John Dopyera (born Ján Dopjera) (1893-1988) was a Slovak-American inventor and entrepreneur, and a maker of stringed instruments. His inventions include the resonator guitar and important contributions in the early development of the electric guitar.
John Dopyera was one of 10 siblings born at the closing of the 19th century. His father, Jozef Dopyera, was a miller in Dolná Krupá, Slovakia. Gifted in music, Jozef played and constructed his own violins; the makers of which were popular around Slovakia for their craftsmanship. Under his father's guidance, John built his first fiddle still in his boyhood days in Dolná Krupá. In 1908, the Dopyeras emigrated from Slovakia to California, USA sensing a war would erupt in Europe. In the 1920s, Dopyera founded his own store in Los Angeles where he worked making and repairing fiddles, banjos, and other wooden string instruments. Around this time, Dopyera patented several improvements on the banjo.
One day in 1925, vaudeville promoter George Beauchamp approached John Dopyera. It was the era of silent movies, in which a piano and sometimes orchestra supplied live sound at cinemas. Beauchamp made a proposal; he asked Dopyera to make him a guitar loud enough to be heard over other instruments. Dopyera set to work, and over the following months invented a guitar with three aluminum cones mounted underneath the bridge, an amplification scheme similar to the diaphragms inside a speaker. The instrument was 3-4 times louder than a normal acoustic guitar and had a rich, metallic tone, as though it were being played in a large metal basin. It became known as the resophonic guitar (sometimes called National or Dobro). Joined by his brothers Rudy and Emil, as well as a group of willing investors, Dopyera founded the National String Instrument Corporation. The resonator guitar initially sold well, but eventually met with enormous success becoming the staple in jazz clubs and movie houses across the US. Several years later, the brothers separated from the corporation and founded Dobro (the name they also gave to the instrument), their own company, a play on words derived from the "Do" in Dopyera and "bro" from Brothers. The word also means "good" in Slovak, fitting well with their promotional slogan: Dobro means good in any language!.
In 1932, working together with the guitar player Art Simpson, Dopyera invented a new type of guitar design later recognized to be first ever industrially produced electrified Spanish guitar in the world. Dopyera also invented a string-gripping device on acoustic guitars, the forebear to that on all guitars today. Dopyera's later patents included resophonic additions to nearly every string instrument, continued patents for the designs of banjos and violins, including the very unique Dopera Bantar, which was a cross between the 5-string Banjo and 6-string Guitar. The Dopera Bantars, though extremely RARE were used by a few influential artists of the 1960's, including Bob Dylan. As illustrated with the Bantar, John removed the " Y " from the Dopyera name, when labeling his new instruments, as he reasoned that " Dopera " was easier for the public to understand and pronounce. A patent for an electric violin is also noted. The Dopyera brothers later moved to Chicago, where they made millions of dollars with the Valco music company and other business interests. John elected to stay in Los Angeles and continue making instruments. He was never rich, and was famous only among a small circle of people who knew he had invented the resonator/resophonic guitar. He died at the age of 94 in 1988, having registered some 40 patents.
The Dobro resonator guitar was fundamental to the evolution of bluegrass music. The design cut through all musical boundaries, however, proving equally at home in folk, rock country, blues and jazz. In 1992, Slovak blues guitarist Peter Radványi co-founded the Dobrofestival in western Slovakia's Trnava, a week-long gathering of resophonic guitar enthusiasts including some of the best bluegrass, blues, and Hawaiian guitar players in the world. The next Dobrofest is June 26-28, 2008. In addition, there is a small museum in Trnava called the Dobro Hall of Fame.