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  #1  
Old 04-01-2020, 07:54 PM
BryanWI BryanWI is offline
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Default Suggestions for archtop

I was looking for a new sound that would be different and perhaps better than my Martin HD35, and I went to a local shop hoping to take home an archtop. I started in the $1500 range of new and used guitars, and went up to about $3500. None of them had an appeal to even tempt me to buy them.
Does anyone have a recommendation for a nice Archtop that would be good for a bluesy feel?
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Old 04-01-2020, 09:39 PM
Wengr Wengr is offline
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Jazz blues sure. But keep in mind a typical archtop has just about nothing in common with an HD35, or any other flattop dread.
Personally I find solid carved Eastman archtops to be excellent and very hard to beat at their price point.
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Old 04-01-2020, 10:10 PM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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Default Suggestions for archtop

Grab a nice cold beverage of your choice, take a deep breath, and sit back - this is going to take some time...
  • First off, if you haven't listened to (or played) many acoustic archtops you might want to get acquainted with their general tonal characteristics (very different from a flattop guitar - quicker response; narrower, midrange-biased tonal spectrum; harder/punchier attack; less sustain - and very unforgiving of technical deficiencies) before you consider laying down your money; there's no doubt they're unbelievably cool and classy-looking - what Ibanez justly referred to in a recent ad campaign as "guitar royalty" - and many players buy them for that reason alone, only to be disappointed when they don't meet up to their preconceived notions of tone. Archtops can be excellent blues instruments (and they're synonymous with the term "jazz guitar") - just don't expect the same results you'd get from an old National reso or Kalamazoo flattop...

  • Addressing your criteria:

    • For reasons I'll explain below, I'd restrict myself to new instruments for a first purchase - good news is that there are currently more new archtops available on the market than there have been in nearly sixty years, ranging in price from $500 to $50,000+, so the only determining factor is how much you're willing to spend. The lowest-priced instruments (those under $1000) occupy the niche of the old Harmony/Kay student archtops from the '40s-50s - serviceable, playable instruments (far better-built than the originals, BTW) with acceptable tone, and a good inexpensive introduction to the genre for a first-timer; while some of these - the recently-discontinued Epiphone Masterbilt Olympic/Zenith/Deluxe, Gretsch New Yorker, Loar LH-300 - have solid tops (carved in the case of the Loar) I've found the effect on overall tone to be negligible. Frankly, if I were asked to recommend an instrument in this price range I'd go with the all-acoustic, all-laminated Godin 5th Avenue (FYI they make a single-pickup electric version as well as a two-pickup cutaway) which, although also recently discontinued, can still be had for around $400-500 as new-old-stock (or as little as $250-300 for a used example); interestingly enough, a laminated top doesn't have the same detrimental effect as on a flattop - upright bass players have been using laminated instruments for the last 90 years, and savvy working players in the post-WW II era often bought a 17" Gibson ES-150 (non-cutaway/single P-90 pickup) as a true dual-purpose acoustic/electric guitar. BTW, if you're interested in a contemporary instrument with similar capabilities the D'Angelico Premier EXL-1 ($799 street) - a laminated 17" cutaway with a suspended pickguard-mounted pickup - would fill the bill nicely (FYI I'm partial to the champagne finish)...

      When you reach the $1500+ range you're looking at all-solid-wood, fully-carved instruments made by one of the Asian firms, as well as some dual-purpose guitars like the Guild A-150 Savoy (similar to the aforementioned D'Angelico but with a solid top and a vintage-style DeArmond pickup - IMO a better choice for plugged-in postwar-style blues). There are generally two schools of thought here: close adherence to vintage designs and specifications - with tonal characteristics to match - and a more contemporary approach, adopting visual/tonal cues from present-day luthiers like Benedetto, Buscarino, Monteleone, et al.; again, you need to decide what your musical needs are, as well as what's most comfortable for you to play. By way of example, the Loar LH-700 - a near dead-on copy of a mid/late-1920's 16" Gibson L-5 - will get you that incisive, brash, old-time tone in spades, but if you're not used to playing vintage instruments you might find the period-accurate, thick deep-V 1-3/4" neck difficult to negotiate; similarly, the comparably-sized/priced Eastman AR605 possesses a somewhat softer, mellower tone, but has both a more modern-feeling neck and a 21st-century visual aesthetic...

      Crack the $4000 mark and you're beginning to get into the domain of hand-carved, luthier-built guitars - the only limits here being what you're willing to pay for fancier woods/trim - as well as upscale factory-production jazzboxes from the likes of Gibson and Heritage. While I don't think you'll be looking at one of these for a first purchase (although my father's mechanic had a rare circa-1950 18" Epiphone Deluxe that he bought brand-new and never really learned to play - I should have grabbed this one for the $200 asking price back in 1969 ) I'd strongly recommend playing one or more of these if the opportunity presents itself - learn what the big-ticket stuff feels/sounds like, and use that as one of your criteria for evaluating your purchase; should you decide to take the plunge - and/or you have very specific requirements - Mark Campellone will build you one of his highly-respected, all-handcarved 17" jazzboxes to order for just a tick under $5K (less if you want an all-acoustic instrument), about one-half to one-third what you'd pay for an L-5 or Super 400 from the Gibson Custom Shop...

    • Archtops are, by nature, highly-idiosyncratic and often-temperamental beasts, and few players/guitar techs born after the Eisenhower administration really understand what makes them tick; that said, I'd never buy a repaired/restored vintage archtop from eBay, Craigslist, newspaper classifieds, et al. Unless you're familiar with the specific needs of these instruments - neck geometry (extremely important, far above and beyond that of a flattop), bridge fitment (base contouring, range of adjustment), top contour (sometimes what looks like a "sagging top" really isn't - and sometimes it is), tailpiece alignment (I've seen a few that have been off-center), etc. - there's just too many ways to get burned, and I haven't even touched on the usual caveats of neck warp/twist, binding disintegration, improper refinishing, worn/non-level frets, and the like; IME too many of the instruments you're likely to find in the classifieds were "project" guitars for amateur would-be techs at one point or another, mostly around the time they went out of fashion, and it'll cost you far more to get them "right" than it would to buy a similar piece from a reputable dealer - or a new one with a full factory warranty...
Hope this helps...
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Old 04-02-2020, 07:02 PM
BryanWI BryanWI is offline
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Excellent replies. Thank you. Well thought and well written.

A Dobro was mentioned. I do have a 1937 Regal National Dobro style guitar that hangs in my music room. I take her for a spin now and then. Itís amazing how much sound comes from it, especially in the mid to high end.

I donít have much experience with archtops, but Iíll keep looking and Iíll consider your advice. One day I hope to find a special one that suits me.
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Old 04-13-2020, 01:54 PM
Silly Moustache Silly Moustache is offline
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Back some time ago, when I got the archtop itch, I bought a '60s Harmony Monterey, still got it, and it is a great instrument. Look for one with an adjustable truss rod. Just sayin'
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Old 04-13-2020, 01:58 PM
stokes1971 stokes1971 is offline
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Right now I've got a D'Angelico EX 63,a roundhole archtop.I really like it but am interested in an F hole archtop as my next.
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Old 04-14-2020, 03:50 AM
joebloggs joebloggs is offline
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I own an Eastman AR503, and love it. Very high quality guitar. Plays and sounds glorious. It has a solid carved spruce top and laminate maple back and sides, which makes it more resistant to feedback when plugged in. The single Seymour Duncan Seth Lover is a great match.
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Old 04-14-2020, 08:07 AM
moondoggie999 moondoggie999 is offline
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Steve's reply is perfect, and as always I learn a lot from his insight. I'll just add that my first archtop was a Loar LH309 and after awhile I sold that and ended up with a Godin 5th Ave Kingpin II and am much happier with the over all sound.
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Old 04-14-2020, 10:55 AM
neilca neilca is offline
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My instructor calls me a Loar whore because I have a LH350 and a LH300. Yes I love playing both. Can't go wrong with a Loar.
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Old 04-14-2020, 11:45 AM
Glennwillow Glennwillow is offline
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The Martin HD-35 is a sound I know. It's very similar to my old '67 D-35 but with a little more bass. For me, this is a very good sound.

Archtop guitars, at least acoustically, have a very thin sound in comparison. This is just not a sound I identify with at all.

But I like the sound of a well played jazz guitar. The difference is amplification. Take a good archtop with a good pickup and run it through a very good sounding clean amp and you can get what I think is a great sound.

This is how I use my Eastman archtop. I plug it into my good tube preamp and then run it through my very good PA system in my studio, and voila! I have a very cool jazz sound. I have an Eastman AR910CE, a really beautiful guitar.

I should play it more!

- Glenn
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Old 04-14-2020, 12:54 PM
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LyleGorch LyleGorch is offline
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A lot Used of ES-175s out there.
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Old 04-14-2020, 02:22 PM
WordMan WordMan is online now
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Seek out a vintage Kalamazoo KG-31 made by Gibson during the Depression as their econo line. No truss rods, so you have to make sure the neck is straight. Based on the classic 16Ē L-5 archtop profile but with a pressed-wood arch, they are strummier and can be more in line with a bluesy guitar. *Great* for slide. You can find Ďem for under $1,500 - I did!

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJyw9y33iZQ S
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Old 04-14-2020, 03:11 PM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Glennwillow View Post
...Archtop guitars, at least acoustically, have a very thin sound in comparison. This is just not a sound I identify with at all.

But I like the sound of a well played jazz guitar. The difference is amplification. Take a good archtop with a good pickup and run it through a very good sounding clean amp and you can get what I think is a great sound.

This is how I use my Eastman archtop. I plug it into my good tube preamp and then run it through my very good PA system in my studio, and voila! I have a very cool jazz sound. I have an Eastman AR910CE, a really beautiful guitar...
Just curious how you broke it in, since IME archtops need a good dose of that Big Band comping to really open up the top; if you've handled a fair number of vintage examples, it's easy to tell which ones were owned by players and which were owned by dabblers - the "players" inevitably have a broader dynamic/frequency response, and the best of them can be surprisingly good fingerstyle instruments. When I was a kid I saw jazz legend Jack Wilkins - then a teenage phenom - do this on a gorgeous prewar L-5N during the course of one of my weekly lessons, as part of an explanation of what to look for in a good archtop; you'd better have a very clean, almost classical technique however, as it's impossible to use the overtones and greater sustain of a large flattop to mask less-than-perfect execution...

I'll also assume you're familiar with the "classical archtop" school that flourished roughly between 1925-1940, and upon which Mel Bay based his original method series; if you listen to some of the period recordings by Carl Kress & Dick McDonough, Harry Volpe, Tony Mottola, et al. I think you'll find their tone to be anything but thin - as much of which is attributable to the parallel-braced "advanced" instruments being used by the late-30's (if you're going to be playing in the cello register you need a similarly-sized guitar to produce the lower notes with any authority) as the orchestral-string-derived right-hand technique required to bring out the best in a good archtop (what the old-timers used to call "coaxing the velvet out"). I'm familiar with the Eastman line - had my eye on one of those for a while now - and while they're wonderful instruments in their own right they're coming from a very different place than a Big Band-era Gibson L-5 or Epiphone Deluxe both tonally and structurally, since it's assumed that they'll be used almost exclusively as amplified jazzboxes (as you do); that said, while you'll never match the woof and thump of an HD-35, IMO with some hard playing you can loosen up the top enough over time to provide a rich, creamy "tone-you-can-eat-with-a-spoon" for laid-back acoustic chord soloing - or the perfect accompaniment to your favorite, smoky-voiced chanteuse...
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Old 04-18-2020, 09:42 AM
Glennwillow Glennwillow is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve DeRosa View Post
Just curious how you broke it in, since IME archtops need a good dose of that Big Band comping to really open up the top; if you've handled a fair number of vintage examples, it's easy to tell which ones were owned by players and which were owned by dabblers - the "players" inevitably have a broader dynamic/frequency response, and the best of them can be surprisingly good fingerstyle instruments. When I was a kid I saw jazz legend Jack Wilkins - then a teenage phenom - do this on a gorgeous prewar L-5N during the course of one of my weekly lessons, as part of an explanation of what to look for in a good archtop; you'd better have a very clean, almost classical technique however, as it's impossible to use the overtones and greater sustain of a large flattop to mask less-than-perfect execution...

I'll also assume you're familiar with the "classical archtop" school that flourished roughly between 1925-1940, and upon which Mel Bay based his original method series; if you listen to some of the period recordings by Carl Kress & Dick McDonough, Harry Volpe, Tony Mottola, et al. I think you'll find their tone to be anything but thin - as much of which is attributable to the parallel-braced "advanced" instruments being used by the late-30's (if you're going to be playing in the cello register you need a similarly-sized guitar to produce the lower notes with any authority) as the orchestral-string-derived right-hand technique required to bring out the best in a good archtop (what the old-timers used to call "coaxing the velvet out"). I'm familiar with the Eastman line - had my eye on one of those for a while now - and while they're wonderful instruments in their own right they're coming from a very different place than a Big Band-era Gibson L-5 or Epiphone Deluxe both tonally and structurally, since it's assumed that they'll be used almost exclusively as amplified jazzboxes (as you do); that said, while you'll never match the woof and thump of an HD-35, IMO with some hard playing you can loosen up the top enough over time to provide a rich, creamy "tone-you-can-eat-with-a-spoon" for laid-back acoustic chord soloing - or the perfect accompaniment to your favorite, smoky-voiced chanteuse...
Hi Steve,

It's entirely possible that I have never played a really good, well broken in archtop. I probably haven't. So your knowledge on this subject is very likely well beyond mine.

On the other hand I heard Martin Taylor playing what he considered a classic Epiphone archtop, no pickup, just acoustically. I still thought the sound was thin. It sounded good with Martin Taylor playing it, but I find that I like his amplified sound much better. More depth.

But that's just me. We each like what we like and sometimes there is no explaining it.

Take care out there Steve!

- Glenn

PS: I did play a really old Gibson L5 once when I was in England. I still thought it sounded thin, but less thin than my Eastman.
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Old 04-18-2020, 02:23 PM
mr. beaumont mr. beaumont is offline
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OP, are you looking to plug in or not?

What does "bluesy feel" mean? Uptown or delta?
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