Dreadnought Guitars: A Brief History

Examine the history of the bruisers of the acoustic guitar world.
Author:
Publish date:
Updated on
A Martin Ditson 111 acoustic

A Martin Ditson 111 acoustic

One of the great ironies of guitar history is that the very first Dreadnought guitars that rolled out of Martin’s Nazareth, Pennsylvania factory in 1916 didn’t even carry the Martin name. Instead, they were made for the Oliver Ditson Company in Boston, and were sold under that brand until the early 1930s, when Ditson went out of business.

Nevertheless, the Ditson Dreadnoughts were bruisers of the period (the name itself was lifted from the biggest battleship of the time, Britain’s HMS Dreadnought). They sported spruce tops with fan-bracing (changed to X-bracing around 1923), mahogany backs and sides, and mahogany necks with 12 frets clear of the body and slotted headstocks. 

The back of a Martin Ditson 111

The back of a Martin Ditson 111

While these dreadnought guitars initially had to overcome a perception of being too big and bass-heavy (at least in comparison to other guitars of the period), it didn’t take long for country musicians to appreciate how well the cannon-like projection and low-end might of the Dreadnought worked on the bandstand, backing up fiddles, banjos and singers.

The official debut of what would eventually become Martin’s most popular model, the D-28, occurred in 1931 when the D-1 and D-2 models were introduced. Like the earlier Ditsons, the D-1 had a mahogany body with a spruce top (a recipe that would later designate it as the D-18), while the D-2 had a rosewood body and a spruce top—which remains the most-popular formula for flat-top acoustics to this day. 

Both models retained Ditson-style necks with 12 frets clear of the body until 1934, when the D-28 and D-18—following on the lead of Martin’s revolutionary OM (Orchestra Model) series guitars—became available with the 14-fret necks that have been standard on both since that time.

A template used in making the body of a Ditson 111

A template used in making the body of a Ditson 111

RELATED