The Evolution of Acoustic Guitar Body Styles in Country Music

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As you strum the strings of an acoustic guitar, you can’t help but feel the rich history and evolution embedded in each note. Among different genres, country music is particularly known for its diverse use of acoustic guitar body styles. From the iconic dreadnought to the charming parlor guitars and the innovative jumbo guitar to the modern acoustic electric guitar, country music has welcomed and embraced these different styles throughout the years. Each instrument has a unique design and contribution to the music that we know today. Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of acoustic guitar body styles in country music and how they have influenced the genre’s sound.

The Beginning: DREADNOUGHT

The Beginning: Dreadnought
It’s hard to imagine country music without the smooth, twangy sounds of an acoustic guitar. But did you know that the acoustic guitar body styles we know and love today have undergone significant evolution over the years? One of the most significant developments in country music guitar history was the introduction of the Dreadnought guitar. This style was so influential that it changed the entire sound of country music. Let’s take a closer look at this groundbreaking guitar design and its impact on the country genre. To learn about the makers who produced instruments that changed the history of country music, click here.

Dreadnought Design

Dreadnought acoustic guitars were first introduced by CF Martin & Co in 1916 as a direct response to the need for larger, louder guitars that could compete with bands and orchestras. The design of the dreadnought guitar was inspired by the classic design of the 19th-century Martin size 1 and 2 guitars. The dreadnought guitar features a large, boxy body shape with rounded shoulders and a wider waist compared to previous guitar models.

The dreadnought design provided several benefits for musicians:

1. Increased volume and projection: The larger body size and unique bracing pattern contributed to a louder, more powerful sound that could cut through the mix in live performances.
2. Enhanced bass response: The dreadnought’s wider waist and lower bout provided a greater air volume, resulting in more resonant and deeper bass notes.
3. Greater versatility for playing different genres of music: The dreadnought guitar’s balanced tone allowed it to be used in various musical genres, including country, folk, and blues.

With its full-bodied sound and increased volume, the dreadnought guitar soon became the go-to instrument for many country music performers.

Some of the most famous country musicians who played dreadnought guitars include:

  • Johnny Cash
  • Hank Williams
  • Patsy Cline
  • Willie Nelson
  • Merle Haggard
  • Waylon Jennings

Today, the dreadnought remains one of the most popular styles of acoustic guitar, and its design has influenced many other acoustic guitar models. Dreadnought guitars are often strung with steel strings, and can also be modified with pickups or an acoustic resonator to further enhance their sound. Being an integral part of the country music genre, the dreadnought guitar will always have a special place in the hearts of musicians and fans alike.

Contribution to Country Music

The contributions of each acoustic guitar body style to country music have been significant. By using different designs and shapes, the guitar sound has been diversified in country music, and new genres have been born.

The Dreadnought acoustic guitar’s contribution to country music is undeniable. Its larger size and depth produce a louder sound, which made it a favorite among country music performers. Dreadnoughts are often associated with the classic country sounds of the 1950s, and they continue to be a popular choice among country music artists today.

On the other hand, Parlor guitars contributed to the emergence of blues and folk genres like blues, country blues, and ragtime, which have been extensively utilized by early country music performers. Their unique compact size and sound quality were a great addition to the musical landscape, and make them stand out as an important part of the history of country music.

The jumbo body style guitar, with its even larger size and deeper tone, became popular in western music during the 1930s. Jumbos offer a brighter tone compared to the dreadnought and present an easier reach to the higher frets, making them a favorite among country musicians who play lead guitar. This guitar body style also played an essential role in country rock music, whose roots go back to the late 1960s.

Lastly, the acoustic-electric guitar became an essential tool for country music artists who wanted to achieve a louder sound while performing onstage. They also made the transition from unplugged underground stages to larger commercial venues possible, without sacrificing the traditional acoustic sound associated with country music.

The acoustic guitar body style is a vital component of country music. Each design has contributed unique qualities and sounds that have helped shape the genre into what it is today. Whether it’s the loud tone and power of the dreadnought, the compact size with an occasional rustiness of parlor guitars, the brightness of the jumbo body type, or the adaptability of the acoustic-electric guitar, it can be said that each guitar has played a significant role in the birth of country music.

The Return to Traditional: PARLOR GUITARS

The Return To Traditional: Parlor Guitars
As country music evolved, some musicians found the larger size and booming sound of dreadnought guitars overpowering for their style. This led to a resurgence of popularity for smaller guitars, like the vintage parlor guitars. Parlor guitars offer a different tonal quality, and their smaller size makes them more portable and easier to play. Along with the resurgence of traditional country music, parlor guitars have once again found a place in the genre. Let’s take a closer look at the design and contribution of these classic instruments. (For more information about the role of acoustic guitar in the birth of country genre, check out this fascinating article).

Parlor Guitar Design

During the early 20th century, parlor guitars became popular in homes as well as on the performance stage. These guitars were significantly smaller than dreadnoughts, with a narrower waist and shorter scale length. Parlor guitars were much more comfortable to hold for extended periods of time and they produced a more balanced sound that was perfect for the intimate setting of parlors.

Here’s a breakdown of the Parlor Guitar Design:

Design Features
Body Shape Smaller size, narrower waist, and a more rounded shape.
Sound Bright, balanced sound with a focus on midrange frequencies.
Materials Most commonly made of mahogany for the back and sides, with spruce or cedar for the top
Fretboard Shorter scale length and smaller frets, which made it easier to play chords on the upper frets
Tuners Often featured friction tuners or open gear tuners rather than the closed gear tuners found on dreadnoughts

Parlor guitars offered a different sound and playing experience compared to dreadnoughts. Many of the early country music pioneers such as Jimmie Rodgers and Maybelle Carter contributed to the rise of the parlor guitar in country music. Their smaller size and more intimate sound were perfect for the emerging genre, which was often played in small, rural settings.

Parlor guitars played a significant role in the birth of the country genre. Their unique sound and intimate feel matched the style of country music and helped shape the sound of the genre. Today, parlor guitars are still popular among musicians and continue to contribute to the sound of country music.

Contribution to Country Music

The contribution of various acoustic guitar body styles to country music is immense. These distinct guitar designs have helped shape the sound of country music and have contributed to its evolution over time. Here are some ways each body style has made an impact:

  • Dreadnought: The dreadnought body style set the standards for acoustic guitar production, and its volume and projection fit right in with country music’s style. It was first used by Martin & Co. in 1931, and its reputation in country music started in the 1940s with the Gibson J-45 model. This style of guitar brought a bold and booming sound that could hold its own in a band with other instruments. Today, the dreadnought style is still the most popular body shape, and for good reason.
  • Parlor Guitar: The parlor guitar may not have the volume of a dreadnought, but it has a tonal quality that is unique and highly valued in country music. From its inception in the late 1800s, the parlor guitar has been known for its intimacy and delicate fingerstyle playing, which captured the essence of traditional country music. It was often the go-to guitar for country blues musicians, and was used to create the signature sound of artists like Jimmie Rodgers and Merle Travis.
  • Jumbo Guitar: The jumbo guitar’s large size and rounded shape make it stand out visually. It was first introduced by Gibson in 1937, and found its way into country music in the 1950s, thanks to players like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Jumbo guitars brought a deeper, richer sound that was perfect for accompanying a singer. Its design ensured a more balanced sound, and the extra sustain made it a crowd-favorite for strumming and fingerstyle playing.
  • Acoustic Electric Guitar: The acoustic-electric guitar gave country musicians the flexibility to add electrified effects to their sound without compromising their acoustic tone. It offered guitarists the possibility of amplification on stage, without having the feedback issues that arose with traditional microphones. This technology was especially welcomed by country guitarists during the 1950s, who needed to be heard over the increasingly louder drums, bass and amplified instruments in country bands.

Each acoustic guitar body style has played an important role in shaping the sound of country music. From the dreadnought’s booming and bold sound to the parlor’s intimacy and delicate playing, from the jumbo’s deep resonance to the acoustic-electric’s balance between acoustic and electric sound, these guitars have left their mark on the genre. It is a testament to the guitar’s versatility and the continued relevance in the country world today.


A New Twist: Jumbo Guitar
As country music continued to develop and evolve, so did the acoustic guitar. With players seeking bigger and bolder sounds, the jumbo guitar emerged as a new and innovative option. These guitars have a distinct look and sound that sets them apart from other acoustic models. At first glance, they may appear unwieldy, but their generous size is actually the key to their unique tone. Let’s take a closer look at the design and impact of the jumbo guitar on country music. Also, if you’re interested in learning more about the role of acoustic guitar in the birth of the country music genre, check out our previous article here.

Jumbo Guitar Design

The Jumbo guitar, also known as the “cowboy guitar,” has a larger body than the Dreadnought and Parlor guitars. Its body width and depth provide a bigger sound, making it ideal for country music performances. Its sound is full, deep, and resonant, which makes it especially perfect for accompanying a singer.

The body shape and size provide a significantly different playing experience than other acoustic guitars. The jumbo guitar’s wider waist and lower bout make it a little more challenging to hold and play than smaller guitars, but the larger body produces a richer tone that makes it well worth the effort.

With a larger body, the Jumbo also offers a more significant amount of low-end frequencies. This makes it an excellent choice for players who need an instrument with a rich bass tone. The larger body also translates to better resonance, giving the guitar a longer sustain.

Country music star Garth Brooks is known for using a jumbo guitar during his performances. As he is one of the best-selling artists of all time, this helped popularize the jumbo guitar in country music even further. Other iconic country musicians like Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, and Emmylou Harris also played jumbo guitars during their careers.

The Jumbo guitar’s enhanced bass response has made them useful for musicians at home and in the studio. Additionally, the jumbo guitar is a popular choice for those who want to add a pickup to their acoustic guitar. It is easy to attach a pickup, making it a popular choice for those who want an acoustic electric guitar.

The Jumbo guitar has a unique sound and a standout design that makes it a popular choice for musicians seeking a more significant, bolder sound. With country music’s focus on storytelling, the Jumbo guitar provides the perfect accompaniment for the genre’s emotive ballads and upbeat ditties.

Contribution to Country Music

Dreadnought, known for its big and bold sound, has been widely associated with country music since its inception. Its square shoulder design became the industry standard, providing rich and deep tones that made it perfect for accompanying a singer or a band. The presence of the Dreadnought guitar has shaped the sound of country music for decades, and it is not hard to imagine classic hits by Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Merle Haggard being played on a booming Dreadnought.

Parlor guitars, on the other hand, have a smaller design that offers a more intimate and delicate sound. These guitars were particularly popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and have made a comeback in recent years. Their soft tones and comfortable size make them perfect for individual performances and early country music settings.

Jumbo guitars, as their name suggests, offer a larger design than the Dreadnought. These guitars fill any room with their immense sound and were particularly popular in the 1930s and 1940s. With artists like Jimmy Rogers and Hank Williams Sr. playing jumbo guitars, they quickly became the go-to guitars for classic country and western sounds.

Acoustic electric guitars have revolutionized the way country music is played and performed. The ability to plug in and amplify the sound offers a broad range of versatility, from performing on large stages to recording in a studio. These guitars have become essential for modern country musicians who want to enhance their acoustic sound, and they are widely used in concerts and recording studios.

Each acoustic guitar body style has contributed significantly to the development and evolution of country music. Their unique designs and sounds have provided new and exciting ways for artists to express themselves, and for audiences to connect with their music. Whether it is the big booming sounds of Dreadnought, or the intimate tones of Parlor guitars, each has played a significant role in shaping the country music landscape.

Did you know that some acoustic guitars are equipped with pickups that allow them to be plugged into a sound system or amplifier? This feature can be particularly useful for country musicians who play in large venues or want to achieve a more electric sound. To learn more about the best acoustic guitars with pickups for country music, check out our article “The Top 5 Pickup Acoustic Guitars for Country Music.”


As country music evolved and the genre continued to push boundaries, traditional acoustic guitars were no longer enough to meet the demands of musicians. Enter the Acoustic Electric Guitar – a hybrid body style that melded the classic sound of an acoustic guitar with the power of electricity. This innovative guitar design not only amplified sound, but it also allowed musicians to experiment with different effects, creating a new dimension to the country music sound. Let’s take a closer look at the design and how the Acoustic Electric Guitar changed the game for country music.

Acoustic Electric Design

When it comes to modern acoustic guitars, the acoustic electric guitar is undoubtedly one of the most revolutionary designs. As the name suggests, acoustic electric guitars are hybrid instruments that combine the qualities of both acoustic and electric guitars. Let’s take a closer look at the design of acoustic electric guitars and their contribution to country music.

Acoustic electric guitars are essentially traditional acoustic guitars that are equipped with pickups or transducers to amplify the sound. These pickups are usually mounted under the saddle or inside the body of the guitar, and they capture the vibrations of the strings when they are played. The signals from these pickups are then transmitted to an amplifier, where they are amplified and fine-tuned to achieve the desired sound.

Contribution to Country Music:
The advent of acoustic electric guitars has had a significant impact on country music. With the help of these hybrid instruments, musicians can now achieve a wider range of sounds and tones that were previously unavailable with traditional acoustic guitars. Acoustic electric guitars are particularly popular in modern country music, where they are often used to create a unique blend of folk, rock, and country sounds. They are also used by artists of all levels, from beginners to seasoned professionals, and are found on stages and in recording studios all around the world.

Acoustic electric guitars have opened up new possibilities for musicians, enabling them to experiment with new sounds and styles. They continue to evolve with new technology, making them an essential part of the country music landscape.

Contribution to Country Music

Each type of acoustic guitar body style has contributed significantly to country music in its own unique way. Here are some of the key contributions:

Body Style Contribution to Country Music
Dreadnought The dreadnought’s larger body and booming sound made it perfect for accompanying vocals, providing a strong rhythm section, and allowing guitar solos to shine. It quickly became the go-to guitar for country music and has remained a staple ever since.
Parlor The parlor guitar’s smaller size and delicate tone made it ideal for solo performances, especially for the singer-songwriter genre of country music. Its portability also made it a popular choice for traveling musicians.
Jumbo The jumbo guitar’s larger size and deep, rich sound gave it a powerful presence in country music performances, particularly in live settings. Its versatility allowed it to be used in both rhythm and solo roles.
Acoustic Electric The acoustic electric guitar allowed for a wider range of sound and volume, making it possible to fill larger venues and record acoustic performances with greater clarity. Its availability also made it easier for country artists to blend genres and experiment with electric sounds without sacrificing their signature acoustic tone.

As you can see, each body style has left its own mark on the evolution of country music. Whether it’s the dreadnought’s powerful rhythms or the parlor’s intimate solo performances, each style has contributed to the unique sound and style of country music that we know and love today.


After exploring the evolution of acoustic guitar body styles in country music, it is clear that each style has made a significant impact on the genre. From the powerful and versatile dreadnought to the charming and intimate parlor guitar, each style offers unique tonal qualities and aesthetics. The jumbo guitar brought a new twist to the scene, while the acoustic electric guitar made it possible to amplify the sound of the acoustic guitar.

It is fascinating to see how each era in music history has influenced the development of acoustic guitar body styles. The dreadnought, for example, emerged during the rise of bluegrass and country music in the 1930s, while the parlor guitar gained popularity during the Victorian era.

The jumbo guitar reflects the boldness and experimentation of the 1960s, and the acoustic electric guitar represents the intersection between traditional acoustic instruments and modern technology.

Despite these differences, all of these body styles share one common trait: they have helped to shape the sound of country music over the years. From the earliest days of the Grand Ole Opry to modern country hits, the acoustic guitar has been a staple of the genre.

As technology continues to advance and new styles of music emerge, it will be interesting to see how acoustic guitar body styles continue to evolve. One thing is for certain, however – the acoustic guitar will always be a beloved instrument in country music, and its distinctive sound will continue to captivate audiences for generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most popular body style of acoustic guitar in country music?

The dreadnought body style is the most popular acoustic guitar body style in country music.

What is the history behind the dreadnought body style?

The dreadnought body style was created by Martin Guitar Company in 1916, named after the British battleship HMS Dreadnought.

Why is the dreadnought body style so popular in country music?

The dreadnought’s large body and bottom-end sound make it ideal for the bass-heavy style of playing found in country music.

What is the parlor guitar body style?

The parlor guitar body style is smaller and more lightweight than the dreadnought, with a narrower waist and lower bout.

Why did the parlor guitar fall out of popularity in country music?

The larger and louder dreadnought became more popular for live performances, causing the parlor guitar to fall out of popularity in country music.

What is the jumbo guitar body style?

The jumbo guitar is similar in size to the dreadnought, but with a larger lower bout and rounded shoulders.

Who popularized the jumbo guitar in country music?

Gibson introduced the jumbo guitar in the 1930s, and it gained popularity among country musicians in the 1940s through the work of players like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

What is an acoustic electric guitar?

An acoustic electric guitar has a pickup inside the body to convert the string vibrations into an electrical signal, allowing it to be amplified through a sound system.

When did acoustic electric guitars first become popular in country music?

Acoustic electric guitars became popular in the 1960s as country music began to incorporate more electric instrumentation into the mix.

Do all country musicians play acoustic guitars?

No, not all country musicians play acoustic guitars. Some use electric or hybrid guitars, while others specialize in other instruments like banjos or fiddles.


About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

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