Dreadnoughts and OM guitars are two of the most popular acoustic guitar body styles in the market today.
Why is that? And which one should you get?
Most importantly, which one fits your style best?
Read on to find out everything you need to know about Dreadnought vs OM Guitars!
What is a Dreadnought Guitar?
Dreadnought guitars were developed by Martin Guitars in 1916 and have become the standard template emulated by other acoustic guitar manufacturers. Chances are if you see an acoustic guitar on stage, it’s a dreadnought.
Dreadnoughts originally came with 12 frets instead of the current 14 fret guitars. The “longer” neck came about due to popular demand. Traditionally, dreadnoughts have a squared-off look.
Today, with the number of manufacturers vying for attention, it isn’t unlikely to find samples with cutaways for easier access to the higher frets.
A typical dreadnought has these measurements:
- Body length: 20 inches (508mm)
- Body width: 15.6 inches (396.9mm)
- Body depth: 4.8 inches (123.8mm)
Dreadnoughts owe their unique tonal qualities to this oversized, cavernous body engineering. It has such a powerful sound and appealing sonic qualities that it is regarded as the singer-songwriter’s best friend.
Although Martin guitars dominated this market since time immemorial, other companies have managed to gain the same strong following over the years.
Companies like Takamine, Yamaha, Taylor, Gibson, and Epiphone all produce note-worthy dreadnoughts sought after by the best artists.
Artists who use a Dreadnought
- Joni Mitchell
- Neil Young
- Kurt Cobain
- Garth Brooks
- The Beatles
- Johnny Cash
- Woodie Guthrie (considered the best country singer)
The list goes on and on. Everyone loves dreadnought guitars.
What is an OM Guitar?
Orchestra Model or OM guitars came about as an improvement over the 000 guitar shape simply by increasing the scale length to accommodate 14 frets instead of 12. At first glance, you’d think it was a dreadnought, only smaller.
But imagine being able to tell a guitar from across the room just by its pickguard alone. That’s basically what you can do with an OM guitar. Or you can just look at the guitar’s waist. An OM has a tighter waist than a dreadnought.
The dreadnought also typically has a pickguard that extends from the base of the neck to the bridge. The OM has a smaller one that’s half the size, offset and radiating from the center of the soundhole to the bridge.
Although this holds true for Martin guitars, this might not be applicable to other manufacturers’ samples.
A typical OM guitar has these dimensions:
- Body length: 19.3 inches (492.1mm)
- Body width: 15 inches (381mm)
- Body depth: 4.1 inches (104.8mm)
OM guitars are also elegantly styled which makes them the more cost-effective alternative to owning a dreadnought from any of the companies mentioned in the previous section.
Artists who play OM Guitars
- Eric Clapton
- Bob Dylan
- John Mayer
- Bruno Mars
These artists don’t exclusively just use OM guitars. They have been known to play dreadnoughts also. In fact, if everyone had the money, they’d be buying a Martin dreadnought too just for the experience alone.
Dreadnought vs OM Guitars: Differences
Now let’s move on to the main differences between a dreadnought and an OM guitar. Let’s start with the body shape.
Dreadnoughts have a very distinct squared-off body. Although recent innovations to the dreadnought body have brought about cutaways and improved waists, the classic shape remains.
Here are the approximate dimensions of these two guitar body shapes:
|Lower Bout Width||15.6”||15”|
|Upper Bout Width||11.5”||11.25”|
An OM guitar is slightly smaller than a dreadnought but looks basically the same sans the premium stylings and oversized pickguard.
As mentioned above, the pickguards of these two are different in size with the OM going for a more minimalistic approach than the dreadnought’s flared pickguard.
The waists on these two are also very different. Dreadnoughts have a wider waist while OM guitars have a more “pinched” appearance.
Owing to its larger body, dreadnoughts have a louder and richer tone. This is because it was initially designed to accommodate stages where the only sound input would be the mic pointed at the soundhole.
These days, acoustic guitars come with pickups so this has made that argument moot.
An OM guitar on the other hand was designed for more delicate playing. It has a brighter tone but comes off as much more subtle than what a dreadnought produces. Strumming the OM will produce a more reined-in sound than what a dreadnought produces.
Individually plucking the strings brings out the most difference between the two. The dreadnought has a deeper midrange sound while the OM performs better in higher registers.
Dreadnought guitars were primarily used for bluegrass music.
But thanks to its popularity, it has crossed over to different genres from country to rock, to blues, pop, and any other type of music that requires a rich acoustic sound.
Dreadnoughts thrive in all types of musical situations.
OM guitars on the other hand are great for jazz, funk, light acoustic work, and pop. This is due to its more subdued tonal persona.
Where it truly shines, is when the individual strings are plucked. This makes it perfect for playing counterpoint to strummed accompaniment.
Gentlemen, Choose Your Weapons
Why Choose Dreadnought?
Dreadnoughts are perfect for a lot of musical settings. It can be loud or subtle as needed. You may need to manipulate the volume by moving it away from the mic or placing it nearer or simply turning the knobs.
Dreadnoughts were designed to be the ultimate accompaniment tool. This makes it “boomy” on the lower strings and brighter on the upper strings. An artist, in effect, can play both rhythm and bass parts without worrying about clashing frequencies with this guitar onstage.
The guitar’s dynamic tonal range is acceptable for pop, rock, blues, and other contemporary settings.
Why Choose OM Guitars?
If you play a more delicate type of music, you would benefit from using an OM guitar. This is designed for fingerstyle players who prefer their notes to ring out as they are plucked.
OM guitars are perfect for intimate settings where the music is meant to provide a light ambient tone rather than be upfront.
The best genres to play OM guitars with are pop, jazz, and light blues. Anything that doesn’t require any heavy-handed picking.
And if you’re looking for a collector’s item, an OM isn’t the most obvious choice. But in time, people will notice this dreadnought’s little brother and realize it’s worth as much as the bigger guy.
Final Thoughts on OM vs Dreadnought Guitars
Having used a Martin dreadnought before, I could say it is a life-changing experience. This is after I’ve had the privilege of using a Takamine dreadnought and also having owned a Yamaha dreadnought variant before.
All other acoustic guitars I’ve played with since have not matched up to that magical night in the recording booth.
The Martin dreadnought just vibrates in a different way which gives whatever you’re playing more “life.” This type of feedback is highly enjoyable and will make you want to play more songs as the night progresses.
I’ve also played an OM guitar before and what I can say about it is that if you’re looking for notes that ring out in the higher registers, this is the one for you.
We recorded a couple of songs with the OM playing single notes in the background and managed to fill the higher frequencies with pleasant sounds.
As a basic rule of thumb, if you’re playing alone, you’re better off with a dreadnought. If you have someone to play bass or keyboards, the OM is a great guitar to complement the bottom end.
Are OM Guitars Louder Than Dreadnoughts?
No. The dreadnought is still louder than the OM guitar. Dreadnoughts have bigger dimensions therefore a bigger chamber for the sound to resonate.
OM Guitar vs Dreadnought: Which is Better for Fingerstyle?
The OM guitar is better as it is targeted to cater to fingerstyle guitarists. Don’t get me wrong though. The dreadnought is no slouch in the fingerstyle department. The OM is just plainly better and it was designed to cater to that crowd. So, the OM wins.
Can You Really Tell an OM Guitar from a Dreadnought with a Single Look?
If we’re talking about Martin guitars, it’s pretty easy to spot an OM guitar from a dreadnought. The size alone will tell you which is which. But one clever feature they’ve included to help us determine which one is a dreadnought and which one is an OM is the pickguard.