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Old 07-24-2016, 10:05 AM
Hot Vibrato Hot Vibrato is offline
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Join Date: Feb 2016
Posts: 458

Three beautiful guitars! Thanks for sharing SM! I'd love to pick on that L-4. Just stunning!

I've been in love with archtop guitars for almost twenty years now. I love swing-era jazz, western swing, and honkytonk country, and archtop guitars are a significant ingredient to the overall sound of those genres.

I think there's something to be said about the distinction of parallel vs. X-bracing. Here are my impressions:

The X-braced design is the "modern" sound. It's mellower, with less of the high/midrange peaks that a parallel braced guitar typically has. The archtops of the 20's, 30's and 40's were mostly parallel braced, and were the perfect sound for chomping out rhythm in a big band setting - a role that was previously served by the four string banjo, which accounts for the prevalence of the four-string "tenor" archtops of that era. As guitar became the rhythm instrument of choice for the big band era, banjo players could simply switch over to a four-string guitar tuned the same as their banjo. Some of the great guitarists of that time, I believe were former banjo players who switched over to tenor guitar. Carl Kress, Tiny Grimes, and Eddie Condon are examples that come to mind.

Any time I pick up an archtop, I judge its tone on the merit of how well it "barks" when chomping jazz chords at the middle of the neck. The vintage Silvertones and Kays, etc. just don't have that sound. They have a bluesy midrangy tone that I really dig, but they don't sound like swing jazz to me, which is what I'm looking for in an archtop.

I personally prefer the sound of a parallel braced archtop, because in my experience, they have a sharper, more articulated "bark" when chomping chords than an x-braced archtop.

For a player who is accustomed to flat top guitars, an archtop at first sounds kind of thin and lacking in bass response. And indeed, a flat top is most likely better suited for strumming folk chords in the open position. But because the resonant frequencies of a good archtop are voiced higher than a flat top, the sweet spot of an archtop is further up the neck, and that's where an archtop shines and a flat top falls short, generally speaking.

I do feel that an archtop is more sensitive to picking velocity and position. It takes a more aggressive attack to get a good sound out of an archtop, and heavy strings are imperative for good tone. IMO, if you want an archtop to sound good, you have to use .013"-.056" gauge strings or heavier. It takes some time to adjust when switching from flat top to archtop, but if you finesse the strings just right, you can get a good archtop to sound fantastic even in the open chord positions.
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