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Acoustic Guitars - Dreadnought vs Concert vs Auditorium

Not all Acoustics are created equal


by Chris Loeffler




Acoustic guitars come in many shapes and sizes, but most manufacturers tend to delineate them into families based on size, design, and intention. Exact sizes and specs vary (even within theoretically similar styles) among manufacturers, so there are few hard rules to lean on. As a resultr, a recurring question we see throughout the Harmony Central forums is, “What is the difference between Dreadnought/Concert/ Auditorium acoustic guitars?” Fortunately, players can have a good idea of what to expect from an instrument based on its style.


While there are many other styles, including Parlor, Jumbo, and “Grand” versions - each built for a targeted sound and playing style - this overview will focus on the three variations mentioned above.


Dreadnought - The Original Classic


The Dreadnought style was originally designed by C.F. Martin & Company (that’s long-speak for Martin) in 1916 to be bigger, bolder, and louder-sounding than the smaller guitars being played at the time. This robustness is reflected in the name, which is a reference to the HMS Dreadnought - a massive, modern gunship launched in 1906. The Dreadnought quickly became a go-to style for acoustic players and is still the most popular and commonly used format, proliferating in bluegrass, country, rock, and blues.


Loud and powerful, the Dreadnought is that rare acoustic capable of standing up to an electric band without significant help. The aesthetic is a bit boxier (Gibson’s Hummingbird even squares off the shoulders) to achieve the desired projection, and the body a bit deeper. In addition to power and punch, a Dreadnought typically produces strong lows and mids for a full sound that forms massive chords and kick to bluegrass runs.


Auditorium - A Modern Balancing Act


The Auditorium style guitar, a newer shape to emerge in the acoustic guitar world (and also an original C.F. Martin & Company design), was intended to bridge the gap between the corpulent Dreadnought and the petite, nuanced Parlor. This “in-between” status gave the Auditorium style a leg-up with fingerstyle and folk players who sought the ability to jump between intricate picking and still keep up the low end when digging into chords.


The Auditorium has a markedly more pronounced waist, which some players (especially smaller-framed ones), prefer over the Dreadnought. There's a deeper cut against the knee to lower the guitar, and a deep cut on top for easier, more accessible arm clearance. On an end-to-end or side-to-side measurement, Auditoriums tend to be near or the same as a Dreadnought. The Auditorium’s slightly more subdued bass and balance make it ideal for solo performers who have the sonic space for the more gentle and intricate playing to stand out. Balance is the name of the game with the Auditorium.


Concert - A Bigger Parlor


Unlike the Auditorium’s middle-ground stance, the Concert is very much an enlargement of the Parlor guitar, with a shallower body, deeper waist, and shoulders smaller than its hips. Another relatively new body style, the Concert was designed to make a bigger, richer Parlor without abandoning its unique sounds or adopting the darker tones of larger-sized guitars. The Concert’s smaller size and compact dimensions make it ideally suited for fingerstyle playing.


The Concert has an even more pronounced waist than the Auditorium, which serves to keep overtones in check for a crisper, less harmonically dense delivery. While producing more bass than a Parlor, the Concert has a significantly reduced bass presence when compared to an Auditorium or Dreadnought, and favors crisper highs and mids. The Concert is aimed at taking the unique but relatively low-volume Parlor sound to performance volume levels for players who rarely intend to strum out chords.


Which is Right for Me? 


There’s a reason and a use for all styles of guitar and of course, there’s a lot of overlap and a few “can’t do that’s” between the Dreadnought and Auditorium. The booming ballast of the Dreadnought is an iconic part of modern music and truly the best fitted, out of the box, to stand up to electric instruments and the most cutting with rhythm guitar. In the bluegrass world, the Dreadnought is practically the first and last word in instrument options due to its drive and focus. The Auditorium, on the other hand, stands out in live solo performances and offers a unique tone that modern recording techniques are well equipped to capture. And for a brighter sound than an Auditorium or Dreadnought, but more bass than a Parlor, there's always the Concert. 


Examples of current Dreadnought Guitars


Gibson Hummingbird

Martin D-28

Taylor 810



Examples of current Auditorium Guitars


Taylor 814

Martin 000-15

Breedlove Premier Auditorium


Examples of current Concert Guitars


Taylor 412

Breedlove Solo Concert CE

Gretsch G9531 Style Double-0





Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer. 


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sit'njam  |  June 05, 2017 at 3:38 pm
I love my Martin dread and play it at acoustic jams with others also playing dreads.  I'm planning on getting a Taylor auditorium as I do a lot of soloing,  think it will be comfortable to play and add a slightly different sound,  but am (slightly) concerned about being heard.  I think the solution may be using a thicker pick than my usual .73mm.  
Barry-iY2YV  |  June 05, 2017 at 2:01 pm
Great article - thanks!
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