Although related to country music, bluegrass genre has its roots in Irish, Scottish and English traditional music. It is also influenced by the music of Appalachia and African-American sounds through jazz elements. All of these influences have their own distinct elements which require quite different music instruments, so how does one find one guitar to marry these styles into one particular bluegrass sound?
First, we’ll need to travel far to the very roots of bluegrass music where we will find out which instruments have been used to play this type of music at its beginning. Later, we will have to find out what has changed since and why dreadnought is considered to be the standard of bluegrass music.
The Origins of Bluegrass Music
In the early 1600s when people were migrating to America, they brought their own culture with them, an essential part of which was their music. Various styles of music that arrived in America, especially the region of Appalachia are considered to be the roots of bluegrass music – including dance music and ballads from Scotland, Ireland, and England, as well as blues and African American gospel music.
As the new settlers began to move out into North and South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, they started writing songs about their experiences in new lands. Since most of them lived in rural areas, this type of music started to get the label of country music. The onset of radio brought this music closer to people all over the States.
The genre's name is derived from 1939, when a band called "Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys" was widely popular. The music style is closely identified with Monroe's home state of Kentucky, also known as the "bluegrass state."
About the Genre
So, besides singing about the day-to-day situations, what kind of genre bluegrass actually is? Is it the same as country music? Although many people can’t quite find the difference between bluegrass and country (especially because bluegrass first “wore” the name), the difference is present, and it reflects mostly in the instrument used (only acoustic string instruments).
The notable blues influence and tenor lead singing in “high lonesome sound” are two other very distinct characteristics of this style. Also, a typical bluegrass song must have a fast instrumental solo on banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, and guitar.
Traditional Bluegrass Bands and Instruments
As we already mentioned, a traditional bluegrass band features only acoustic string instruments, such as fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar, banjo, upright bass, which are sometimes joined by a resonator side guitar, also known as dobro.
Although drums do not accompany bluegrass songs, they still have a frenetic rhythm thanks to the energetic and fast solos and very talented instrumentalists.
Some of the most essential bluegrass bands in existence are “Flatt and Scruggs”, “Osborne Brothers”, “The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band”, “New Grass Revival” and “David Grisman Quintet”. It is also important to know that bluegrass has influenced many world famous artists such as Elvis Presley, Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton and others.
The important takeaway from this is – every top bluegrass band had, and utilized the dreadnought as a leading role instrument. The reasons for this are quite obvious, and they lie in the dreadnought’s specifications and features.
Top Commandments of Bluegrass Guitar
In order to be a true bluegrass instrument, a guitar has follow the standards:
- As we repeatedly mentioned, bluegrass guitar is always acoustic.
- Most guitars used for this type of music have six strings, most commonly medium gauge.
- Steel strings for the extra volume.
- The structure of the guitar is usually flattop, and it has a central hole in the middle, while the bridge is glued directly on the top.
- As for the materials, the two most common are rosewood and mahogany. The first gives a deep and strong bass sound, and it is a favorite among the popular artists Tony Rice and Jack Lawrence. The second is better at creating distinct treble sounds. Famous bluegrass players who prefer mahogany are Doc Watson and Kenny Smith.
Analyzing these features, the Dreadnought is the first logical choice that comes to mind.
What’s so special about Dreadnought Guitar?
Now, knowing all this, it is time to see how a dreadnought guitar lives up to the bluegrass standards. A dreadnought guitar is a type of acoustic string instrument that is, at the same time, one of the most common styles of guitar bodies. In its beginnings, it was larger and louder than all the other guitars.
It boasts the old-school powerful tone with deep lows and crisp highs and an evenly balanced sound across the tonal spectrum. The large-bodied guitar is the perfect pick for bluegrass music genre, not only because of the decade's long tradition but also because of the volume, punch and big bass response you can get from a D-size guitar.
The powerful bass of the dreadnought guitar is essential to cut through enough for the other players can hear it and follow the rhythm. With a guitar such big and medium gauge string, this is doable without amplification.
There are many reasons why dreadnought guitar is considered to be the standard for bluegrass music. One certainly is the power of tradition, which is indubitably an essential part of this genre. The others are its loudness and distinctive twang, the size, and the numerous popular bluegrass performers throughout the history.