The Dreadnought is the quintessential acoustic guitar. If a child were asked to draw an acoustic guitar then the chances are that they’ll draw a Dreadnought shaped guitar and there’s a good reason for that – Dreadnoughts are the most popular guitar shape in the world.
However, the Jumbo acoustic is the alternative for players after a bigger body and potentially a bigger sound. But interestingly, the bigger body doesn’t always mean bigger sound. The reasons are fairly scientific and logical, though they might be surprising.
Understand the tone equation
It would be remiss to write about the ‘best acoustic guitar’ without discussing the equation that gives a guitar its sound in the first place. This ‘tone equation’ can be described with the following 3 ingredients that all come together to create a unique and distinct sound when you play an acoustic guitar.
Body Shape – The body shape gives you a platform from which to work. It’s the base of your guitar sound but doesn’t form the whole picture. Each body shape has a different personality and physical feel which automatically means certain shapes will appeal more to certain players than others. For example: smaller players with smaller hands might be inclined to play a Parlour shaped guitar rather than a Jumbo simply because it’s more comfortable!
Tonewood – The woods used to build the guitar are another important part of the equation, though the choice of woods will often be defined by the body shape. Certain woods are denser and therefore reflect sound better than other wood types which could be described as ‘warm’. Warm woods might not give you the volume that a brighter wood does but what it lacks in volume, it makes up in character. Tonewood adds flavour, character and definition to the body shape of your acoustic.
The Player – The most important part of the equation – the player. How a guitarist actually plays will determine which guitar they’re best suited to. It’s almost like the guitar chooses the player rather than the other way around. This is because everyone has a different attack and feel and different guitars respond differently depending on how they’re played. For example: A gentle fingerstyle player would be better off with a smaller-bodied guitar because it requires less energy to get sound out of the smaller body.
Dreadnought Acoustic Guitars
The Dreadnought has a slightly ‘boxy’ shape which gives it a subtle midrange scoop – exactly where the vocals sit in the mix, so it’s great for singers. That slight mid-scoop means you get a bold, fat-sounding low-end and snappy top-mid for excellent clarity. When you think of a dreadnought, a Martin or Taylor guitar is probably what comes to mind.
Dreadnought guitars have got a straighter body and don’t have the tight waist that a Jumbo does. This actually results in a more balanced EQ-response. Unless you have a slope-shouldered Dreadnought like the Gibson J-45 which shaves off a bit of top-end for a warmer strumming sound. These are heavily favoured by singer-songwriters to support their vocals.
Who is the Dreadnought best for?
The Dreadnought shape is known as the Swiss Army Knife of acoustic guitars. It’s by and large the most versatile acoustic guitar shape around. Brilliant for flatpickers and strummers or players after a traditional acoustic sound and shape. It’s widely regarded as the ultimate workhorse and will serve you in the studio, on stage whether you play solo or in a band, or even at home.
Surprisingly, it works very well for fingerpickers too as it has a very balanced tonal response so will pick up those treble notes with ease. And doesn’t require quite as much energy to get those big notes out that a Jumbo guitar does.
Jumbo Shaped Acoustic Guitars
Jumbo acoustic guitars are the ‘big strummer’ in the acoustic guitar family. They’ve got the most ‘air’ inside their body which means more energy is required to get sound out of them. But it also means more energy can come out of them.
A Jumbo normally has a circular style body with a tight-waist which is what gives it that top-end snap and presence. If it didn’t have this tighter waist, it would actually lose clarity and sound quite muddy making it almost unusable in any real musical situation.
Who is the Jumbo Acoustic best for?
The Jumbo isn’t really made for fingerpickers or players with a gentle approach but is the ultimate strummers guitar. Big folk, country and pop songs in a band mix sound amazing played on a Jumbo and there’s a reason why they’re favoured in the Nashville music scene (home to some of the best musicians on the planet) for those genres.
They’ve actually got a lot of clarity and top-end jangle thanks to the tight waist but a large amount of air in the body means that with the right approach you’ll also get tons of low-end out of a good Jumbo. Singer-songwriters or rhythm guitarists will love the sounds you can get from a Jumbo.
The guitar chooses the player in the sense that you need to match your guitar playing style to the acoustic guitar. That’s how you’ll get the best sound! Heavy strummers or rhythm players in a band should go for a Jumbo guitar. If you’re after something with a bit more versatility or traditional sound, then the Dreadnought is the one to get.
Personally, I have played a Dreadnought in a number of different situations over the years and no matter how much I love trying other bits of gear and other fancy guitars, I can’t get away from my Larrivee Dreadnought. It just does everything – and does it well. It’s not a jack-of-all-trades. Instead, it seems to be a master of all.
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