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Old 02-24-2023, 05:52 AM
Robin, Wales Robin, Wales is offline
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Default And then there were none!

Im very disappointed that the acoustic archtop has dropped off the radar of all of todays mass produced budget guitar makers. I look through catalogues from the 30s to the 60s and it is archtops, archtops, archtops all the way from pressed birch up to hand carved. Everyone was making them in the US and Europe.

Then, nothing! OK, so Eastman make an (expensive) one now but the Loar and Godin seem to have stopped production of their purely acoustic models. Wheres the Epiphone, or Tanglewood, or Yamaha, or Blueridge, or Recording King etc etc.

It cant be that difficult to bang out basic but well built archtops. You could CNC carve birch, or spruce or maple etc today by the 100s in no time at all. Laser cutting and heat pressing ply would be even easier. Add a bolt on neck and you are away. Even the neck angle on an archtop has a % of leeway greater than a flattop that would make them ideal for mass production. They are easy to set-up and adjust and rock solid to take lifes knocks.

I think that I should contact Yamaha and see if they would churn out something around the FG800 Series price and level of build quality all laminate with just a couple of tone bars (like the Godin 5th Avenue). I bet with two body sizes a 16 and a 14 they would be a good global seller!
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Old 02-24-2023, 06:04 AM
RoyBoy RoyBoy is offline
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I believe it's all a matter of supply and demand. Acoustic swing (count me in) is such a small microcosm of the market that there simply aren't enough buyers to justify larger companies continuing to produce them. Luckily, the internet has made it easier for players to secure older instruments at not too outrageous prices.

As a builder, I can tell you that archtop guitars require some serious size bolts of wood for the tops and backs (priced accordingly). Then there's the carving of those beautiful 3 dimensional arches. Even starting with CNC, the voicing is still a time consuming process.
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Old 02-24-2023, 08:27 AM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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Originally Posted by RoyBoy View Post
...Acoustic swing (count me in) is such a small microcosm of the market that there simply aren't enough buyers to justify larger companies continuing to produce them...
While archtops are generally (and justly) associated with Big Band-era swing, most contemporary players are unaware that there was also an entire school of plectrum-style "classical archtop" guitar that flourished from about 1925-1940, and upon which Mel Bay based his well-known method; when I was learning in the early-60's the method books bore a statement that they were in fact designed and intended "to place the plectrum guitar in the same class as the violin, piano, and other 'legitimate' instruments" (and if you've never hung around in certain so-called "serious" music circles it's difficult to imagine the pejorative attitude directed toward the guitar, even in its "classical" incarnation )...

By way of background, in its original form the classical-archtop movement drew from the earlier American school of (fingerstyle) classical guitar exemplified by the likes of William Foden, Vahdah Olcott-Bickford, et al. (rather than that of Segovia and his Spanish contemporaries, which would become the accepted concert style and instrument), as well as the parlor, "light classical," and vaudeville music of late-19th/early 20th century America. In addition to transcriptions of well-known classical repertoire, a number of guitarists of the day produced original compositions in a late-Romantic style - music which, while largely out of fashion today, still retains its technical and artistic merit nine decades later. Bear in mind that the original L-5 archtop guitar was in fact envisioned as a "classical" instrument both tonally and visually, intended as a part of the mandolin orchestras of the late-vaudeville era and designed for hall-filling acoustic projection in the days before electronic amplification; were it not for Segovia's sensational American debut in 1928, the plectrum-style archtop guitar - with its violin-family looks and construction - may well have become the accepted "classical" guitar...

If anyone's interested there are a number of recordings of these period pieces on YouTube (see below); in addition, you might also want to check out some of the work of Eddie Lang (both solo and with Joe Venuti on violin), Carl Kress and Dick McDonough, Tony Mottola (when he was a teenage whiz kid), and George Van Eps, among others. Finally, there's an excellent collection published by Mel Bay, entitled Masters of the Plectrum Guitar which, should anyone be intrigued enough to investigate this style further, will definitely keep you busy for a while - and give you a taste of what might have been...

Here's a couple of samples of "classical archtop" from back in the day:



- and a few from modern revivalists keeping this historic style alive:







There's also a small-scale revival of the prewar acoustic virtuoso jazz style exemplified here by Jonathan Stout; FYI Mr. Stout (AKA CampusFive) is a fellow AGF member, and one of my favorites of the new generation of archtop players keeping the music alive - here's a few clips:


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Old 02-24-2023, 08:35 AM
Bluemonk Bluemonk is offline
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Sorry for the derailment, but I just wanted to mention that I've been taking a deep dive into Jonathan Stout lately. What an amazing player! He combines both the precision and relaxation required to pull off that style of playing.

Last edited by Bluemonk; 02-24-2023 at 08:36 AM. Reason: Typo
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Old 02-24-2023, 09:08 AM
Robin, Wales Robin, Wales is offline
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I was thinking far, far simpler.... Most of those thousands of cheap archtops that were produced were just played as general acoustic guitars...period.

There looks to be a cohort of younger roots players posting on YouTube that will raise the profile of the archtop again. The manufacturer who leaps in early to this market potential will do well. Jazz = difficult and specialist (and expensive) Roots = cheap cowboy chords and singing to your friends with a few beers.

Just a couple of evenings ago I played my cheap 5th Avenue at an event to accompany a simple folk song and a guy came up to me and said what a great guitar it was, how he had learnt on his Dad's archtop in the 60s and how much he missed the sound.

There is a market for that under $400 archtop aimed at the balladeer. It just needs some vision and good marketing to get if off the ground. Once folks get this type of guitar in their hands they love them - but at present the archtops on the market are seen as top shelf specialist "jazz" guitars.
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Old 02-24-2023, 09:54 AM
PineMarten PineMarten is offline
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With the Godins being discontinued, and other recent models like the Epiphone Masterbilts, Gretsch New Yorker, Loar etc not being around for long either, I wonder if the demand is really there. Electric archtops with routed in pickups seem to be a much more reliable segment of the market, as several budget options have been more sustainable and lasted for a good few years now.
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Old 02-24-2023, 11:51 AM
Robin, Wales Robin, Wales is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PineMarten View Post
With the Godins being discontinued, and other recent models like the Epiphone Masterbilts, Gretsch New Yorker, Loar etc not being around for long either, I wonder if the demand is really there. Electric archtops with routed in pickups seem to be a much more reliable segment of the market, as several budget options have been more sustainable and lasted for a good few years now.
I think that the problem was marketing. Those guitars were sold as "jazz boxes". Folks who actually wanted a "jazz box" would likely be the type of musician willing to pay for higher quality. The products perhaps would work if they were aimed at the "folk roots - I'm not going to plug in" players. Playing my 5th Avenue is like playing through a warm valve amp, just when I'm playing acoustically. It's a lovely timbre. When my friends come around the house with their dreads I get told to get out the archtop, it is just so complimentary. That's the market to aim at. Folks who go to jams or play in local roots bands with other guitarists, or solo singer songwriters who want to put some variety into their sets. It is the second guitar buyer you need to focus on and that $500-$600 bracket is perfect for those folks. They want something pragmatic but with a bit of character to its timbre and a solid build that sets up well. Believe me, that's exactly the line I took when I ran Busker Guitars dealing with resonators - and I always had a full order book.

If I was 15 years younger I'd do it myself!!!!
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Old 02-24-2023, 03:36 PM
fpuhan fpuhan is offline
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I have a one-word reply: Ibanez.

I own an AG95QA, and it's as near to perfect as an archtop can be. And at a price that didn't break the bank, either. Ibanez has a complete lineup of archtops. One for every taste. George Benson likes them. And has for some 45 years...

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Old 02-24-2023, 03:44 PM
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David Eastwood David Eastwood is offline
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Originally Posted by fpuhan View Post
I have a one-word reply: Ibanez.

I own an AG95QA, and it's as near to perfect as an archtop can be. And at a price that didn't break the bank, either. Ibanez has a complete lineup of archtops. One for every taste. George Benson likes them. And has for some 45 years...
Id certainly agree with the price/performance ratio of Ibanez archtops - I have an AF95FM - but, to the best of my knowledge, they dont make a purely acoustic archtop.

Happy to be corrected if necessary
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Old 02-24-2023, 05:25 PM
RLetson RLetson is offline
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I've played a lot of acoustic archtops (though probably not as many as Steve DR), and most of the low-end ones (whether new or "vintage") sounded like, well, low-end guitars. Among the modern attempts, the Godin acoustics I tried were tolerable (though the electricfied model I heard was quite nice--mostly the pickups, I suspect), nowhere near as right-sounding as my Loar 600, which in turn is less refined than my Eastman 805CE, which is reasonably close to my 1946 Epi Broadway. And at the Loar's street-price point, we're already well out of the "budget" area. A big disappointment was the recent attempt to resurrect the Epi archtop line--at least the samples I tried were thin and nasal.

Getting the sound right while also producing a decently-finished and playable instrument isn't going to be cheap, even with pressed-solid tops, which I take to be the minimum build factor. I understand that not everyone aspires to swing-rhythm or acoustic-jazz playing, but I can't see even Americana or old-timey players settling for the thin, banjo-y voice of a cheap archtop, however they might dig the visual presentation of an old Harmony or Silvertone. (And the old budget Gibson and Epi student-grade archtops have been priced out of the budget class by the example of, say, David Rawlings). Though, given the tolerance for quacky-nasal pickups in flat-tops I've encountered at open mikes, maybe my ear is no longer in synch with sonic fashion. (Can't abide Auto-Tune vocals, either.)
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Old 02-24-2023, 07:55 PM
Rudy4 Rudy4 is offline
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Originally Posted by Robin, Wales View Post
Im very disappointed that the acoustic archtop has dropped off the radar of all of todays mass produced budget guitar makers. I look through catalogues from the 30s to the 60s and it is archtops, archtops, archtops all the way from pressed birch up to hand carved. Everyone was making them in the US and Europe.

Then, nothing! OK, so Eastman make an (expensive) one now but the Loar and Godin seem to have stopped production of their purely acoustic models. Wheres the Epiphone, or Tanglewood, or Yamaha, or Blueridge, or Recording King etc etc.

It cant be that difficult to bang out basic but well built archtops. You could CNC carve birch, or spruce or maple etc today by the 100s in no time at all. Laser cutting and heat pressing ply would be even easier. Add a bolt on neck and you are away. Even the neck angle on an archtop has a % of leeway greater than a flattop that would make them ideal for mass production. They are easy to set-up and adjust and rock solid to take lifes knocks.

I think that I should contact Yamaha and see if they would churn out something around the FG800 Series price and level of build quality all laminate with just a couple of tone bars (like the Godin 5th Avenue). I bet with two body sizes a 16 and a 14 they would be a good global seller!
I suspect the near demise of the "budget archtop" is basically because very few players want them. (Where there's a demand the market will fill it...)

Here in the U.S. you could walk into almost any large pawn shop and buy the type of guitar you are referencing for $50 - $100 UNTIL David Rawlings cued in a whole bunch of players to the 1930's Epiphone Olympics. Epiphone tried to cash in on the demand, but the guitars just sound bad. Besides, who markets a retro acoustic archtop and then puts a big plastic box on the lower bout?

I'd like to have $1 for every one of those that got sold and then immediately slid under the bed or sold off again on the used market.

Yes, they COULD be produced inexpensively if a manufacturer didn't already have the marketing statistics to show it would be a very poor decision.
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Old 02-24-2023, 09:08 PM
Artomas Artomas is offline
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For an all-purpose guitar, I like the blues and folk sounding, solid pressed-into-shape birch-topped, ladder braced, feather-light Harmony and Kay archtops. The cheap widespread availability and budget craftsmanship helped keep down prices of used models of these... until sometimes recently... though I don't see too many people biting at inflated prices for these. I'd love it if somebody famous made it a cool type of guitar to have around, and if companies started to remake them somewhere cheaper than even Indonesia, but with even bigger trees, still. I think currently, the market is obviously in favor of big jazzbox style archtops, which I don't think would be as suitable for general purpose strumming, casual playing, like, as the one acoustic someone would have in the house, if they're only going to have one. But the old Harmony serves that purpose for me, and similar ones have for many people in the past. Then, if someone gets serious about it... that sort of guitar. Then, they still keep around the beater guitar... so it might as well be one that has character, right? But for decades now, most people think of a plain old boring boomy flat top when they think of an acoustic guitar, unfortunately. Hipsters would grant you the parlor guitar for over a decade now, but you'd think they'd be all over the PBR of archtops by this point. Maybe they are, and that's why people are asking silly money for the cheap archtops now?

Anyway, I agree with the OP that archtops should be more prevalent everywhere. Which means, not just expensive ones, but right sounding (for blues and kumbaya) and decent playing cheap ones too.
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Old 02-24-2023, 09:22 PM
Artomas Artomas is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RLetson View Post
...but I can't see even Americana or old-timey players settling for the thin, banjo-y voice of a cheap archtop, however they might dig the visual presentation of an old Harmony or Silvertone.... Though, given the tolerance for quacky-nasal pickups in flat-tops I've encountered at open mikes, maybe my ear is no longer in synch with sonic fashion. (Can't abide Auto-Tune vocals, either.)
I... I even play it by the bridge sometimes (I'm actually not trolling... I like gypsy jazz guitar tone, too, and that's way brighter and dryer than my pressed archtop... which is driest and brightest by the bridge, if somewhat thin sounding there).

Oh well. Sometimes I like autotune too, if it's used as a creative effect. If it's obviously remedial, or trying to give the artist free cred by sounding like some played out trend, then no thanks on the autotune.
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Old 02-24-2023, 09:22 PM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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Originally Posted by Rudy4 View Post
...Yes, they COULD be produced inexpensively if a manufacturer didn't already have the marketing statistics to show it would be a very poor decision.
As Robin states part of the problem - at least with the Godin 5th Avenue acoustic - is that they were being marketed as unplugged jazzboxes in a market where, with a few notable exceptions (including our own Jonathan Stout) there's very little mass interest as there was through the mid-1960's. On the other hand, thanks to the David Rawlings (among others) connection there's been a significant revival in the roots/Americana music world and, pitched appropriately to such a market, could amount to significant if not overwhelming sales vis-a-vis their flattop counterparts. FWIW all-laminated construction doesn't have the same adverse effect on tone as with a flattop - something double-bass makers have known for the last century or so - and a well-made instrument of this type, selling in the $500-600 bracket and given sufficient distribution that walk-in customers have a real opportunity to experience one hands-on, could well be seen as a valid alternative voice for certain styles. I'm also reminded of the long-standing rumor that, once Epiphone realized their error with the neither-fish-nor-fowl (mostly foul IME... ) Masterbilts, were going to produce a line of historically-based instruments priced/constructed to compete with Loar and Eastman in the de facto beginner/intermediate archtop segment - and had they done so, given their prominent market position we likely wouldn't be having this conversation right now...
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Old 02-24-2023, 09:29 PM
fpuhan fpuhan is offline
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Originally Posted by David Eastwood View Post
Id certainly agree with the price/performance ratio of Ibanez archtops - I have an AF95FM - but, to the best of my knowledge, they dont make a purely acoustic archtop.

Happy to be corrected if necessary
I suspect you're right, but I'd reply, "What's the point?" These days, even most "acoustic" guitars come equipped with onboard electronics. If you can play a guitar both ways, why build one that limits that possibility?

Every acoustic guitar I've purchased over the past few years has included a pickup system. The last one that offered me the choice was the Furch Little Jane. I paid extra to have the electronics. It sounds great played acoustically, but I like that I can plug it in, too.

My second guitar ever is a 1957 Gibson ES-225t. One pickup. How many times do you think I've played it plugged in? I can probably count them on two hands.
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