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The Dreaded Dreadnought

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Guess which one is the Dreadnought. Go ahead, guess.

"No, General... We can do this! We have a chance to take down a dreadnought! These things are fleet killers! We can't let it get away!"
Poe Dameron, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
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When dealing with navies (or, occasionally, armies with vehicle support) in fictional settings, there is usually one class of vehicle that just outclasses everything else. It's the biggest, baddest, meanest thing flying (or walking, or rarely rolling), packed with weapons, armored (and possibly shielded) to withstand a whole other fleet's worth of firepower, and may be The Battlestar on top of it all. It's a fleet unto itself, it changes the face of the battle just by showing up, and conventional wisdom is that it can only be taken down by something just as powerful as it is. It is The Dreaded when it comes to large-scale vehicle combat. There is a strong tendency for such a vehicle to be called a Dreadnought.

This has strong roots in Real Life naval history, specifically HMS Dreadnought, a British battleship which revolutionized naval warfare for decades to come. Combining heavy armor, high speed, and a relatively small battery of relatively large guns, Dreadnought rendered every other battleship afloat, henceforth known as Pre-Dreadnought Battleships, obsolete. Ironically, Dreadnought was bordering on obsolescence by 1914 and the outbreak of World War I due to rapid advances in shipbuilding, leading to bigger, more powerful, and more heavily armed Dreadnoughts (with later examples known as Super Dreadnoughts).

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In Real Life, the name gradually dropped out of usage after World War I, as the Dreadnought-type of battleship became the default type of battleship. Not long after, battleships themselves became obsolete as aircraft carriers became the rulers of the waves.

In fiction, however, the Dreadnought designation lives on, due in part to the game-changing nature of the original HMS Dreadnought, and partly to the undeniably metal nature of the word "Dreadnought." (Dreadnought, roughly, means "Fear Nothing.")

In naval or space-based settings, expect a Dreadnought to pull double-duty as a Supervillain Lair.

Compare and contrast with its primary competing/companion trope, The Battlestar. Both fixtures of a Standard Sci-Fi Fleet, though both can and do appear in other settings. Both frequently holding the spot of "scariest thing around," but while the Battlestar is about the vessel's role as a combined battleship/aircraft carrier, the Dreadnought is about the tendancy to call the most dreaded vehicles "Dreadnoughts." If both appear in the same work, and the Dreadnought is not also the Battlestar, expect one to overshadow the other. Either because the Battlestar's combined arms nature makes it Awesome, but Impractical compared to the Dreadnought's Nigh Invulnerable More Dakka, or because the Battlestar's versatility and fighter craft allow it to give the cumbersome Dreadnought a Death of a Thousand Cuts while denying it a chance to fight back.

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Note: The vehicle in question must be specifically identified or referred to as "a dreadnought" to qualify for this trope. A vehicle not called "dreadnought," no matter how powerful or scary, is not this trope.


Examples:

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    Fan Works 
  • The Darkest Hour of Child of the Storm reveals the existence of HYDRA's trump card, a helicarrier armed with reverse-engineered Destroyer cannons and with a hull of vibranium. It's actually called the Dreadnought, with Lucius noting that the name was chosen specifically as a homage to the original dreadnoughts and their role as being an unstoppable force.
  • In the universe of Fractured (Star Wars/Mass Effect) and its sequels, the Dreadnought concept is embodied in "Star Dreadnoughts." As drawn from Star Wars Legends these are basically The Battlestar meets Bigger Is Better in a Lensman Arms Race of Summon Bigger Fish and Takes One to Kill One (faction with largest dreadnought wins battle barring lucky shots).
    • 35 kilometers of starship crushes Reapers and other galaxy's ideas of dreadnoughts, establishing major naval supremacy. However, Reality Ensues in that these ships are Awesome, but Impractical, requiring insane amounts of consumables and gargantuan crews to operate.
    • Serial Escalation leads to more Star Dreadnoughts and the use of absolutely gargantuan digistructors to throw any concerns about materials, crew, or construction facilities out the airlock as the protagonists field hundreds of mass-produced ships in this weight class to fight an intergalactic war.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Death Race, a heavily armed Big Badass Rig called the Dreadnought enters to kill off some Red Shirt opponents. One of the rare non-naval examples, it certainly lives up to the spirit, being fast enough to keep up with the racing cars (though it uses some shortcuts), heavily armed enough to carve a swath through the racers, and tough enough the protagonists have to work together and defeat it with the track's own hazards.
  • Star Trek:
    • In Star Trek: Nemesis, Shinzon and his Reman lackeys have built a new warbird called the Scimitar. She boasts a crapton of firepower, primary and secondary Deflector Shields, and (unlike almost every other ship) she can fire her weapons with her Invisibility Cloak active, while at warp. Even the team-up of the Enterprise and two Romulan Valdore-class warbirds isn't enough firepower to bring the Scimitar down. It takes a Heroic Sacrifice by Data to destroy her from the inside. Supplemental material confirms the Scimitar is a Dreadnought. Expanded universe introduces other Scimitar-class warbirds, but they're downscaled examples that lack the raw destructive potential of the original.
    • Star Trek Into Darkness: The Vengeance (pictured above) is a Dreadnought-class ship, intended to be the first in a new line of Federation warships to aggressively protect the Federation against enemies like the Klingons. It's bigger and badder than just about anything else ever seen in the franchise, regardless of timeline. Also, as pictured above, it's designed to run down ships at warp and blast the hell out of them without breaking stride, as the Enterprise finds out the hard way.
  • Star Wars uses the trope in the original trilogy (without naming it—see below), the pre-Disney Expanded Universe and the sequel trilogy by name:
    • The Empire Strikes Back introduces the Executor-class Super Star Destroyer, a warship that dwarfs the other Star Destroyers (even if she's not called a "dreadnought" on-screen, see the Literature folder on this page). And yet, as big as she is, a kamikaze attack by an out-of-control rebel pilot is enough to start a chain reaction that takes her down.
    • Star Wars Legends waffles between classifying ships like Darth Vader's Executor a Super Star Destroyer (what Admiral Ackbar calls it in Return of the Jedi) and a "Star Dreadnought" (because Super Star Destroyer doesn't sound military enough).
    • The Last Jedi:
      • The movie re-introduces Dreadnoughts to the Star Wars canon: the Mandator IV-class Siege Dreadnoughts are a class of First Order ships with even more firepower than the usual Star Destroyers. Poe Dameron describes them as "fleet-killers". The Resistance destroys one such Dreadnought, the Fulminatrix, but at a significant cost.
      • The same movie later introduces the Supremacy, a Mega-class Star Dreadnought and the First Order's mobile capital that is sixty kilometers wide and boasts extremely powerful turbolasers and huge numbers of troops and equipment. According to source material, it's also a Mobile Factory for building war machines, including other dreadnoughts.

    Literature 
  • Destroyermen:
    • Under the guidance of Captain Kurokawa, the Grik start building a fleet of ironclad battleships called the "ArataAmagi-class", named after Kurokawa's lost battle cruiser (HIMS Amagi). These ships are armed with 100lb cannons and some smaller secondaries, which the Allies often refer to as "dreadnoughts". While far more powerful than the Allies' Wooden Ships and Iron Men, the dreadnoughts are extremely slow and vulnerable to aerial bombing, and so top-heavy that any significant damage below the waterline will cause them to capsize.
    • By "River of Bones", many of those ArataAmagi-class ships have been converted into true dreadnoughts with all of their guns replaced with 500lb cannons. Upon realizing this, Captain Russ Chappelle notes with some alarm that if the Grik have improved their fire control, and especially if they figure out how to rifle their cannons, these new dreadnoughts might be too dangerous for Alliance ships to engage at any range.
    • And, finally, the actual dreadnought, the League of Tripoli Bretagne-class battleship Savoie appeared. Despite being of pre-World War I design, and rather limited even for her era (the pre-World War I French navy was forced to limit their battleship size due to limited size of most available drydocks), she clearly demonstrated how amazingly tough and deadly could be even such and old ship. After capturing her in "Devil's Due", the Alliance considers her their most valuable naval asset - after USS Walker, of course - being the only ship in their navy capable of fighting League modern warships on anything resembling even terms.
    • In Pass of Fire, Captain Reddy learns that the League has at least 10 battleships of comparable strength to the Savoie.
  • Honor Harrington: Averted. Even at the beginning of the series, the Lensman Arms Race means Dreadnoughts are only the second-biggest ship class, with the biggest being called superdreadnoughts. By the current book, nobody's building dreadnoughts because they can't survive against a wall of battle populated by SDs anymore, especially with the advent of the podnought.
  • The Star Trek: The Original Series-era novel Dreadnought! has a prototype dreadnought-class starship as its Macguffin. It packs at least twice the firepower of a Constitution-class ship like Enterprise, more powerful shields, a stronger warp drive with three nacelles, and a hull composed of an experimental material that can withstand direct phaser bombardment much more easily than other ships. The plot revolves around the ship being stolen, and eventually discovered to be the linchpin of a plotted coup against the Federation.
  • Dreadnought-class Heavy Cruisers are mentioned in some Star Wars Legends material (most prominently, The Thrawn Trilogy).
    • Subverted in that Dreadnoughts are "only" heavy cruisers (and outdated ones at that, having been old before the Clone Wars), so while they are quite capable midsize warships they pale in comparison to most other ships in the setting, such as the ubiquitous Imperial-class Star Destroyers.
    • However, the word does appear within that canon in a manner that plays the trope straight—"star dreadnaught" describes Super Star Destroyers or anything similar (massive capital ships meant to take on either huge fleets of smaller ships or similar-size opposing vessels). One Imperial flavor even carried a scaled-down version of the Death Star's Wave Motion Gun.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation novel "Dark Mirror" has the Enterprise-D facing off against its Mirror Universe counterpart. At one point Picard confesses to wondering what would happen if one Galaxy-class ship were to ram another broadside, to which Riker replies that the mirror Enterprise-D is "closer to Dreadnought-class. Not a close comparison."
  • Dreadnought by Cherie Priest involves a Steam Punk armoured train of that name.
  • Eldraeverse: The Empire of the Star fields multiple varieties of dreadnought and superdreadnought, such as the three-kilometer Leviathan class. And the author has written an essay on the role of the dreadnought in the 'verse.
  • The Lost Fleet largely avoids this trope, as conventional wisdom among the human polities holds that anything big enough to be a straight example would be so enormous that it couldn't manouevre effectively and much less efficient than the several smaller warships that could be constructed for the same money... Until the Beyond the Frontier series, anyway. Turns out that at least one non-human race disagrees, and operates warships that blur the line between this trope and Planet Spaceship... although the human fleet that goes up against one of them still comes out on top, barely.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5 downplays it a bit: only one race, the Humans, use dreadnoughts (specifically the Nova-class), and they are considered more of a middleweight class of ship during the show's run, having mostly been superseded by the newer Omega-class destroyers, better suited to take on the Minbari. They are covered stem to stern in very large weapons.
    • The Expanded Universe expands a bit on the subject: in EarthForce designation, the largest and most heavy armed warships are designated dreadnoughts or battleships depending on their primary function, dreadnoughts being designed to smash enemy fleets above everything else and battleships being flagships that also carry the heaviest available weapons. Hence the Omega-class being designed a destroyer: it actually carries less weapons than the Nova, but as it's still more heavily armed than their cruisers it was given the very ominous "destroyer" designation, also kept for the formidably armed Warlock for PR reasons. As such, most races don't field dreadnoughts, but either battleships or ships with some characteristics that put them outside that designation. Such as the Minbari warcruisers, which are actually battleship-sized cruisers, used as everyone else would use cruisers, but just happen to be more powerful than anything else fielded by the Younger Races until the Warlock-class was launched, and the Orieni motherships, technically battleships but too large to qualify. Only Earth Alliance and the now-extinct Dilgar build "proper" dreadnoughts.
    • The problem with Nova's heavy plasma cannons is their relatively low range. If they can get in range, then they can deliver pain to even Minbari ships, but humans learned very quickly that the Minbari pick them off long before they have a chance to get close.
  • Farscape: Played With. There are Scarran Dreadnoughts, which are at least a match for Peacekeeper Command Carriers (the Scarrans themselves being The Dreaded Absolute Xenophobe conquerors). Nebari "Host Ships" are, apparently, the scariest spaceship out there (trivially overpowering Command Carriers), but we never see one over the course of the series.
  • The Starfleet Technical Manual for Star Trek: The Original Series posited the existence of Dreadnoughts in Starfleet, a concept Gene Roddenberry and other Star Trek franchise overseers have hated because Starfleet is not a military and doesn't have warships. Fans who either don't get it or believe that Starfleet, while not a military, are also not stupid, keep the concept alive. Dreadnoughts appear in Expanded Universe entries of dubious canonicity, including Star Fleet Battles and the novel Dreadnought!
  • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Valiant" features a Dominion battleship. As shown on the quotes page, it is estimated to be twice the size of a Galaxy-class starship (one of Starfleet's largest ships) and three times as powerful. It is not surprising that the titular ship fails its attack against this Dominion juggernaut.
  • The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Dreadnought" features a Cardassian weapon of mass destruction that the Maquis nicknamed "Dreadnought," specifically in reference to HMS Dreadnought. It's not only basically a gigantic photon torpedo, but has its own weapons and defenses to fight off any ships that might try to intercept it.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech: Played With. The first "true" WarShip ever produced was the TAS Dreadnought, forerunner of the Dreadnought class. Dismissed as "toys" of Terran Alliance Fleet Admiral James McKenna, he quickly proved they were very capable and deadly spaceships. It's not the biggest or most powerful WarShip in the setting, but at the time of its construction it was the only WarShip, and all other WarShips owe their existence to it.
  • Star Fleet Battles: Dreadnoughts tend to be the largest and most powerful effective ships a player can field. Battleships, which are even bigger and more powerful, exist, but are either "conjectural" (i.e., they don't actually exist within the universe the game is set in, but stats are provided just because) or Awesome, but Impractical, because their "do a little bit of everything" approach means they aren't actually good at anything.
  • Games Workshop games
    • Played With in Warhammer 40,000 where the Dreadnought is a huge combat walker that serves as the weaponized coffin of a grievously wounded Space Marine. While certainly fearsome in both ranged and melee combat, they're just as vulnerable to anti-armor weapons as tanks, and there are bigger and deadlier vehicles out there (Especially if using rulesets that allow for truly massive Titans).
    • Notably defied in Battlefleet Gothic. Dreadnoughts are conspicuous by their absence, with typical Imperial Navy and Chaos ships being lumped into Escorts, Light Cruisers, Cruisers, Battlecruisers, the odd Grand Cruiser, and Battleships. Unique and extra-powerful ships, like Abbadon's Planet Killer, could be considered Dreadnoughts, but are not referred to as such. Presumably because within the setting the word "dreadnought" is entirely synonymous with the Walking Tank mentioned above.
  • Star Realms: The Star Empire has a class of ships designated as Dreadnaught, shown to be massive on the card art. While it can do a lot of damage, the card is less useful than similarly high cost ships.
  • Traveller: Various powers field ships known as Dreadnoughts. In the Third Imperium, the term Dreadnought is used for the latest, most high-technology battleships; older battleships are just called battleships. Super Dreadnoughts have been built but are generally not effective enough for the added expense to be worthwhile. The largest ship currently fielded by the Imperium is the Tigress-class dreadnought, a 500,000 ton sphere that carries three hundred fighters along with a massive spinal-mount meson gun.
  • Alternity: Dreadnoughts are among the largest warships available, second only to Star Carriers, aka "Supercarriers", but can withstand more damage than the latter, and dwarf battleships. There're "super dreadnought", still larger than a Star Carrier, but above them you've the "Fortress ship", that combines both firepower and the ability to act as mothership.

    Video Games 
  • With the introduction of naval units in the sequel, Battalion Wars features several nations boasting Dreadnoughts as the kingpins of their nautical arsenals. Interestingly, because they do not have an "all big guns" loadout like historical Dreadnoughts, they are much closer to Pre-Dreadnought battleships in practice. They do share a very appropriate weakness with their namesakes though, as while they are very, very good at ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore combat, they are almost helpless against air and submarine attacks. This makes escorts absolutely crucial to getting the most out of your Dreads.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 and Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 both feature dreadnoughts as the Soviet faction's best naval units, and the heaviest armored naval ship in both games. In both games they launch long-range missiles which don't have much in the way of area damage - but woe unto the hapless foe who finds themselves directly impacted, because these things hurt.
  • Halo 2 and Halo 3 feature the Forerunner Dreadnought, a massive starship built by the ancient Forerunners and now owned by the Covenant. Despite its fearsome name, though, it has no weapons since they were all removed for reverse-engineering as part of a peace treaty centuries ago. Its only advantages thus are its incredible speed and extreme durability. Dreadnought isn't even its real name: it's really a Forerunner Keyship, designed for integrating with the Portal artifact to ferry refugees to the Ark. It's true purpose was for saving lives.
  • Jurassic World: Evolution: Dreadnoughtus (see Real Life, below) was added in a DLC pack. Many references are made to the meaning of "dreadnought." As a sauropod, it's also flat-out immune to carnivore attacks, except for the Indominus rex.
  • In Mass Effect the Milky Way races' dreadnoughts are the heaviest units in the fleets, kilometer-long starships that use their spinal railguns as artillery in battle. The Citadel races are limited in the number they can construct by the Treaty of Farixen. Two dreadnoughts, the Citadel Council's Destiny Ascension and your nemesis' flagship Sovereign ( the true Big Bad) play important roles at the climax of the first game.
  • Star Control: The Ur-Quan Dreadnought, one of the most powerful ships in the game. It's also The Battlestar.
  • Star Trek Online uses "dreadnought" as a catchall term for the biggest, slowest, toughest ship in a given faction's arsenal. Some are playable, chiefly the Galaxy-class dreadnought cruiser and the three classes of Romulan Dreadnought Warbird.
  • In Stellaris one of the possible Guardians lurking around the galaxy is an Automated Dreadnought that can easily shred the entire space navy of a mid-game player empire. If one manages to defeat it they can salvage it and turn it into a less powerful craft which is still more than a match for the Titans players can build in the later game.
  • Sunless Sea has the Republican Dreadnoughts, which are amongst the toughest ships patrolling the Unterzee. Those dreaded things have very damaging rapid-fire cannons, 400 HPs, a wide angle of fire and can hit you from behind, making them a huge threat to the players. And woe betide the ones coming across a Glorious Dreadnought, their glowing equivalent, unprepared. You can also have a Dreadnought yourself in the form of the Eschatologue-class, which has the most HP of all the ships you can have and the largest Iron boost for extra damage, along with being the heaviest ship in the game (matching an enormous merchant vessel). It's impractically big in some regards, but when you need to kill every damn pirate and monstrosity in the Unterzee, accept no substitutes.
    • This is carried over in Sunless Skies, which has the Enduring Dreadnoughts, big blue locomotives maneuvered exclusively by Her Enduring Masjesty's most loyal officers. While not necessarily amongst the strongest enemy locomotives roaming the High Wilderness, the same cannot be said about the glowing Glorious Dreadnoughts and the glass-encrusted Deranged Dreadnoughts. While the Glorious ones do not attack you if your are in good terms with the London loyalists, the Deranged ones, which are found flying near the Clockwork Sun, shoot you on sight regardless of your affiliation. As a whole, they act like Mighty Glaciers with little maneuvering, but strong repeaters at their front and an auto-aiming turret that will hurt you just as bad, with stronger Dreadnoughts packing more pain in both armaments.
  • In Super Mario Galaxy, Dreadnought Galaxy is one of the last and hardest galaxies in the game, and its levels take place in a huge spaceship.
  • In Sword of the Stars dreadnoughts are the largest ship class available, including the iconic Sword of the Stars-class that appears at the end of the intro cinematic. However, they fall victim to Sequel Escalation with the introduction of Leviathans in Sword of the Stars II.
    • The first game also had the Flagship, which was always capped at one (as it is your faction's flagship). While 'only' mounted in a dreadnought hull, it carried an advanced bridge section bristling with guns and electronic warfare sections, and was capable of leading the biggest fleet in the game thanks to its fleet cap increase.
  • Wing Commander: In the "Secret Missions" add-on to the first game, the Kilrathi have a superweapon in the form of a Sivar-class Dreadnought equipped with a Wave Motion Gun. The Terran Confederation has a similarly-equipped Dreadnought called the Concordia in Wing Commander II. The largest ships in the Kilrathi armada in Wing Commander III are called Dreadnoughts as well, and only one can be encountered in the entire game.
  • In EVE Online Dreadnoughts are one of the Capital class ships players are capable of flying. Despite being massive DPS machines optimised for siege warfare, they're actually in the lower tier of Capitals (along with their battlestar counterparts, Carriers), being massively outweighed by the much larger Titans and Motherships, but are much less costly and easier to fly than the phenomenally expensive supercapitals.
  • In Starlink: Battle for Atlas, Legion Dreadnoughts are large battleships that drop Primes onto planets to harvest Electrum for the Legion.

    Real Life 
  • HMS Dreadnought, of course, as stated in the opening. American admirals estimated that one dreadnought battleship was worth three times the fighting power of one of the pre-dreadnoughts just finishing construction. Her arrival sparked an all-out arms race, with countries with naval ambitions scrambling to acquire dreadnoughts and not be left behind.
    • It also sparked off something of a "dreadnought fever" among the British public, something proponents of naval expansion took gleeful advantage with the slogan "We want eight and we won't wait!" The result, as Winston Churchill wryly noted, was "The Admiralty had demanded six ships; the economists offered four; and we finally compromised on eight."
    • Continuing the tradition, the Royal Navy would later name their first nuclear submarine HMS Dreadnought, and rumor has it that the next class of Trident ballistic missile submarines will be named the Dreadnought-class.
    • Ironically the term "Dreadnought" would later be used to denote obsolete battleships toward the end of the original use of the term. Dreadnoughts refers to strictly to a style of battleships built between 1900 and more or less the end of WWI. After the war, all battleships possessed some dreadnought characteristics, and with the retirement of most pre-dreadnought warships, the term fell out of use except to describe older vessels. Incidentally, there is only one example of this type of battleship left — the USS Texas.
    • Note that the name "Dreadnought" had been kicking around in royal navy for a few centuries before the ship that made it famous was built. Admiral Fisher (the driving force behind the Dreadnought innovation) reportedly spent a many sleepless nights trying to figure out which of the Nelson era ships to use since Nelson's flagship, the Victory, was (and is) still around and thus off the table. He settled on Dreadnought because it sounded apropriatly intimidating.
    • Also worth mentioning is that the concept was originally Italian (having been elaborated by Italian naval engineering colonel Vittorio Cuniberti as early as 1893, and pushed for it for the Regina Elena-class), and that Japan and the United States both started on battleships that applied the Dreadnought principle (all main battery guns are the maximum caliber) before Dreadnought was laid down. Italy however did not try and build the ships as Cuniberti wanted, instead building them as pre-Dreadnoughts and allowing him to publish the concept in 1903, and Fisher pushed the ship builders (and comandeered guns and turrets intended for other ships) so Dreadnought was completed first. Had Italy actually built the ships first or Fisher not pushed, this trope could have been The Righteous Regina Elena or The Scary Satsuma note or the Super South Carolina.
    • USS Mississippi was one of the aforementioned super Dreadnoughts and got the closet to the sci-fi version of the trope (sans being put into orbit). After WWII her rear turrets were removed and she became an experimental weapons platform, which included the fitting of both anti-ship and anti-air missiles. It was proposed to give the dreadnoughts, West Virginia, Maryland, and California similar refits for actual combat. As it was Mississippi was the closest we got to an unambiguous dreadnought having both missiles and guns. To wit, she retained some of her WWII AA point defenses, resulting in vessel with weapons capabilities straight out of Star Wars.
  • A species of sauropod in Argentina was given the name Dreadnoughtus after it's discovery, the main reason was that it weighed over 38 metric tons, making it one of the heaviest land animals ever discovered.
  • Dreadnought guitars were introduced ten years after HMS Dreadnought put the term in the popular lexicon. Fittingly, they had a much larger body than previous guitar types, producing a louder and richer sound, and have since become the standard style for acoustic guitars.

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