Dreadnought Vs. Concert Guitar: What’s the Difference?
For a while now, the debate about whether Dreadnought guitars or Concert guitars are better has been a heavily debated topic. The debate is quite fascinating because both acoustic guitars are fundamentally different. Although generally, Dreadnought is the more popular guitar, some guitarists prefer the Concert for its size and sound.
So what’s the difference between Dreadnought and Concert guitars? In short, the main differences are their size, shape, sound quality, weight, volume projection, and price point.
For those who are shopping around online, it may be confusing at first to see the terms Dreadnought or Concert. However, the names are primarily used to distinguish the size and shape of the guitar. It also represents the sound of the guitar and picking style, whether its made for finger-style or Flatpicking.
By determining your preference in sound and playing style, you can decide which acoustic guitar type is the best option. In this guide, we hope to breakdown in-depth the key differences in each instrument and tell you which guitar you may want to purchase.
What is a Dreadnought Guitar?
The Dreadnought Guitar is currently the most popular acoustic-style guitar in the market. When you picture the acoustic guitar, you probably imagine the shape of a Dreadnought guitar. This guitar was developed in 1916 by C.F. Martin & Company and was later copied by many other guitar manufacturers. Oddly, the guitar was named after the British dreadnought battleships in the 1900’s due to its sheer size and firepower.
Dreadnought is best known for its massive body, bold and louder tones compared to other acoustics. You’ll know what they are when you see one. Many Dreadnought players tend to use this guitar to play musical genres such as blues, bluegrass, rock, and country. Bluegrass musicians have used the Dreadnought to produce signature sounds. Popular Dreadnought players include Tommy Emmanuel, Richard Thompson, Leo Kottke, Phil Keaggy, Don Ross, and Gabriela Quintero.
The term Dreadnought just refers to the overall shape and size of the guitar. It has a wide upper and lower bout and a thin waist. Dreadnought is the ideal guitar for strumming rather than finger-style playing. This is because it has quite a powerful depth to its sound that’s much bolder than other guitars. At times, this can mean an overwhelming bass.
What is a Concert Guitar?
The Concert guitar is a specific type of guitar that is acoustic and uses steel strings. It’s best known for having a smaller body than most guitars but produces a more articulate tone. The Concert has a shorter neck making it easier to fret and finger-pick. Inherently due to its size, it can’t produce the volume that the Dreadnought can. However, it generates a much tighter sound with a controlled bottom. This makes it ideal for playing complex chords and polyphonic passages.
Concert guitars are perfect for smaller players due it’s more compact size. The lower bout measures around 13 to half-inch, providing the instrument with a very pronounced attack in the mid and high ranges. It also has a much more balanced tone and responsiveness than the Dreadnought, which may have an overpowering and unfocused bass. If you choose to go with the single-cutaway concert guitars, you’ll get an even brighter tone.
When playing, you may notice that the Concert guitar feels physically lighter, and the notes are more bright. As constructed, the Concert guitar is the second smallest acoustic guitar, just slightly larger than the Parlor guitars. Sometimes Concerts can also be called Model O. This guitar is a few pounds lighter and a few inches shorter than the Dreadnought. Although that doesn’t seem like much, it can make an enormous difference if you’re playing for hours.
Differences Between Dreadnought and Concert Guitar
Dreadnought guitars are notoriously known for their gigantic size and bold sounds. Both instruments have specific sizes and shapes designed to craft a particular sound. With the Dreadnought, it is about 4⅞ inches deep and 20 inches long. The width of its upper body is about 11 ½ inches, and the width of the lower body is 15 inches. And the width of its waist is 11 inches. Dreadnought’s increase of length and depth helps to produce its loud projections and booming bass.
The unique advantage of the Concert guitar is its size. The Concert has a body depth of about four ¼ inches and a length of 18 inches. The upper body’s width is 10 inches, and the lower body width measures at around 13 ½ inches. At the waist, the Concert has a much deeper contour than the Dreadnought measuring at 7 ½ inches. Additionally, the neck is about a ½ inch to ¾ of an inch shorter than most guitars. This decreases the string tension making fretting less painful and providing a softer feel.
The Dreadnought guitar weighs about five to six pounds, while the concert guitar weighs about three to five pounds. The difference in weight has a lot to do with its overall size and construction. These weight numbers can vary based on many different factors, such as wood type.
Obviously, the heavier it weighs, the more difficult it is to play standing up for long periods. Overall, you should consider the weight of the guitar if you’re someone who tours a lot. If you’re simply practicing the guitar at home while sitting down, it’s much more feasible to get a bigger and heavier guitar like the Dreadnought.
The most significant contributing factor to weight is the type of wood that is used for construction. It also matters whether a guitar has a solid or laminated tonewood. Typically the solid weighs more than the laminated one. With wood type, there are three commonly used types of wood with these two guitar types: Maple, Mahogany, and Rosewood.
The maple wood has a density of about 550 to 770kg/m3. Mahogany has a density of 450 to 640kg/m3, and Rosewood can range from 420 to 940kg/m3. To further add to the weight, imagine having different shapes and sizes of guitars. That’s why Dreadnoughts tend to weigh more because they have total wood density than concert guitars. Certain guitar manufacturers will even add wood toppings to guitars to add a thin piece of wood for a change in tone and aesthetic appeal.
With the sheer advantage in size, Dreadnought is capable of playing louder volumes than the Concert guitar. Because volume is created by amplifying the vibration of the strings, the Dreadnought has a broader body to resonate off of. This sound is conducive for players who enjoy playing live in bands. Additionally, the deeper tapered body gives the instrument vibrant overtones and longer sustain. The sound from this guitar is so full and rich that you can hear overtones above the chord you’re playing.
Due to its full sound, it’s popularly used for most genres today. Initially, it was used for just bluegrass and country music since it’s an excellent instrument for strumming, flat-picking, and extra volume. Nowadays, Dreadnought is seen as quite the versatile guitar capable of playing all types of music. The slimmer waist and wider ends helps to produce a full-end bass that can fill up the room. Although having a bold bass isn’t always a good thing, it’s quite useful for many rock songs.
The contrast in sounds between the Concert and Dreadnought is night and day. The smaller body and lack in-depth causes the Concert guitar to produce tighter for focused sounds. Although it doesn’t produce the rich overtones like the Dreadnought, it has punchy brighter tones. The concert guitar has fantastic mid and high ranges with very clear articulation between notes. The clear separation in notes makes the Concert guitar ideal for finger-picking and flat-picking.
Playability is largely determined by how it feels to use the fretboard and pluck the strings on your guitar. It’s also the general comfort level a player has when holding a guitar. Therefore the overall size, weight, shape, and length of the neck plays a role in the overall playability.
When it comes to playability, Concert guitars are easier to play, especially if you’re a smaller person. This smaller size helps players conveniently hold, play, and transport their guitar. The compact size and deeper cut at the guitar’s mid-section help with overall handling with the guitar. Especially as a smaller player, it’s much easier to play when you can hold the guitar in a comfortable position. Previously in the ’80s, most people could only buy large-bodied guitars. However, newer versions, such as the Concert guitar, become an excellent alternative. These became a less bulky and boxy version for guitar players and much more comfortable to hold.
Due to its larger size and longer neck, many beginners tend to stray away from the Dreadnought. Also, because the waist is less rounded, it can be difficult to play in a while seated. If you enjoy flat-picking or breezing through chords, the narrow neck is ideal for both. For players with smaller hands, it’s much easier to play with a thinner neck than a thicker one.
However, many experienced musicians enjoy Dreadnought’s benefits, especially its loud projection during live performances or gigs. In general, playability can vary from person to person. It’s important to align the neck angle with your body. You should wear the guitar and play it both seated and standing to see if it is comfortable to play in.
Both guitars vastly vary in pricing based on the type of wood, brand name, and even quality of workmanship on the guitar. In general, the Concert guitar is usually cheaper due to its size and shape. Most Concerts range from $100 – $350 in price.
For beginners, you should expect to pay $100 to $500 for your first guitar. There’s such a wide variety in price range that you could technically spend almost as much or as little as you want for a guitar. For example, the Rogue RA-090 Dreadnought costs $89.99, while the Martin HD-28 Standard Dreadnought costs $3,099. There’s even some really exotic and extravagant ones like the Martin D-45 Fire and Ice Dreadnought, which costs a whopping $31,999. This is the classical scenario of you get what you pay for.
If you’re an intermediate or more advanced player, you should be spending in the $500 to $1500 price range. You may get a few onboard electronics to help boost your play, such as built-in effects, equalizers, and blended pickup systems. When you’re searching for acoustic guitars, you may notice that some guitars have a cutaway body shape, and some don’t. Both the Dreadnought and Concert guitars may have this shape.
The cutaway body shape makes it more convenient to use the higher frets on the guitar for finger playing or flat-picking. Beginner guitarists tend to focus their attention on merely using the headstock of the guitar rather than the entire fretboard. More experienced players are more skillful at using the fretboard to get accurate intonation.
Anything beyond the $1,500 price point is primarily for durability and only very minor differences in sound quality. Many pay top dollar just to get rare collectible guitars or even vintage ones.
If you stand a Dreadnought and Concert guitar side by side, you’ll notice a significant difference between the two. With a Dreadnought, you get a wide large body frame and deep contours. However, the upper bout and waist of this guitar is quite narrow. It’s often classified as having squared shoulders and bottom. Also, the neck of the guitar is attached to the body at the 14th fret.
The Concert has a smaller overall frame, with a more narrow body. The guitar’s midsection or waist has a much deeper cut and has shorter top and bottom lengths. However, the Concert has much more rounded contours compared to the Dreadnought. Ironically, the aesthetics of these guitars help shape the overall sound you get from each instrument.
When searching for these guitar types online, you may notice that they have a standard shape and a cutaway shape. A cutaway is a curvature or indentation on the upper bout corner that is the closest to the guitar neck. The purpose is to allow quicker access to the higher end of the fretboard.
However, single or double-sided cutaways typically sacrifice some volume and bass. Guitars with a cutaway will tend to have a fuller sound. The cutaway restricts the total capacity of the guitar, limiting its resonance. For those who frequently use the upper frets, cutaway guitars are definitely worth the investment.
Dreadnought Guitar Pros & Cons
To me, Dreadnought has a lot of amazing advantages that definitely outweigh the negative aspects of this guitar. There’s a reason many professional musicians have used this guitar to perform their live performances. If you’re very particular about the sound, Dreadnought is likely the option for you. Nothing’s worse than trying to sustain your note, but it just abruptly cuts off. However, you’re not only limited to long sustains. You can use muting techniques such as palming to halt your sustains when needed.
Dreadnought has an incredible vibrancy with deep resonance due to its size and depth. Many musicians look for nuanced sounds like rich overtones, especially with sustains and chords. It might not be noticeable for many beginners, but it makes a significant impact on the music you play. And seasoned guitarists prefer flat-picking because of the consistent tone that it tends to provide over finger-style.
The only notable downsides are that this guitar is somewhat heavy and bulky to carry around. And it’s not the right guitar for finger-style or solo playing. But it’s very versatile for many genres like bluegrass, rock, country, pop, jazz, and blues.
- Better Sustain and Resonance than smaller-bodied guitars
- Louder Volume
- Reasonably priced guitar
- Wide selection of Dreadnought guitars to choose from
- Interchangeable, very easy to get used to
- Ideal for strumming
- Much better bass sound
- Perfect for playing in a band
- A bit bulky in size and difficult to hold if you’re a smaller person
- Guitar players who like nylon strings will have to switch over to steel strings
- People with shorter arms and thicker fingers tend to have a more difficult time to play with the fretboard due to its narrow neck
- Not a favorable guitar for finger playing
- Not ideal for solo playing
Concert Guitar Pros & Cons
For beginners, the Concert guitar can be a great acoustic to start with. Its compact size helps new players learn to comfortably hold the guitar while playing. As a new player, you’re likely focused on practicing scales and learning new songs. This is where the Concert is an advantage.
With this guitar, you get great separation between notes and beautiful bright mid to high range notes. Due to the shorter neck, the fretboard is much easier to access for finger-style. With finger-style, some chord melodies are easier to play and provide a wider range of dynamic expression. The downsides of the guitar is its lack of bass and sound projection. If you use a concert guitar during live performances, you’ll need to be mixed or amped up.
- Conducive to finger playing
- Great option for beginners
- Due to size and shape, comfortable to play with while seated
- Balanced and clear tones in the mid and upper ranges
- Great for solo playing
- More comfortable for smaller players to hold
- Not ideal for playing in a band
- Softer guitar
- Not a wide selection to choose from
Dreadnought Guitar Vs. Concert Guitar: Which Should You Choose?
As with most debates, the answer between dreadnought guitar versus concert guitar depends on your needs. You need to first determine what the specific qualities that you would want from acoustic guitars are. First off, the style of picking you prefer will matter. Dreadnought is ideal for flat-picking and playing bluegrass, rock, pop, blues, and country music. If you play live performances frequently and are part of a band, the Dreadnought acoustic is much more suitable because of it’s loud projection and bass.
For those of you that do a lot of strumming, this guitar is the one for you. More often than not, intermediate to advanced players tend to have the Dreadnought because of the reasons mentioned above. Additionally, Dreadnought has a more narrow neck to allow players to conveniently play chords. Many advanced players are more particular about their tone, and the Dreadnought has a much fuller sound, longer sustain, and rich overtones.
On the contrary, the Concert guitar is much more suitable for beginner guitar players or guitarists who prefer finger-style instead of flat-picking. As a new guitarist, getting comfortable with playing the guitar while holding it is a huge component of improving your skills. Due to its compact size, it’s much easier to hold and lug around. And you probably won’t be playing very many live gigs yet, so it’s a great guitar to play at home with.
You still get amazing bright mid and high range tones and very clear separation in notes. This is excellent for learning because you will be able to listen to your intonation and accuracy of notes quite fast. Although with Concert guitars, you don’t get the sound projection or bass like Dreadnought. Besides the guitar type, you’ll also have to choose between cutaways or no cutaway, six or 12 strings, and your choice of wood.
Although we couldn’t officially end the debate once and for all, we hope you have gained a better perspective about how each guitar has its own role. There are so many factors to consider when looking to purchase a guitar.But it’s best to start with your purpose for buying one in the first place and how you see yourself using it.
Keep in mind, there a vast selection of different models to choose from within each type of guitar, so it’s best to familiarize yourself with them. Hopefully, this comparison guide has helped you decide whether or you’ll get the Dreadnought or Concert guitar.