If you’re a fan of fingerpicking and fingerstyle guitar playing in general, you know that the type of guitar you use can make a huge difference. Many factors make a guitar not only feel good while fingerpicking but sound good too. Since dreadnought guitars are one of the most popular choices out there, you might be wondering: are dreadnought guitars good for fingerpicking?
Dreadnought guitars are good for fingerpicking. Their broad size gives your fingers more room, their full sound makes up for quieter fingerpicked notes, and their above-average sustain allows your notes to sound more connected and cohesive.
In the rest of this article, I’ll be covering the basics of dreadnought guitars and how they work- so you can make an informed decision about whether or not a dread might be suitable for your personal style.
What Is a Dreadnought Guitar?
Before diving into why dreadnoughts are good for fingerpicking, I need to explain the characteristics that define this type of guitar.
Created in the early 1900s, the dreadnought guitar has been a beloved instrument for over a century, favored for its rich sound and deep volume.
“Named after a British battleship launched in 1906, the original craft was a turning point in naval history, bettering its rivals in terms of armament, speed, size and firepower,” says Music Radar. “A few of those attributes could apply to the big-bodied beast of the unplugged world, too.”
An acoustic dreadnought guitar is uniquely recognized and defined by both visual and audible broadness. It’s a larger instrument as opposed to traditional concert acoustics, and has quite apparent physical differences that help make the instrument’s rich sound a possibility.
“A dreadnought shaped guitar is characterized by a large body and a relatively undefined waist,” says an article by Six String Acoustic. The upper and lower bouts of the guitar are alike in width when compared to classical acoustic guitar shapes (Related: are classical guitars tuned differently).
While a concert acoustic is known for a smaller upper body and thinner waist, a dreadnought is known for its wider waist and the size similarities of both upper and lower sections of the guitar’s body.
Because the top and bottom sections of a dreadnought guitar share very similar widths, this is a feature that makes the instrument stand out when you compare a dreadnought to more traditional types of acoustic guitars. The dreadnought is one of the largest guitar models, exceeded in size by only a few other guitar variants.
Long answer short, a dreadnought guitar is large, loud, and unconventionally shaped.
Now that you know what a dreadnought guitar is, let’s discuss whether or not a dreadnought guitar would be the right instrument for your needs.
Why Dreadnought Guitars Are Good for Fingerpicking
As I mentioned earlier, it’s possible to fingerpick on dreadnought guitars. In fact, it’s not just possible; dreadnoughts are often favored by musicians for their size, sound, tone, and sustain. They can be a pretty excellent choice if fingerpicking is the route you want to take. Here’s why:
Because a dreadnought guitar is a broader instrument, there’s more room for your fingers to pick the strings. This means that it’s often easier to fingerpick on a dreadnought as opposed to a concert because your chances of picking the wrong string are lower.
Concert guitars are typically smaller, meaning that while fingerpicking, there’s a higher chance that you might make an error simply because the instrument isn’t as roomy as a dreadnought.
But the size and shape of a dreadnought guitar doesn’t just affect its playability – those factors affect the sound as well.
Since fingerpicking is significantly quieter than strumming, it can often get drowned out when you’re playing with a group of people who are playing louder than you are.
But fret not- a dreadnought was designed to produce a fuller sound. With a louder instrument, the sound of your beautiful fingerpicking will be more audible and will stand out a lot more than it would if you were using a concert guitar. Because of their broader sound, dreadnoughts are suitable for live performances, playing along to vocals, or playing with a group of people.
Perhaps the greatest and most praised benefit of playing a dreadnought guitar is the tone that you can achieve with the instrument.
According to Guitar Space, a dreadnought guitar comes with “a bold, complete, and deep” tone that’s sure to move any audience at an emotional level.
Fingerpicking is a more intimate and complex style of guitar playing, and if you want your technique to have a positive impact on your audience, a dreadnought acoustic will provide you with a tone capable of doing just so.
When you’re trying to generate fingerpicking that sounds pleasing to the ear, it’s generally a wise idea to play on a guitar that can achieve the most sustain.
“For most styles of music, sustain is a good thing,” says Music Ambition. “Sustain essentially means that the instrument holds a picked or strummed note/chord for a more extended period. As you play a song, the sustained notes or chords create overtones, which create a sophisticated, organic sound.”
This sound is excellent for fingerpicking. When practicing this playstyle- depending on the sound you want to create- it’s usually smart to play with more sustain to avoid sounding plucky or stiff. When you fingerpick with good sustain, your notes will sound more connected and cohesive. This will provide your music with a soothing flow that any audience will love.
This is why a dreadnought guitar might be an excellent option for your fingerpicking endeavors. Dreadnoughts are known for producing a sound that can achieve more sustain, thanks to their large and wide design. This guitar was built for high volumes and broad tones that will surely give you a good amount of sustain.
More sustain in a guitar means that your song will have a smoother flow and, essentially, a better sound overall. If you want to achieve good-sounding fingerpicking techniques with higher levels of sophistication and ambiance, try a dreadnought.
Cons of Using a Dreadnought for Fingerpicking
Dreadnought guitars do have their fingerpicking pros, but they also come with a few cons that you might want to consider. Here are a few of those cons.
A dreadnought guitar can be challenging to play for a person of smaller stature due to its size and broad shape. This can lead to discomfort that might negatively affect your playing, depending on the setting of your playing and whether you need to stand or sit.
A typical concert acoustic might be a better option for traveling musicians or those who prefer playing the guitar while standing, because it’s smaller and generally more comfortable due to its small waist size and deeper curves. It takes a lot less physical effort to play a song on a smaller guitar.
Concert guitars and other classical variants are usually a lot easier to handle than dreadnought guitars because of the significant size difference. Since dreadnoughts are relatively large instruments, a concert acoustic is much easier to hold while playing, especially for younger and smaller guitar players.
But if you’re able to support a dreadnought and play comfortably, then I’m sure you have nothing to worry about. Concert guitars are better choices than dreadnoughts for younger players and beginners in general because of size and comfort, but if the dreadnought’s sheer size isn’t something that affects your skill, then playing one might be right up your alley.
Mistakes Are More Noticeable
Because a dreadnought guitar is significantly louder than a concert acoustic, your mistakes will definitely be heard by an audience.
Fingerpicking is generally a more complex technique than strumming. It requires excellent coordination, focus, and skill. If you’re a less experienced guitarist and you’re thinking of performing your fingerpicking for a crowd, maybe a dreadnought isn’t the way to go quite yet.
One of the most common complaints about using a dreadnought guitar for fingerpicking is the overwhelming sound of the bass.
“The bass response can be a little ‘boomy’ for fingerstyle playing,” says guitarist Khenan Mak on Quora.
The dreadnought guitar was designed to be like the ship it was named after: loud, broad, and noticeable. Even without amplification, this guitar can produce a sound with heavy echoes.
This is why a lot of people prefer to play a dreadnought. Other variants of acoustic guitars can be quiet and hard to pick up on, but a dreadnought was designed to be heard.
Unfortunately, this unique dreadnought characteristic might affect the style you’re hoping to achieve by fingerpicking. Because the dreadnought guitar was explicitly designed to produce a bolder sound and higher volumes, this means that when fingerpicking, the bass can be a bit overwhelming and drown out the higher notes.
No guitarist is the same. Everyone has different styles, tastes, and reasons for playing that are all critical factors to consider when choosing a guitar. A person’s physical stature is also something to consider.
Dreadnoughts have their pros and cons, especially for the fingerpicking style. The instrument’s large size and often uncomfortable shape can make this particular type of guitar challenging to master and hard to navigate.
But if you’re looking for a guitar that has a broad shape, deep volume, and a richly sustained tone, this instrument might be the way to go. I’m sure you’ll please many crowds by fingerpicking your favorite songs on a dreadnought guitar.