If you’re new to guitar or new to acoustic guitars (or have been playing a while but just have never paid any attention to the term dreadnought but have suddenly noticed it) then you may be wondering – what is a dreadnought guitar?
I didn’t really notice this terms until after a good few years of playing guitar and then when I was researching about guitars to buy I kept seeing this term ‘dreadnought’ and though it sounded like something out of Doctor Who!
So I thought I’d put together this short post for others who might be wondering what this strange sounding term is.
So what is a Dreadnought Acoustic?
Quite simply this term just refers to the shape/size of a guitar.
A dreadnought shaped guitar is characterized by a large body and a relatively undefined waist. That is to say that the upper and lower bouts of the guitar are quite similar in width when compared with classical guitars and other acoustic guitar shapes such as Grand Auditoriums (aka Grand Performance) or Concert (aka 00) or Parlor guitars.
The dreadnought shaped guitar is quite a large bodied guitar compared to most others. Perhaps only the jumbo acoustic being larger – and definitely has the narrowest waist.
And where did the name come from?
Apparently the shape was dubbed ‘dreadnought’ after a battleship – the HMS Dreadnought. The HMS Dreadnought had only large guns – different to other battleships of the time that had a mixture of large and small guns.
And I can only guess that the dreadnought guitar got its name because of its large shape.
It may be considered within the normal range of sizes for a guitar now but when it was introduced it was a lot larger than the typical guitar.
Whilst the dreadnought shape is relatively young in terms of the history of guitars it is now one of the most popular shaped guitar going around.
For some time it was probably the most popular guitar. Now it may have been taken over by the Grand Auditorium/Grand Performance type shapes – which are a similar size or only slightly smaller than the dreadnought but with a more defined waist between the lower and upper bouts.
First introduced by Martin in the early 1900s, the shape started to gain in popularity in the mid 1900s. And today one of the most common acoustic guitar shape you will see is the dreadnought shape. In fact most people today would probably picture a dreadnought when asked to picture an acoustic guitar, such is their popularity.
This is probably due its prevalent use in a lot of popular music genres.
The Dreadnought Sound
Due to their large body the dreadnought produces a loud sound and what tends to be quite a boomy tone. The large soundboard (top) of the dreadnought shape means that there is a lot of reverberation which allows for that increased volume.
Dreadnoughts are well suited to acoustic rock, pop, country, bluegrass and other popular guitar-driven genres.
Though popular with folk musicians in the early days, folk guitarists typically prefer Grand Auditorium/Performance or Concert/00 shaped guitars now.
Related: Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar Reviews
Playability of the Dreadnought
In terms of playability dreadnoughts aren’t too dissimilar to other steel string guitar shapes with only some subtle differences.
Size and Shape for Playability
Firstly, due to the shape of the guitar some players can find it harder to play them sitting down – because of the less rounded waist. But for most this isn’t an issue.
The larger shape can also be more difficult for smaller musicians to play – i.e. getting their arm around the wide lower bout.
Secondly, dreadnoughts these days typically have a slightly narrower neck – though this isn’t always the case. It seems the standard neck size on dreadnoughts at the moment is 1 11/16 inches (43mm) whereas the standard on grand auditoriums and concerts is 1 3/4 inches (44m) – not to say that they couldn’t have a 1 11/16 (43mm) nut width.
The reason for this slightly narrower neck is that it is easier for chords and flat picking, whereas a slightly wider neck makes it better for finger-picking. Dreadnoughts wouldn’t be the first choice (tone-wise) of someone who plays finger-style most of the time, so this makes sense.
But there are certainly dreadnoughts you can find with a wider neck if that’s your thing.
This narrower neck can also make it easier on guitarists with smaller hands and some people just prefer the feel of a narrower neck.
Thanks for Reading
I hope you now know more about Dreadnought guitars and are now able to tell the difference in acoustic guitar shapes.
If you have any more useful information about dreadnought guitars or if you have any questions or other comments feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below.