don't give a damn if you cut it all to pieces." Graves's blues-drenched tone and blazing improvisations thrilled the band's fans, making him much more than a typical sideman—and securing the Dobro's iconic status in bluegrass.

Graves reveals a warm, brotherly fondness for Scruggs. "Earl hates hats, but I'll tell you I need one," he says. "The sound bounces right up on it." After Flatt and Scruggs's bitter split in 1969, stoked in part by Flatt's aversion to recording covers of Bob Dylan and other rock singers, Graves remained loyal to both men. In fact, he pulled separate stints, first with Flatt, who kept his music traditional; then with Scruggs, who piloted his own plane to gigs and whose electrified band included drums. The sheer volume eventually spurred Graves to turn in his notice. "I was the only one playing acoustic in the bunch, and I couldn't hear nothing," he says. It was only then that Flatt agreed to speak to Graves again after two years of the silent treatment. (Flatt and Scruggs reconciled before Flatt's death in 1979; Scruggs died this year at age 88, still playing his banjo, hatless but crowned with laurels.)

From the mid-1970s on, Graves fronted his own bands and cut several solo albums, for a while teaming up with another former sideman, the fiddler Kenny Baker. Some in the crowds didn't take to the comedy routines that Graves revived, harking back to the days when he played his "Uncle Josh" rube character. "In this little bit that I pulled on Kenny, I said that the doctor told him he had to lose 120 pounds of ugly fat, so he went home and run his wife off. Just a joke, but this woman jumped all over me, and she kept on and she made me mad." For his part, Graves was offended by the slick young bluegrass bands, with their fancy gear, all flashy chops and no soulfulness. "These boys can't play it," he says. "They can't do the old hard drive."

"Bluegrass Bluesman" has some choppy stretches, but giving only a light editorial touch to the transcripts was the right decision; it allows for a full airing of Graves's "old Southern brogue," a dialect he retained from his boyhood. He had an abiding love of the Tennessee mountains and returned there often to visit "them old residenters" who knew his father and uncle. The place remained a touchstone. As a boy, Graves had gotten a feel for the blues from local black musicians like Buck Roper, a sharecropper from across the creek who, after a day in the fields, would put a coal-oil lamp in his cabin window and sit on the front steps and play bottleneck on his banjo while the young Burkett listened at his feet.

In his final years, Graves assumed a similar role of mentor for generations of Dobro enthusiasts, many of whose testimonials are included in an epilogue to the book. At shows, the more devoted would ask the master to bless their guitar, a request that made him uneasy. "They'd open the case and want me to put my hand on it," he recalls. "I said, 'Well, yeah, I'll do that.' But it is embarrassing. You don't know what to do or say. But things like that are what make this business so interesting."

—Mr. Dean is co-author of Dr. Ralph Stanley's "Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times" (Gotham).

Overall Rating: 10

Josh Graves, Ed. Fred Bartenstein: Bluegrass Bluesman: A Memoir

Submitted by akfb (see all reviews from this person) on 10/21/2012

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

This review appeared in the October, 2012 edition of "County Sales Newsletter":

BOOK: BLUEGRASS BLUESMAN “Josh Graves—A Memoir” by Fred Bartenstein, (Univ. of Illinois Press), 142 pp, softbound.

Editor Fred Bartenstein has done a beautiful job in covering the career of one of the great figures in bluegrass, Buck Graves (or Uncle Josh as he was known to many. Josh did as much as anyone for the Dobro, and the greats of that instrument like Mike Auldridge and Jerry Douglas will be the first to point that out. Graves was known for his work with Flatt & Scruggs, with whom he played for over a decade, but he also picked for Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, Mac Wiseman, Esco Hankins, and Charlie Bailey, among others, and spent several years late in his career in partnership with the great fiddler Kenny Baker.

Bartenstein worked from earlier interviews of Josh, and the book reads more like an auto-biography than a biography. Graves talks freely about his life on the road and provides many recollections of the various artists that he worked with over the years. An especially nice feature is a chapter of more than 20 pages of tributes to Josh by various folks in the music business, including most of the dobro players who were influenced by him or inspired to take up the dobro after seeing Uncle Josh in action. These include Earl Scruggs, Mac Wiseman, Tut Taylor, Leroy Mack, Russ Hooper, Sally Van Meter, Rob Ickes, Fred Travers, Marty Stuart, and of course Mike Auldridge and Jerry Douglas. There is also a nice photo section in the book.

This is a fine book, especially if you are a dobro player or a fan of Graves, Flatt & Scruggs and the early days of Bluegrass—an excellent work that flows smoothly, and a hard book to put down. $ 20.00

Overall Rating: 10

Josh Graves, Ed. Fred Bartenstein: Bluegrass Bluesman: A Memoir

Submitted by akfb (see all reviews from this person) on 9/26/2012

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

This review was written by Linda Beck, and appeared in the September 15th, 2012 edition of "Library Journal":

Univ. of Illinois. (Music in American Life). Sept. 2012.
c.184p. , ed. By Fred Bartenstein.
photogs. discog.
ISBN 9780252078644.
$21.95, MUSIC

The father of bluegrass Dobro (a resonator guitar), Graves is a big name in the world of bluegrass, akin to Earl Scruggs or the Smoky Mountain Boys. This memoir, compiled primarily from interviews taped in 1994 at Graves's Nashville home, tells not just his own story but the history of American bluegrass from the 1940s through the 1960s, providing a fascinating look at the musical culture of the South and encompassing themes of race, commercialization, and the divide between bluegrass and country music. Graves's love of music, his talent for working with musicians of all stripes, and his folksiness come through as readers absorb his spoken words. Introductions to each chapter set the stage for Graves's comments. The book also includes 16 pages of black-and-white photos, a chapter of testimonials about Graves, and an extensive list of notes and bibliographic information. VERDICT: While the exterior suggests it may be a bit dull, this book is in fact thoroughly Southern, spicy, real, and lots of fun. Excellent for popular music history collections.-Linda Beck, Indian Valley P.L., Telford, PA

Overall Rating: 10

Josh Graves, Ed. Fred Bartenstein: Bluegrass Bluesman: A Memoir

Submitted by akfb (see all reviews from this person) on 9/11/2012

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

This review was written by Ray Olson, and appeared in the September, 2012 edition of "Booklist":

Released: Sept. 2012. 184p. illus. Univ. of Illinois.

Graves (1927-2006) cemented the last stone in the instrumental foundation of bluegrass when he joined Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs' Foggy Mountain Boys in 1955. He'd been developing his blues-inflected style for more than 10 years, deliberately adapting Scruggs' three-finger banjo picking to the dobro (or resonator guitar). With F&S until their 1969 breakup, Graves there-upon joined Scruggs' lucrative foray into country-rock and later played with Flatt's less remunerative Nashville Grass (Lester was a tightwad) as well as in plenty of other aggregations and contexts. In 1994, Graves and Barry Willis made the oral-history tapes that, augmented by other interviews, editor Bartenstein has masterfully fashioned into a smooth autobiographical narrative. Like the as-told-to's by Ralph Stanley (Man of Constant Sorrow, 2009) and Charlie Louvin (Satan is Real, 2012), Graves' is presented as he spoke it, not with the grammatical punctiliousness of a professional coauthor. Focused on its subject's professional life, it doesn't tell as many road stories and domestic memories as Stanley's and Louvin's. It is fully as mesmerizing, though, especially for lovers of bluegrass.

Overall Rating: 10

Bev King: Dobroist's Scrapbook

Submitted by michaelmx (see all reviews from this person) on 8/13/2012

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Overall Comments

This book is about all things Dobro: Instruments, builders and players. It contains a collection of photographs, short articles and reproductions of old catalog pages. According to the introduction by Ms King, most of the content of the book is reprinted from back issues of her 'Resophonic Echoes' and 'Country Heritage' magazines. Much of this material is quite rare and not found in other books. The topics covered include the history of resophonic instruments, short bios of some builders and players and concludes with a look inside the instruments. This final section includes some good setup tips.

Don't let the size and price fool you, this slim eight dollar spiral bound book delights, informs and entertains as well as any eighty dollar coffee table book. This book is by no means up-to-date, but it is a must-have book for any fan of reso guitars or collector of music picture books. I got my copy from Elderly, but it is available wherever quality music books are sold. If you don't have one, get one!

NB: All trademarks are the property of their respective owners. They are used for descriptive purposes only; no infringement is intended.

Overall Rating: 10

Doug Cox: Backup Dobro- Exploring the Fretboard.

Submitted by Tonywnj (see all reviews from this person) on 3/29/2012

Where Purchased: Amazon. paid $15.59 w/CD

Overall Comments

The book is all in the traditional G tuning. Shows scale patterns and arpeggios for Majors, minors and 7ths + more. The greatest part of this book, being a newbie with an extensive music background, is the movable scale patterns that show you what notes in the scale for any key all over the neck for every string.

Overall Rating: 10

Steve Kaufman: Four-Hour Bluegrass Workout

Submitted by Michael Hughes (see all reviews from this person) on 3/3/2011

Where Purchased: Online (Homespun)

Overall Comments

Steve has the right prescription here:
1) Provide sheet music of the basic tune
2) Play it slow
3) Play it fast

No tab for Dobro--which is a good thing. It let me concentrate on the basic melody line without any embellishments. Then I was free to add whatever personal styling or embellishments after that. A great repertoire of popular jam tunes.

Perfect for someone like me that came up in "folk" and needs to catch up on bluegrass.

Get all of Steve's stuff at

Overall Rating: 10

Wolf Marshall: 101 Must-Know Blues Licks

Submitted by The Offshore Accounts (see all reviews from this person) on 2/24/2011

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

Been a punk rocker since high-school, at some point a couple years ago as I began to grow up, I figured it was time to delve into the blues.

This book has a few things I've found really useful:

1) It gives easy to read/understand tabs
2) in chronological order, so it is also something of a blues history book, from past to present
3) There are some licks for resonator, even in open tunings
4) There is a good mix of easy and hard, so you can pick the ones you want to learn first, not having to go through the book chronologically.
5) Comes with CD and every lick is played through normal speed, and then slowly

The more you listen and learn, the more your fingers can get a feel for different positions and runs. It really sparks creativity this way.

So if you're thinking about expanding your arsenal from beyond just power chords, this is a good place to start.

Overall Rating: 10

Mike Witcher: Tunes, Techniques & Practice Skills

Submitted by va picker (see all reviews from this person) on 6/20/2009

Where Purchased: Mike Witcher

Overall Comments

Book came w/CD. Included with the songs (11) are practice rolls & scales. You'll need to buy a capo since one is needed for songs about half way through. Would recommnend for the beginner.

Overall Rating: 10

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