The Dreadnought is by far the most popular acoustic guitar in the industry. Originally invented in 1916 by C.F. Martin & Company, the dreadnought was significantly larger than other acoustic guitar styles of the day.
(This is a guest post by the team of heartbreakerguitars.com)
At the time, most acoustic guitars were significantly smaller than what modern musicians would be used to today. There was little need for a loud, bold guitar tone because the music of the era did not favor the instrument over its venerable cousin with a centuries-long history being played by some of music's greatest names – the violin.
Similarly, as an instrument of accompaniment, there was little need to use an acoustic guitar when the piano was a more versatile and prestigious choice. Most venues at the time had their own piano, so singers and performers could simply sit down and start playing their songs without having to bring their own instruments and tune strings.
For early 20th century guitar players, the guitar's main role was to back up the piano in the context of a folk or blues band. The instrument's preeminence in jazz was still a decade or two away. Tin Pan Alley, the musical publishing nexus of the day, was thoroughly unconcerned with guitar music.
The Dreadnought Changes Everything
All of this changed with the advent of the dreadnought-style guitar. With a much broader body, a mahogany back, and a spruce top, this guitar had a deep, bellowing tone that could rival many of the other instruments in a folk ensemble.
This was particularly attractive to country musicians, who could rely on this guitar to stand out in an ensemble even when the fiddle and banjo players were both performing at maximum intensity. The guitar's rich tone always came out, and generally with a deep tonal range that supported the mostly male voices it accompanied.
This was important in band contexts that often lacked a powerful bass sound. Unlike pianos, string basses were hard to come by and nobody wanted to be the unlucky one to carry one from town to town. Thus, the dreadnought guitar became the go-to musical foundation for innumerable country artists of the era.
It was Gibson's 1940s and 50s dreadnought-style guitars that would really break the mold and make this style dominate the industry of which it was a part, however. The breakthrough occurred when blues artists like Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt began to favor the big, earthy tone of the instrument and – most importantly – began to play it alone, unaccompanied by piano, fiddle, banjo, or percussion.
Moving on into the 1960s, famous names like Bob Dylan became so closely associated with the style that people began to forget there ever was a different type of acoustic guitar. Fast forward to today, and dreadnought-style guitars like the beautiful African Blackwood custom set, the standard for rich tone and endless sustain.
Dreadnoughts like the Bourgeois with its extra large sound hole very literally set the tone for what a dreadnought acoustic guitar should sound like. You can check out Heartbreaker Guitars to see their selection of Dreadnought guitars!