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  #1  
Old 02-21-2019, 10:16 AM
JuanRivers JuanRivers is offline
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Question Advice on Buying Vintage Archtop

Hi Everyone! I recently played my friend's Epi Triumph and fell in love with it. Ever since I've been researching quality vintage archtops for sale that won't break the bank. I'm looking in the $500-1000 range, so I probably won't be able to find a good triumph (I did see a 1945 model on ebay for $799 but I didn't pull the trigger bc I was suspicious on its condition being priced so low. kicking myself about it now.)

Any advice on the good option under $1k. Looking for the right combo of rich tone/playability. From the research I've done so far, seems like the best options are:

- Kalamazoo k21,31 or 32
- Epi Zenith
- Epi Olympic
- Gibson L50
- Gretsch New Yorker
- Harmony Cremona
- Recording king m3
- Harmony Patrician

Also a lot of compelling Hofners out there, but I haven't been able to discern the best models.

Any helpful tips or advice here? Which would be the most similar to the triumph? Maybe certain years to look out for or avoid?

My gut has me leaning towards a Zenith or Kalamazoo, but I'm kinda green when it comes to archtops so any feedback would be super helpful!

Thanks!
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Old 02-21-2019, 11:56 AM
upsidedown upsidedown is offline
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Hi Juan, and welcome.

You might get more answers if you post your question in the Archtops sub forum.
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Old 02-21-2019, 12:11 PM
JuanRivers JuanRivers is offline
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Thanks! Will post there now!
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Old 02-21-2019, 12:37 PM
Osage Osage is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JuanRivers View Post

- Kalamazoo k21,31 or 32
- Epi Zenith
- Epi Olympic
- Gibson L50
- Gretsch New Yorker
- Harmony Cremona
- Recording king m3
- Harmony Patrician
I have played all of these and they can all be totally nice except for the Gretsch New Yorker. I've never played one that sounded good at all. I know I'm not alone in feeling this way.

The Kalamazoo guitars have no neck reinforcement of any kind and this can be problematic. If you're looking at one, make sure the neck is straight.

Pre-war Epiphones are wonderful guitars and until a few years ago, they cost next to nothing. Occasionally you will still find them for sale now at really low prices from sellers who I guess don't know that they've gone up ten fold in price since Dave Rawlings got famous. I wouldn't hold out for one of these deals though.

I would look for a mid 50's Epiphone. They are good solid guitars and won't break the bank.

Another decent, lower budget vintage archtop is the Harmony Crest and Royal Crest guitars. I've had a few of them and they are always nice instruments.


One thing on buying in general is that they made a ton of archtops from the 30's through the 50's and then by the 60's they fell out of favor for a lot of players. Many have been sitting unplayed for decades and can have issues like loose braces. Make sure you're buying one that is currently playable or be prepared to have some work done.
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Old 02-21-2019, 12:41 PM
JuanRivers JuanRivers is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Osage View Post

I would look for a mid 50's Epiphone. They are good solid guitars and won't break the bank.

Another decent, lower budget vintage archtop is the Harmony Crest and Royal Crest guitars. I've had a few of them and they are always nice instruments.
Thanks Osage! Extremely helpful. I'll make sure to keep my eye out for a mid 50s epi and look into these Crest guitars as I narrow down my search. Give my budget, a 50s era zenith seems like the best bet.

Last edited by JuanRivers; 02-21-2019 at 12:47 PM.
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  #6  
Old 02-21-2019, 02:12 PM
WordMan WordMan is offline
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My main acoustic is a ‘38 Kalamazoo KG-31. Just love it. No truss rod so you must make sure the 80 year old neck is straight. Very strummy - mahogany body. My favorite guitar for slide. Great chunky C neck. I got it for maybe $1,000 a few years ago.

My son has a ‘58 Harmony H1215. We got it for $225 a few years ago. Fun guitar - big neck with a V. His main guitar.

Enjoy your search!
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Old 02-21-2019, 02:21 PM
JuanRivers JuanRivers is offline
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thanks! I'm looking at a few kalamazoos, and the 31 looks right up my alley. Glad that you like it. Will make sure to ask review how straight the necks are. preciate it!
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Old 02-21-2019, 02:33 PM
WordMan WordMan is offline
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Can you try them? I think you would end up with a strong opinion over whether you want a small body like an Olympic or L-37, vs a 16” “standard width” archtop like a KG-31 or L-50 or L-48, vs a Big Archtop.

That’s a good starting point.
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Old 02-21-2019, 03:17 PM
Steadfastly Steadfastly is offline
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If you are not stuck on having a vintage one, there are a few companies producing new archtops reminiscent of the ones produced decades ago. Godin makes one that gets lots of praise and is well under $1000.00. Eastman make some nice ones too.
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Old 02-21-2019, 04:53 PM
lowrider lowrider is offline
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I just got this timely article from Reverb;

https://reverb.com/news/the-36-coole...verb-right-now

Beautiful guitars!
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Old 02-21-2019, 09:29 PM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Osage View Post
...Pre-war Epiphones are wonderful guitars and until a few years ago, they cost next to nothing. Occasionally you will still find them
for sale now at really low prices from sellers who I guess don't know that they've gone up tenfold in price since Dave Rawlings got famous. I wouldn't hold out for one of these deals though.

I would look for a mid 50's Epiphone. They are good solid guitars and won't break the bank...
General consensus among Epiphone cognoscenti is to be careful with the '54 models, and except for the top-of-the-line Emperor and Deluxe (possibly the occasional Broadway/Triumph or two) avoid the '55 - '57 guitars altogether. By way of information, Epiphone had serious labor difficulties in the early-50's when an attempt was made to unionize the shop; keeping a long and convoluted story short, many of the skilled craftsmen jumped ship to either then-upstart Guild or across-the-river competitor Gretsch, while production was split between New York and Philadelphia when Continental Music assumed control in 1953. Although anything made before the Gibson takeover in 1957 is considered a "New York" Epiphone (FYI a number of instruments - particularly mid-/high-end acoustic archtops, for which there was little demand at the time - were assembled in whole or in part from leftover genuine Epiphone parts through the early-60's), the quality of the final models was so poor that the Philadelphia warehouse - not to mention the stockroom of many a music store - was loaded with warranty returns and unsaleable instruments; while the official Gibson position is that they stripped the warehouse instruments for parts before destroying them, I can personally vouch for the fact that NOS guitars from the final days of the original Epiphone company were being sold at least through the mid-60's (I saw a rackful in Silver & Horland's stockroom in April 1964), and probably into about 1970 in stores well away from major metropolitan areas - caveat emptor (Emperor?)...

If it were me, I'd look for an early postwar ('46 - '51) instrument: wartime materials restrictions/manpower loss seem to have had less of an impact than the other makers, which allowed them to get back up to speed more quickly; the acoustic archtop guitars upon which Epiphone built their reputation were still a major force in the market; the mostly-Italian local craftsmen who had worked under Epi himself (who had died in 1943) were still employed at the factory, ensuring a continuing tradition of quality; and the entire prewar line (as well as a few new models introduced circa 1950) was still available at least through 1949. While there's much to be said for the legendary prewar guitars, to me these instruments represent the final iteration of Epi Stathopoulo's personal vision of what his guitars should be - and as the former owner of a '46 Blackstone I find this the most intriguing period in the company's history...
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Old 02-21-2019, 09:30 PM
zombywoof zombywoof is offline
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Oddly I own both a 1953 blonde Epiphone Triumph Regent and a 1935 Gibson-made Capital archtop which was the house brand of Jenkins Music and is pretty much the same as a Kalamazoo or a Cromwell. There is absolutely no similarity between the two guitars. The Epi is a big box with carved top and back plates. The Capital is smaller with a pressed wood top and back. I doe snot have a truss rod but a nice fat V neck. Mine is also X braced (a Gibson characteristic from 1935 into 1939) rather than parallel braced so has the "two hump" top. The Epi has far more punch than the Capital and sounds fatter on the upper end almost more like a flattop.

You should have no problem scoring a Kalamazoo at your price point. The archtops bring far less than the flattops. In Epiphones, I would think you might be limited to a Blackstone which was a lower end entry in the catalog.

As far as other brands the top of the line Harmony would be the Cremona which had a carved top. The rarest would be the cutaway version which was only made for one year.

As far as Kays, the best I have ever gotten my hands on was one of the two Television models from the late 1930s. These had carved tops and backs. I prefer them over something like a Gibson L-50 which cost three times as much. Finding one at any price though is a hard row to hoe. I have only run across the one which was up for grabs and I am still kicking myself for not jumping on it when I had the chance. But Kay also made a ton of archtops for Sears and others, a number of which had at least carved tops. Problem is you really have to know your way around these guitars to know what you are getting which is not easy when it comes to Kays.

Just a question but have you considered the new Epiphone Masterbilt Century line of archtops. I have been pleasantly surprised by them and they will not even come close to emptying your wallet.
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Old 02-21-2019, 09:38 PM
The Growler The Growler is offline
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Condition is always important when buying vintage. Make sure you play it and are aware of the condition and the cost of any needed repairs or it can make what was a happy purchase into a more expensive than planned frustration.

That said, a vintage guitar can be a real source of joy.

I also think the recommendation of checking out the Epiphone Mastebuilt archtops is a really good idea too.

Enjoy the hunt and let us know what you wind up with.
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Old 02-21-2019, 10:17 PM
zombywoof zombywoof is offline
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Condition is always important when buying vintage. Make sure you play it and are aware of the condition and the cost of any needed repairs or it can make what was a happy purchase into a more expensive than planned frustration.
That is, of course, some good advice. If you are unwashed when it comes to old acoustics you can get burned very easily. You need to know what is original and what is not. Good example would be I have never seen the Kluson Sealfast tuners that are on my Epi Triumph go for less than $400 on their own. Then you throw in the patent pending Frequensator tailpiece and you are up another couple of hundred. On the other hand getting a guitar that has been cannibalized of its original parts can land you a good sounding and playing instrument at a bargain price. On condition you have to be able to spot issues and then be able to come up with a ballpark figure of what repairs would cost. A way to go to make sure you are getting what you think you are in the condition you are expecting is to stick with the big sexy vintage dealers. But you will pay for that Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
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Old 02-22-2019, 12:34 PM
JuanRivers JuanRivers is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WordMan View Post
Can you try them? I think you would end up with a strong opinion over whether you want a small body like an Olympic or L-37, vs a 16” “standard width” archtop like a KG-31 or L-50 or L-48, vs a Big Archtop.

That’s a good starting point.
Thanks for the feedback!

I've tried a few over the years, and more recently, a 17" triumph, my buddy's 16" gibson (i think it was an L7?), and smaller-bodied Kay, probably ~15".

I enjoyed playing each one, so my preference is really about finding a guitar with the right tonal qualities and playability. So I'm very open to any archtop in good condition, whether it's a quieter style for leadwork, fingerpicking, chop chords or more of a fuller body with louder range for singing accompaniment.

I live in Miami, where, unfortunately, there aren't many good guitar stores, so there's really only one that I'm looking at that I can actually go play before buying. I know it's a risk to buy something online before playing, but if I research enough, ask the right questions, identify trusted/legit sellers, and ideally get some video samples from the seller, then I could easily end up with a better instrument for better value. Also still kicking myself for not pulling the trigger on that triumph I found for $799.
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