If you take an interest in acoustic guitars, it won’t be long till you find out dreadnought guitars are amongst the most popular. You’ll hear it so much that you won’t want to be the one to ask: What is a dreadnought guitar? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered; we will break down everything you need to know about dreadnought guitars. You’ll be an expert in no time, and you’ll understand why the dreadnought body shape is so popular.
The name dreadnought refers to the shape and size of the acoustic guitar body. A dreadnought guitar is one of the largest body shapes available. It’s distinctive only because it’s so popular, but it has relatively undefined features. Other acoustic guitar shapes like the grand auditorium or classical guitar have more striking features thanks to their narrow waist. The upper and lower bouts of a dreadnought guitar are similar in size because the waist doesn’t get too thin.
If you asked someone with no knowledge of guitars to draw a picture of an acoustic guitar, it would probably look like a dreadnought. One of the reasons it’s so familiar to people (even non-musicians) is that they are commonly used in mainstream popular music. So, when you see your favorite pop star playing guitar, there’s a good chance it’s a dreadnought.
This popularity and resulting familiarity make it seems like the first-ever acoustic guitar must have been a dreadnought. However, this body shape was only first introduced in 1916 by Martin Guitars. The first-ever model was manufactured for the Oliver Ditson Company and sold under their name.
Surprisingly, the original dreadnought delivered terrible sales. Martin Guitars went back to that shape in 1931, releasing two dreadnought guitars under their own name. These first two models were the now iconic, D-1, and D-2 acoustic guitars. Martin dreadnoughts manufactured before 1946 can sell for tens of thousands of dollars these days.
It’s no surprise that Martin Guitars introduced the dreadnought; they have remained one of the most innovative guitar manufacturers to this day.
Since the mid-1900s, they have arguably been the most popular type of acoustic guitar. If any other guitar shape could claim that title, it would be the grand auditorium, which is similar in size but has a slimmer waist.
Performers love dreadnought guitars for their rich tone and booming projection. The booming projection comes from the large body size and scalloped bracing. This combination provides better airflow, which helps increase volume and generate a rich, warm tone.
The scalloped bracing also allows for lots of natural resonance in the tone. That rich dreadnought tone lends itself to so many styles of playing. Initially, it was folk and traditional musicians who took to the dreadnought shape. Now, the dreadnought sound is featured heavily in most genres of popular music.
Despite the large body, dreadnought guitars are generally thought to be very comfortable to play. For some smaller or younger players, the size might be an issue, which could mean they need some time on a smaller guitar first. For most, the dreadnought shape is very comfortable, and it’s one of the main reasons that they have a slimmer neck as a standard feature.
The slimmer neck is more comfortable to play chords and flat pick, and that’s why singer-songwriters love them. Wider necks tend to be better for fingerpicking, and if that’s your specialty, you can find some dreadnoughts with a wider neck.
Now, here’s some fun trivia to end our little dreadnought guide. In 1916, when Martin Guitars first developed this body shape, the word dreadnought referred to something very different. It referred to a large, destroying, battleship, namely the Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnought (1906). The HMS Dreadnought was big, bold, and innovative, much like the dreadnought guitar (relatively speaking, of course).
So, “dreadnought” became a fitting name for a guitar that has shaped artists and genres for over 100 years.