Dreadnought VS. Concert – Which Acoustic Guitar Style Will Suit You Best?

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Dreadnought VS. Concert - Which Acoustic Guitar Style Will Suit You Best

If you have recently got into guitar playing, perhaps learning on an old guitar, or someone else’s, and are now considering buying a guitar of your own, there are a few considerations worth making, including choosing a style of guitar.

Or perhaps you are looking to upgrade your guitar but you aren’t so sure of what body shape to look for.

A trip to the guitar might have already filled you with dread, pardon the pun, but with some many different styles of guitar, different body shapes, even neck length, you might be feeling out of your depth.

In this case we’re here to clear things up. We will cover two of the most popular styles of acoustic guitar today, comparing their differences and also discussing the kinds of considerations you should make in order to understand which style of guitar will suit your own playing the most.

Making the right choice now means that you will have a guitar that will arguably last you a lifetime if treated well, and could even be passed onto another beginner, like you once were, when you eventually upgrade to something else.

Keep reading to learn more about the acoustic guitar, its various styles, and which may be best for you.

Considerations When Buying An Acoustic Guitar

Let us first consider what we should consider when buying a guitar in order to help us make a judgment about which style of guitar is best for us.

Sizing

Before we even cover guitar shapes, it’s important to understand that guitar size is its own thing.

No matter what style or shape of guitar you have there is still a scale of size within that.

Even if you have found the ideal style and shape, you could still buy a guitar that’s too big for you, or vice versa.

Guitar sizing relies on two kinds of measurements, scale length and scale size.

Like with clothing what one brand of guitar deems as a ‘full sized’ guitar can differ quite a lot, in the same way a large in one shop can fit completely differently to a large size in a different shop, a ‘full sized guitar’ can range from anywhere between 38-42 inches per brand.

Finding the right guitar body shape and size is key to making the right purchase for your first guitar as well as getting value when upgrading your guitar.

Once you understand guitar sizing, the idea of size isn’t as scary as it was before, and you can purchase with full confidence.

Scale Length

The measurement both customers and luthiers rely on is known as ‘scale length’ – a luthier is what we call someone who makes guitars.

The scale length is the distance between the bridge of the guitar to the nuts, this is the most important area of the guitar as you will interact with this area the most, the strings in other words.

This will affect fret spacing, string tension, and is what provides different brands and styles of guitars with unique features, rather than sounding the same.

If you know of a guitar, or own a guitar, that you are familiar with and feel fits you well, measure the distance between the bridge and the nuts and use this measurement to compare to a guitar you want to buy, this will give you a gauge of whether it will be long or short for you.

This scale length measurement allows for styles of guitar body to change for acoustic reasons but the neck and strings, the main part, stays the same.

A 42.5” dreadnought and concert guitar have the same length from bridge to nuts, but the body size, even the head size, can be completely different.

Scale Sizes

The scale size can provide you with more of a holistic understanding of a guitar’s size at a glance.

This approach to sizing is very similar to S, M, L, in clothing, and is more general.

There are generally four sizes we should be aware of when buying a guitar. 4/4 is what we consider a full sized guitar, while 1/4 would be the smallest size of a guitar.

Important to note that these aren’t scalar sizes, in other words a 1/4 guitar is not literally a quarter the size of a 4/4 guitar.

Again, note that this describes the general size of a guitar but, like scale length, is not definitive.

In other words, a dreadnought and a concert guitar that is 4/4 in size are both full sized, but the body size will remain completely different.

These sizes are mainly to match against the scale of a person’s whole body.

Anyone over the age of 10-13 should be playing a full sized guitar, a 4/4, but a ½ size would be suitable for children aged 5-7, for example.

It’s important to keep an eye on this as if you are an adult male of 190cm, if you buy a ¼ guitar it just won’t be practical, nor will a child be able to play a full-sized 4/4 guitar.

Here’s a general guide:

  • ¼ Size – Kids up to four
  • ½ Size – Kids age 5 – 7
  • ¾ Size – Kids 7 – 10
  • 4/4 Size – Ages over 10

Material

As a beginner, there’s not too much value in paying attention to the material of a guitar beyond a general understanding.

Without a nuanced understanding of the various materials and how they affect tone and resonance, something which is debated greatly in the guitar community, trying to understand this dichotomy is just unrewarding and a waste of time as a beginner.

To sum it up, the wood used in the body and neck, as well as the wood top, can arguably provide a guitar with different tones and resonance.

‘Tonewood’ and ‘resonance’ are massive trigger words luthiers use, but the actual return in terms of sound is very little or totally subjective.

In other words for a guitar under $500, there’s very little chance this wood has an effect.

But if we look at some of the most expensive guitars out there, this concept of body and neck material may be more measurable.

Looking for a brand that is well reviewed and vouched for by many, such as Fender or Gibson, as well as others, is your best bet, rather than going for the guitar that has some new tonewood.

Guitar Shape – Dreadnought VS. Concert

Dreadnought VS. Concert - Which Acoustic Guitar Style Will Suit You Best (1)

So, let’s say you know what scale length you enjoy and that you want a full sized guitar, assuming you aren’t a child.

We discussed that while you may know these two measurements that fit you specifically, there is still the consideration of body shape which has a large effect on how you play as well as the sound they create for different purposes.

What Is A Dreadnought Guitar?

A dreadnought body shape is arguably your classic guitar shape we all may think of when imagining a guitar.

The dreadnought was designed by the US manufacturer Martin, and has since become one of the most popular and common guitar shapes.

They named it ‘dreadnought’ after the HMS Dreadnought, a battleship noted for its size and power.

The two important factors that differentiate this guitar shape from others are bass response and volume, both rely on the guitar’s particularly large cavity.

Needless to say, the dreadnought is the largest traditional guitar shape out there, which is a consideration for some.

If you are of a shorter stature other sizes and workarounds may work better for you, but the guitar isn’t played only by tall people.

The dreadnought is particularly revered for playing live, in certain settings it does not require amplification and in terms of purely acoustic volume a dreadnought can be the loudest body shape.

Equally, for the same reasons, the dreadnought has, by far, the best bass response.

There is a lot of ‘low end’, meaning low frequencies, that this guitar can create, which is why it is often favored by those playing live acoustic sets particularly in venues as the guitar has such a full sound.

Due to its particular resonance it is ideal for layering chords underneath higher frequencies, which is also noticeable when hearing this played in a classical, ensemble, setting where multiple people are playing guitars – in this setting body shape becomes most useful.

What Is A Concert Guitar?

A concert guitar is, arguably, the second smallest guitar body shape, dwarfed only by the parlor guitar – notice how both names are indicative of the ideal acoustic environment for each guitar, although not true of the dreadnought.

Noticeably, the concert body shape is much smaller than the dreadnoughts.

Note that this doesn’t change the scale length, as we discussed.

The smaller size makes it more playable for certain people, but the smaller body shape also means that it has less bass response but is much better for mid range and high frequencies instead.

As a result a concert guitar has a much brighter and sharper sound than the dreadnought, which makes it ideal to cut through bassier chords usually with riffs and melodies, instead of chords.

Again, in a classical ensemble performance where multiple guitars are being layered over each other live, a concert guitar is useful to play melodies over the bassier chords created by a dreadnought.

Due to the higher frequencies a concert guitar can create it is particularly good for finger picking and other high attack playing styles such as picking.

Also note, there is a ‘grand concert’ body shape, that is a little larger than the concert shape with a little more midrange response.

The concert and grand concert are the best two guitars to play together, if you were to do a live performance of only two guitars as they interact particularly well.

A grand concert is what most people refer to when they mention a, non-spanish, classical guitar.

How Do They Compare?

Size is the largest factor to consider here, that affects both tonal choices as well as choices based on playing styles.

A dreadnought, while the loudest and most resonant of all guitar shapes, can require a body shape that is equally fitting out the guitar.

Generally, taller people will traditionally play the dreadnought in an ensemble, with smaller people serving their own purposes.

The dreadnought is the kind of guitar that is ideally reserved for live performance, but there is no reason why you can’t practice on a dreadnought and use it in any way you want.

On the other hand, a concert guitar is arguably the ‘everyman’ guitar in that most people, regardless of body size, can play a concert.

A concert guitar is particularly good if you just want something that is easy to play at home that doesn’t sacrifice any tone or resonance.

But if you want resonance to fill a venue, rather than your bedroom, then a dreadnought would be more fit for purpose.

In an ensemble, the original reason why there different body shapes to begin with, they serve specific purposes.

Playing style is also a big consideration.

If you want to do a lot of finger picking, learning riffs and melodies, and are looking to play genres like folk, country, or latin, as well as others, then the concert is your best choice.

On the other hand, if you want a guitar fit for playing live, that you may be singing over, for genres like classic rock, indie, rock n roll, or will simply be strumming chords a lot more than picking, a dreadnought is the best choice.

Product Recommendations

Best Dreadnought Under $500: Yamaha FG800 Acoustic Guitar


For less than $500 this is really good dreadnought.

Yamaha is a very trustworthy brand used by many top guitarists, with high design and engineering, the finish on the body is seamless which tells us it is a quality guitar with high quality luthiery, not something cheap that has been glued together haphazardly.

The quality is also clear in the materials used, which suit the dreadnoughts’ full sound specifically.

Yamaha chose one of these so-called ‘tonewoods’, a Sitka spruce wood top, which does suit the kind of resonance a dreadnought has.

Yet, the guitar remains fairly light for a dreadnought of this size, without sacrificing the tone we want.

Moreover, as a beginner, this isn’t a bad guitar to choose if you want a dreadnought.

This is particularly true because the string tension remains relatively low to the neck which is ideal for beginners who may not have developed the finger strength to get good action on the strings when holding more complex chords.

Being a relatively low budget guitar, albeit well manufactured and engineered, one common swap that occurs at this price range is a plastic bridge.

Plastic is not the ideal material for a bridge and can detract from the clarity of higher frequencies, ideally we would want something like a bone bridge for a better high end.

The guitar is also available from GuitarCentre.

Pros

  • Sitka spruce top matches dreadnought’s tone
  • Great volume
  • Good bass response
  • Trustworthy brand

Cons

  • Plastic bridge
  • Lacks high end

Best Dreadnought Overall: Martin D-45 Dreadnought


There is no doubt in our minds that the Martin D-45 is arguably one of the best guitar’s out there, easily being the ebay dreadnought.

Martin created the shape of dreadnought anyway, so there’s no doubt any of their models are, arguably, the best for this body shape.

The guitar is very expensive but demonstrates some superb luthiery and is a stellar guitar.

While it does cost a lot, it will hold its value pretty well, and you could retrieve most of the price in a re-sale.

The entire body is made from rosewood, and is the ideal material for a guitar but often reserved only for the neck as it is expensive.

A spruce top is the ideal wood top for a dreadnought and in combination with the rosewood is really when the concept of ‘tonewoods’ and resonance really makes sense and is noticeable.

Shifted scalloped X bracing in the body itself provides some serious bass response in addition to the guitar’s material resonance.

In addition, the nuts themselves are butterbean gold, as well as with abalone neck inlays, a true indication of stellar quality.

But a slimmer, modern, neck is ideal for playing with full access to the neck.

The bridge and fingerboard are made from ebony which means even the high end itself is better than most parlor guitars, also thanks to a bone saddle.

Also available from Guitar Centre.

Pros

  • Made by the inventor of the dreadnought
  • Some of the highest quality luthiery you can get
  • Amazing resonance
  • Great high end
  • Driving mid frequencies
  • Highest quality materials used
  • Holds value well

Cons

  • Very expensive

Best Concert Guitar Under $500: Fender CC-60S Concert Acoustic Guitar


This is a really great middle of the road guitar, that is ideal for those who want a beginner acoustic guitar that won’t set them back too far but has good playability to practice in a home setting.

This isn’t the kind of guitar that will fill out a whole venue with its sound resonance but works perfectly well for smaller applications, and while not electric could be amplified with a microphone if necessary.

A spruce top is useful for adding more bass to the guitar, providing dynamic range for both strumming and picking.

The mahogany back and sides do well for volume too as well as providing a balance for midrange sounds.

Under the $500 range the tonewoods here aren’t that noticeable but are particularly durable which is good.

Perhaps of most use to a beginner is the ease of playing the neck, it’s not engineered down so much that playing a different guitar feels weird, but is rounded just enough to help out those who don’t have developed hand muscles for proper action on the strings.

Even if you are more of a practiced player, the walnut neck still feels nice to play and not weird.

Again, while a plastic bridge is not the most ideal for a concert guitar, this model remains perfectly reasonable for a first guitar and will last for a long time, ideal for practicing at home where resonance or volume matter less.

This guitar is also available at Guitar Center.

Pros

  • Rounded neck ideal for beginners
  • Good body materials
  • Perfect for practicing
  • Reasonably priced

Cons

  • Not ideal for live playing
  • Not the best bass response
  • Plastic bridge

Best Concert Guitar Overall: Yamaha A Series AC3M Cutaway Semi Acoustic Concert Guitar


This guitar is a really good bang for your buck guitar that is an ideal middle of the road model.

If you are perhaps a little shorter in stature and struggle playing dreadnought, but enjoy playing solo gigs and playing a style that would suit a dreadnought, this guitar, with the aid of electric amplification, can help you get a similar effect to a dreadnought.

For a modern player this guitar is ideal with both electric and acoustic amplification, suitable to play basically any venue you want.

Even without the electric amplification, the sitka spruce top and solid mahogany back and sides make it ideal for acoustic amplification on its own.

Plus, a super comfortable neck profile makes it quite easy to play, even when live, and the ebony fingerboard and bridge really help those high end frequencies, typical of a concert guitar, sing.

For the high quality build and materials it’s worth the price.

To touch on the electric capabilities here, the Studio Response Technology (SRT) pickups and preamp system is ideal for a natural amplified tone that is somewhat vintage in its sound, which is a nice thing.

Effectively this SRT system relies on the natural tone of the acoustic guitar itself, and the electric amplification is much more natural and resonant as a result.

While this guitar’s acoustic qualities are ideal for a concert guitar and work well without an semi-electric capability, the electric capabilities alone are a good reason to buy the guitar, should that be what you are looking for.

Also available at Guitar Center, this purchase doesn’t come with the soft case that is available with Amazon link.

Pros

  • Modern and innovative electric amplification
  • Great acoustic amplification
  • Ideal concert guitar for live performances
  • Quality dynamic range of EQ
  • Quality parts and materials
  • Good value for craftsmanship

Cons

  • Acoustic ability alone is not comparable to a dreadnought

Which Is Best? Dreadnought VS. Concert

If we are talking about straight up engineering of a single body type, a dreadnought will always win.

It’s way louder and is ideal for all kinds of live performances, and in terms of an acoustic instrument can generate some impressive resonance and volume.

Dreadnought VS. Concert - Which Acoustic Guitar Style Will Suit You Best (2)

Yet, a concert guitar does serve its own purpose both within an ensemble guitar cast, playing the higher notes and melodies, but also as an at home guitar.

Yet, a dreadnought is arguably something you would go for after having played guitar for a while, with a specific goal of live, acoustic, performances where you will be singing over your own guitar playing.

A dreadnought benefits most from being expensive and is the peak of luthiery engineering.

For beginners, a concert guitar is the ideal middle of the road guitar that most people can play easily, and is a good body shape to learn on, especially if you aren’t a naturally tall person.

Concert guitars are more reasonably priced and a concert guitar under $500 is a totally worthwhile purchase that doesn’t lose too much at this price range.

Moreover, a concert guitar with electric capabilities can arguably compete with a dreadnought, and is another great instrument for live performances, no matter what you will be playing.

Modern pick up systems mean that you can translate this acoustic sound through electric systems pretty accurately without losing too much tone or resonance.

Equally, playing style can also be worth considering when choosing between the body types.

If you prefer to have more of a finger picking style with higher action then a concert guitar is arguably the best thanks to its great high end.

Moreover, the body itself is better for the practical act of finger picking, and for making more complex chord shapes, due to how your body will get over it.

As mentioned, if you are playing classic chords and strumming a lot then the dreadnought is unbeatable for the kind of tone and bass response you want when playing chords, ideal for singing over or playing other instruments over.

When it comes to straight up guitar playing in the traditional sense, nothing beats a dreadnought.

Final Thoughts

As should be clear, there are so many subjective considerations we should make when trying to suggest one guitar body shape is better than the other.

The truth is the body shape you should go for is the one that suits your physiology and playing style best.

If you are small in stature and are just struggling with the dreadnought, getting aches in your hands and back from trying to control the size of the dreadnought while playing complex chords, there’s no shame in moving to a smaller sized guitar body shape such as concert, or even a grand concert.

Equally, you may find that you have splashed out on a dreadnought and found that it’s just not got the high end you want to play a more picking style of guitar playing.

In this case there is also no shame in downsizing for something that has a better high end.

Finally, if you are a beginner then a concert guitar is most likely to be a better fit for you.

Whereas if you are more practiced in playing a guitar and want something with more oomph than your first guitar, a dreadnought might be worth considering.

Ultimately these decisions are up to you, and, armed with this information, you should consider how you fit into this spectrum of needs.

There is no body shape that is better than the other, only a body shape that suits you better.

It’s all about playing style and practicality – take the path of least resistance, especially as a beginner.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are Dreadnoughts So Popular?

The answer is twofold – Firstly, the dreadnought is the height of guitar engineering.

As the largest guitar body shape it is the best for acoustic amplification, which many mistake simply for quality.

Dreadnoughts benefit the most from certain choices like materials and string choices because of its ability for acoustic amplification.

Secondly, as the dreadnought is the best for acoustic performance many popular and successful guitarists play the dreadnought.

When we see pictures or hear live performances of classic guitarists like Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, they are playing a dreadnought.

As a result the dreadnought has become synonymous with good guitar playing in general as well as live performance so beginners naturally are drawn to it.

There are many guitar body shapes, all of which serve different purposes and suit different people.

While dreadnoughts are popular, and famous, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best choice for your own playing style or intentions.

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