I’ve played guitar for over a decade now. But because I went straight from college and internships to a busy office job, I never really had time to play more than once or twice a week. That’s why, even as my playing improved year after year, I never felt the need to trade my cheap Yamaha for a guitar that sounded better. But when the pandemic hit and I started working from home, I found myself with much more time to play — and much more time to be frustrated by how my Yamaha sounded pretty weak and flat and could really only be comfortably played when I sat in a specific chair and positioned my body just so.
So I did what any self-respecting Strategist writer would do: I pitched a story that would allow me to ask great guitarists about the best affordable guitars. One of those guitarists, Lillie West of the band Lala Lala, told me about a certain guitar made by Martin — the chosen brand of my heroes Seth Avett, Jason Isbell, John Prine, and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke — that has a body a little smaller than normal. She described it as “more manageable and, in my opinion, more fun” to play around the house. Together, her praise and my idols’ reverence for the Martin sold me, and I justified splurging on (a left-handed model) of the guitar by reminding myself how much I was saving on a monthly subway pass. (I’ve used that tactic more than once this year).
It’s been eight months since the guitar arrived, and in that time, I haven’t gone more than a couple of days without using it. Not only does every chord I play now sound more complex and clear — and therefore closer to the studio versions of the songs I’m playing — but the guitar also holds its tune for far longer, and frankly just feels heavenly to use (especially with my favorite capo, tuner, and pick). The Dreadnought Junior’s spruce and sapele surface is incredibly satisfying to the touch — far more so than the lacquered finish on my laminated Yamaha — and looks beautiful against the contrasting mother-of-pearl inlays in the fretboard and around the sound hole. And, as West promised, I find its lighter weight and smaller body makes it that much easier to reach for and, more important, that much more comfortable to play, whether I’m standing up using a strap, lying in bed, or lounging on the couch. While I picked up the Dreadnought Junior after more than a decade of playing, it’s also a guitar that I (along with West and some guitar-shop owners) would recommend to true beginners, because its smaller neck makes it much easier to get your fingers around when learning Ring of Fire.
Editor’s note: This guitar is currently out of stock, but it’s available for pre-order and expected to ship in April, according to the retailer.
For those looking to play beyond their living room, for $100 more, you can get a version of the guitar that can be plugged into an amplifier or recording setup.
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