First off, I applaud anyone who asks this question because it means they are doing some research to find which guitar size would suit them best. Often, beginners will opt for a dreadnaught because this is by far the most common size available at a wide range of price points. Why is this? Simply because a dread is just plain louder than a smaller guitar, in most cases. And because of this even an inexpensive all-laminate bodied dread can sound OK to the uninitiated. That’s fine, if volume is a buyer’s only concern. But there are other very important factors to consider.
The most basic one is: how big is the person playing that guitar? I’ve seen more than a few cases when a fairly small boned woman or a youngster really struggled to play a dreadnaught-size guitar because it was difficult to hold the guitar comfortably and reach around it to play. A while back I had a student who was so overweight that she could not hold the body of her jumbo size guitar close enough to play comfortably and unfortunately that led to her giving up the effort. That is the exception, obviously, but all I’m saying is that your body type, which must include the size of your hand and the length of your fingers must be considered when buying a guitar.
Here are the basic dimensions of three of the most popular size guitars:
(the lower bout is the wider section of the guitar body where the bridge is located)
Dreadnaught: Body length: 20”, lower bout width: 15 5/8”, body depth: 4 7/8”
Grand Concert: Length: 19 ½”, lower bout width: 15”, body depth: 4 5/8”
Auditorium or 000: Length: 19 5/8”, lower bout width: 15”, depth: 4 1/8”
I found these dimensions on the Martin and Taylor web sites and from maker to maker you may find some slight differences but I believe those are pretty accurate numbers, generally. There are also larger (Jumbo) and smaller (00, 0, Parlor) guitars of course. But as I said, these represent the most common and popular sizes.
So here we go. These are my opinions only and you can find exceptions to what I’m about to say but after owning over 50 guitars and playing at least four times that number I think you can depend on this information.
Advantages: More volume and often more sustain and resonance than the smaller bodied guitars. A very wide selection from dozens of manufacturers at all price levels.
Disadvantages: Can be difficult to hold for smaller people or very large people. Often better suited for strumming compared to finger-style playing due to more pronounced, sometimes overwhelming bass end sound.
Advantages: Usually quite comfortable to hold and reach around to play. Usually a nice, even response from low to high strings. Preferred by many accomplished finger style players.
Disadvantages: Less volume than a dread, making an unamplified model less able to “keep up” with other instruments in a band. Fewer choices when selecting a new or used instrument.
000 or Auditorium size:
Advantages: A nice compromise between the previous two sizes, able to hold its own in a band and still respond nicely to either finger style or strumming. A few more choices from various manufacturers, compared to Grand Concert. Comfortable to hold and play for most people.
Disadvantages: Still not as much punch as a dreadnaught and if volume is the primary concern, may not have enough power to be heard as well as a dread in a band. Body size may still be too big for very small framed people.
As I said, you could most likely find opposing views of all this. There are certainly dreads that sound great when finger picked and grand concerts that are loud and punchy. But those are the exceptions.
I hope this information helps if you’re considering buying your first guitar or upgrading from your present instrument. If possible, at least hold and compare a couple sizes before making a decision. Even if you can’t play at all it should be fairly obvious which body size suits you.
Peace & good music,