When researching or hunting for acoustic guitars, it’s quite likely you’ve come across the term “dreadnought.”
But what exactly does that mean? What is a dreadnought guitar? How is it different from other guitars?
In this guide, we look at dreadnought guitars, how they’re different from other guitar types, and even answer some of the most frequently asked questions. Let’s get into it.
What Is A Dreadnought Guitar? – Quick Answer
A dreadnought is a type of acoustic guitar. And it refers specifically to the shape of the body of the guitar, which was originally created by the C.F. Martin & Company (or Martin Guitars).
Acoustic guitars come in a variety of body types, each of which have different names (we’ll be covering this in more detail in a moment).
Dreadnought acoustic guitars, however, feature among the most recognizable body types, to the point where if you’re imagining an acoustic guitar in your mind’s eye, chances are you’re thinking of a dreadnought.
What Are The Other Body Types?
The dreadnought acoustic guitar body type might be the most recognizable and popular, but it’s not the only body type on the market.
The most common acoustic guitar body types (from smallest to biggest) include the following:
- Parlor: The smallest of the acoustic guitar body type. Good for fingerpicking.
- Concert: A little bigger than a parlor guitar type. Also good for fingerpicking.
- Grand Concert: One of the quietest models of acoustic guitars. A solid all-rounder for different playing styles.
- Grand Auditorium: This one goes by many names, including Orchestra, OM, GA, Auditorium, or even OOO. A good guitar for fingerstyle and self-accompaniment.
- Dreadnought: The most common acoustic guitar body style. Ideally suited to flat-picking, strummers, and singer-songwriters.
- Jumbo: The largest of the acoustic guitar domain. Great for strumming and country music.
Obviously, there are other body types and sizes, whether it’s travel guitars, “baby” guitars, or otherwise. But the above are the most common.
By comparing the dreadnought to other acoustic guitar styles, we can get a better sense of how it’s different and what it does well.
How Do I Know If A Dreadnought Guitar Is Right For Me?
A dreadnought is a well-balanced, large-bodied guitar with a strong bass presence. It’s great for accompaniment and strumming, suggesting it’s the ideal companion for solo gigs (where you’re the singer), duo gigs (where you’re accompanying a singer), or gigs with one guitar and many singers.
Different styles of acoustic guitars have their own strengths and weaknesses, such as the fact that some are great for fingerstyle but not strumming, and others great for strumming but not fingerstyle.
The dreadnought is a relatively balanced instrument in this regard, but it still favors strumming more than fingerpicking.
By no means are dreadnought guitars small. If anything, they feature rather large bodies. It’s not as big as a jumbo, but it’s still considerable. Meaning – it will appeal to a specific type of player, but it may not be a bundle of fun to handle for those will smaller bodies, arms, and hands.
The dreadnought, though, is a solid choice for most acoustic guitarists, and certainly the right choice when you aren’t sure which guitar type to pick. Its warm, deep sound makes it great for accompaniment (especially strumming), and it responds well to most playing styles and techniques too.
Dreadnoughts are also favored among bluegrass musicians, as the sound of the dreadnought acoustic guitar has become strongly identified with the genre.
Examples Of Popular Or Famous Dreadnought Acoustic Guitars
Martin Guitars is credited with the creation of the dreadnought in 1916. It should come as no surprise, then, that their dreadnought acoustics are among the most popular, sought-after, and revered.
Dreadnoughts are also known as “D-size” guitars, and this is reflected in the naming of Martin guitars too. Some of their most popular models include the D-18 and D-45.
Gibson Brands, Inc. (or simply Gibson) responded with their own series of dreadnought guitars, with their “J-series” models, including the J-35, originally introduced in 1934.
Martin and Gibson dreadnought acoustics generally come with a premium price tag, but there are plenty of other options at a variety of price ranges (and build qualities) from virtually every acoustic guitar manufacturer. We’ll be talking more about this a little later.
Are Dreadnought Acoustic Guitars Any Good?
Everything in music is highly qualitative and subjective, and that includes what instrument you’re playing, its build, its tone, as well as how (and how well) you play it. It’s no different for dreadnought acoustic guitars.
The dreadnought’s popularity through the decades, however, is unmistakable. It’s is a favorite go-to, and this is reflected in its history as well as the influence it still wields today (if you don’t make dreadnoughts as an acoustic guitar maker, you’re probably missing out on a significant piece of the market share).
Some famous players and owners of dreadnought guitar players include Hank Williams, Jr., Johnny Cash, Travis Tritt, Neil Young, James Taylor, John Mayer, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and others.
If such notables and legends saw fit to use a dreadnought, then no doubt they are “good enough” for the ordinary player.
But don’t forget its overall characteristics – it has plenty of low end, is favored by bluegrass players, and is ideally suited to strumming and accompaniment.
Are All Dreadnought Acoustic Guitars Exactly The Same?
No, they are not.
And there are many factors, including the materials used in the manufacturing, the specific manufacturing process employed, the brand that made the guitar, and more.
But rather than all the little nuances, we mainly wanted to address a couple of variations that could be of especial interest to our readers.
First and foremost is the cutaway. A cutaway can exist on just about any type of guitar, but the idea is to give you access to the higher frets. This can be helpful for rhythm and lead playing alike but is generally thought of as a sought-after option for lead players who want access to more of the fingerboard.
Second, there’s the acoustic-electric variation. This is still an acoustic guitar at heart, except that it comes with built-in electronics (usually a pickup). This type of guitar is great for jamming, open mics, gigging, and sometimes even for recording, as you can plug your guitar directly into a PA system or amplifier and shape its tone with onboard controls (some tweaking can generally be done at the amp or mixer too).
As well, there are even cutaway / electric-acoustic hybrids, which are quite common these days. Meaning, you can have a dreadnought guitar with both features.
Fundamentally, though, you should expect there to be a difference between dreadnought guitars, especially those at different price points.
How Much Does A Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar Cost?
As with most types of guitars, the dreadnought acoustic guitar is accessible to all types of players – beginners, intermediates, professionals, and even collectors or those looking for custom, signature, or vintage guitars that are a cut above.
Dreadnought guitars generally start at about $100. At that price point, you should not expect the guitar to be amazing, though it can still be a decent choice for beginners. The materials used on the guitar are bound to be cheap, and the body will probably be made of laminated wood. Laminated wood, though, is known to be robust, and it can hold up to more abuse than a solid body guitar.
Solid top dreadnought guitars usually begin in the $250 range. Solid tops tend to offer a better tone overall and take well to age. But they can be a little more vulnerable to the elements, especially dryness. These usually make for solid intermediate axes.
Intermediates can find plenty of options with upgraded components in the $250 to $1,500+ range.
Upper end dreadnought acoustic guitars can easily cost $3,000+, and some are even close to the $10,000 range. Guitars costing this much are generally older Martin guitars, though, and would basically be collector items. For professional level dreadnought acoustics (usually with solid bodies), look in the $2,500 to $3,500 range. Sometimes, you can find solid options at around $2,000 too though.
So, the answer is that most dreadnought acoustics cost somewhere between $100 and $3,500, but there are certainly guitars that cost significantly more than that.
What Is A Dreadnought Guitar? Final Thoughts
The acoustic guitar is an amazing instrument. And it has evolved through the years, as all inventions do. Never has there been a better time to be a buyer, tough, because you have options and features that would not be available to the buyer of yesteryear.
The dreadnought acoustic guitar is a standby and a go-to. It can be a great choice for most type of players, especially those who like to strum and accompany. It may not be the ideal choice for more intricate fingerstyle players as well as those who might have trouble carrying a larger, heavier acoustic guitar though.
Thanks for reading.
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