- Is a Concert Guitar louder than a Dreadnought?
- Is a Dreadnought Guitar better for strumming?
- Which guitar is better suited to playing in a band?
- We compare differences in Size, Tone, and more.
The modern acoustic guitar as we know it has existed in its current design for over a century at this point, with boutique luthiers and mass production facilities both churning out vast quantities of instruments for all sectors of the market, from beginner to professional.
For decades guitar manufacturers have made an effort to categorize acoustic guitar types based on size, shape, and design. This arrangement gives acoustic guitar players a clear idea of the intended purpose of each instrument and how it can be utilized in their performative and creative processes.
The acoustic guitar’s body has a profound effect on not only the tonality of the guitar, but it will also determine the size, depth, and even scale of the instrument. Amongst the various acoustic guitar designs available such as parlor, mini, orchestra, and jumbo, this comparison will focus entirely on concert and dreadnought bodies.
Concert vs Dreadnought: Key Differences
- Dreadnought Guitars are considerably larger than Concert guitars.
- The size of a Dreadnought guitar results in it having a stronger lower frequency bass presence than that of a Concert guitar, which will emphasize the treble and mid-range.
- Dreadnought guitars will be inherently louder and project more the Concert Guitars, which will be somewhat quieter.
- The natural tonality of a Concert Guitar will excel at more intricate playing styles, such as fingerpicking while Dreadnought Guitars are better suited to rhythmic strumming techniques.
An Introduction to the Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar
Introduced by the Martin guitar company in 1916, the Dreadnought was immediately recognized as an alternative to the smaller-bodied Concert and Parlor guitars that were popular during this period and eras prior amongst working musicians.
The Design was coined in tribute to a navy gunship dubbed the HMS Dreadnought, a true testament to the rigor and size of the acoustic guitar body developed by C.F Martin and Co, first established in New York City in 1833.
The Dreadnought was actually retired briefly due to dismal sales before being revived in 1931, this is ironic considering the popularity of the design and its widespread in the decades since its initial conception.
The inherently larger body of the Dreadnought acoustic guitar resulted in a much louder and deeper tonality than its contemporaries and predecessors. A design lending itself well to hard strumming techniques with an emphasis on rhythm.
The Dreadnought has endured much use in a variety of genres, including Blues, Country, Rock, and Bluegrass music over the decades since its conception, with perhaps its strongest emphasis being on folk players in its earlier days.
The increased volume of the Dreadnought acoustic guitar body means it lends itself well to being played in a typical band or ensemble situation, often holding its own in the mix when balanced against the level of other electric instruments and drums.
Loudness is considered one of the primary factors leading to dreadnoughts being amongst the most popular acoustic guitar body types in the world, with many players making the deduction that louder is immediately better.
Notable dreadnought models include the Martin D1X, Martin D-28 Gibson Jumbo, Gibson Hummingbird, and of course, the numerous offerings by Taylor, including the 510,410 and 610. It is worth noting that Martin was relatively quick to license the Dreadnought design, which lead to numerous manufacturers quickly bringing forth their own models into the market.
Elvis Presley, Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot, Keith Richards, Thom Yorke, and Kurt Cobain are all famous Dreadnought guitar players, clearly illustrating the lasting power of this design over many decades in popular music in a variety of genres.
An Introduction to the Concert Acoustic Guitar
If the workhorse Dreadnought is the spirit of a robust and hearty warship, then the Concert guitar could be considered an intricate, classically trained soprano. Characteristically harnessing a more delicate and complex tonality than their Dreadnought siblings and excelling at a different vocabulary with their own unique voicing.
In addition to being smaller in construction, concert guitars also harness a narrower waist counter and depth than their Dreadnought counterparts. All of these design features work in collaboration resulting in a strong focus on the midrange frequencies and crisp highs of the guitar, replacing the low-end boom of the aforementioned Dreadnought body counterparts.
The overtones and harmonic detail of the Concert acoustic guitar makes it ideal for the execution of beautiful arpeggios and fingerpicking techniques. The tighter bottom will lead to less obscuring of polyphonic passages, such as complex chord voicings and multi-layered passages that will likely have trouble cutting through the depth of a Dreadnought-bodied instrument, becoming somewhat undefined and muddled.
The perceived lower volume of a Concert-bodied acoustic guitar may also find it better suited to singer-songwriters who lend themselves towards a more delicate dynamic nature in which the power of a Dreadnought may be sonic overkill and an effort to subdue in this context.
The Concert guitar may also be an invaluable tool for the solo artist performing without a backing band or ensemble, leaving more room for the voice to cut through and providing a friendlier balance between both elements.
Virtuosos aside, smaller players and even beginners may find an advantage in the Concert body Acoustic guitar as the more compact body size may be easier for players with smaller hands to wrangle in situations where a Dreadnought may be unmanageable or even uncomfortable for some to play regularly.
Traveling musicians and buskers may also find the smaller size of a Concert guitar more appealing than that as dreadnaught as the instrument will fit into a smaller Hardcase or gig bag enabling easier transportation and setup/pack down times while performing on the go.
Popular models of Concert sized guitars include the Martin LX1 Little Martin, Taylor 412CE V class Concert, and Guild OM-240E, among many others.
Like their Dreadnought counterparts, many famous players have utilized Concert acoustic guitars in their songwriting and live performances over the decades, including Tommy Emmanuel, Leo Kottke, Pierre Bensusan, and Peppino D’Agostino. One may notice that this group of players tends to lean more towards the solo virtuoso contingent of players than the list of Dreadnought players, which featured many more singer-songwriters and band musicians.
The modern appearance and construction of the acoustic guitar can be traced back to circa 1850, credited to the Spanish luthier Antonio Torres Jurado. The familiar bracing techniques still utilized in the manufacturing process of acoustic guitars today were founded by him and have remained relatively unchanged since, a true testament to the design foundations laid down by Antonio over a century ago.
The bracing arrangement found within an acoustic guitar provides structural support to the instrument to counteract the tension imparted upon the instrument when the strings are tuned to pitch. The top of the guitar is known as the soundboard and is an integral part of formulating the instrument’s tonal characteristics and how it projects.
Without a soundboard, an acoustic guitar would essentially sound like strings vibrating in the air with far less presence than what is provided by the introduction of a soundboard. Another important design feature of the acoustic guitar is the sides which determine the depth of the instrument, once again heavily influencing its sound as the acoustics guitar hollow chamber plays a great part in its resonance.
Compared to the electric guitar, some may feel that acoustics have endured very little modernization since their introduction. After all, luthiers still use many traditional tonewoods, including spruce, cedar mahogany, and rosewood, and continue to use the same aforementioned construction techniques that were first implemented long ago.
However, on the contrary, it is well worth noting that many modern appointments have made their way into acoustic guitar manufacturing, with many advancements and fresh ideas infiltrating this industry segment over the years.
A notable example is the inclusion of electronic pre-amps, pickups, and equalizers introduced in the 1960s, perhaps closer to bridging the gap between acoustic guitars and their amplified counterparts. The requirement for this became apparent as acoustic guitars were finding their way onto bigger stages after the 1950s and were also being used in ensembles where instruments were being mic’d up and amplified through larger PA systems and higher wattage amplifiers.
While initial attempts at Electric Acoustic guitars were particularly prone to feedback, companies such as Ovation endeavored to make this cross-pollination a norm in acoustic guitar manufacturing, and many electric acoustic guitars exist on the market today. To accompany these developments, one can find a wind range of acoustic-specific amplifiers featuring speakers and preamps voiced to accentuate the nature of the acoustic guitar.
The most popular pickups utilized in acoustic guitars are Piezo pickups, of which a detailed rundown on the form and function can be found here.
Electronics aside, more contemporary materials such as carbon fiber and titanium have made their way into producing some Concert and Dreadnought acoustic guitar body shapes. This includes concepts such as incorporating design features like titanium truss rods less prone to shifting than more traditional counterparts and using composite carbon fiber bridge plates, which further enhance the volume and projection of an instrument while adding very little weight.
It is even relatively common to find models of acoustic guitars boasting inbuilt electronic tuners, making the setup and performance workflow of many guitarists easier and more efficient in day-to-day use.
Concert vs Dreadnought: Head To Head
The debate between Concert and Dreadnought acoustic guitar body types has been a hot topic amongst players for decades, with both enjoying considerable followings and sales figures. With so many offerings from manufacturers at various price points, it can be quite challenging to determine which body type best suits your purposes and playing style.
Ultimately either instrument can be utilized to much effect in any genre, from Rock to Bluegrass. Hence, it all boils down to what tonality an individual seeks and which is complimentary to their own playing style. Obviously, for some players, size will also come into play, so it is recommended that anyone contemplating which purchase is best suited to their individual needs take the time to audition a selection of guitars before making a decision.