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  #16  
Old 09-14-2021, 11:50 AM
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According to Mackillop, people did play classical repertoire on their "plectrum guitars", and if you look at scores written for that instrument there's enough that wouldn't be completely out of place in a programme with light classical music.

I think that says enough about what the instruments could also sound like.

I forgot this little gem:
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  #17  
Old 09-14-2021, 12:50 PM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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Originally Posted by RJVB View Post
According to Mackillop, people did play classical repertoire on their "plectrum guitars," and if you look at scores written for that instrument there's enough that wouldn't be completely out of place in a programme with light classical music.

I think that says enough about what the instruments could also sound like.
Elaborating further on the above, most contemporary players are unaware that there was an entire school of "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 you're interested there are a number of recordings of these period pieces on YouTube, either in the original (by the likes of Harry Volpe, Al Hendrickson, et al.) or re-recorded by contemporary revivalists. 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:



Interesting side note: Although barely visible in the picture, Harry Volpe's guitar is a prewar 18" Gretsch Synchromatic 400 with a triangular center soundhole (Django's playing the cats' eye version) - even through the primitive recording equipment/techniques the sweetness of the trebles and rich, woody bass/midrange one would anticipate in a guitar of this size/type can be clearly heard, and in conjunction with Volpe's technical prowess further substantiates my earlier comments about being a true virtuoso "classical" instrument...

In addition, you might also want to check out in depth some of the players mentioned previously: 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 you 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...
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Last edited by Steve DeRosa; 09-14-2021 at 12:58 PM.
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  #18  
Old 09-14-2021, 02:36 PM
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Thanks for that interesting elaboration! I'm going to have to find a copy of that Linear Etude (or the entire bundle) because it's exactly the sort of material I like working on (and it'd save my period purist's principles from playing Bach c.s. on guitar )

Is this repertoire still being played/taught or is it mostly being forgotten slowly?

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the plectrum-style archtop guitar - with its violin-family looks and construction - may well have become the accepted "classical" guitar...
That's maybe a bit too much wishfull thinking The classical guitar is just a bit too much steeped in and based on tradition for that. (IIRC, Barrios played on steel strings from time time, and was scolded by another hot shot of the day for doing so, I think accused of being to lazy to get a proper volume on "real strings". A similar attitude towards steel strings remains nowadays, no matter how appropriate they could be for contemporary classical music.)
The archtop might have carved (hah) itself a "classical" position in the Americas - if the continents hadn't come closer together because of easier travel. Experience shows that classical music doesn't have space (or patience) for comparable instruments that fill too similar niches. The guitar replaced the lute, the piano the harpsichord, the violin family the gamba family - because there's always one of the two that's just a bit better at doing everything that's in vogue and/or at doing novel things that lead to the next vogue.
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Old 09-14-2021, 03:15 PM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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Originally Posted by RJVB View Post
...The archtop might have carved (hah) itself a "classical" position in the Americas - if the continents hadn't come closer together because of easier travel. Experience shows that classical music doesn't have space (or patience) for comparable instruments that fill too similar niches. The guitar replaced the lute, the piano the harpsichord, the violin family the gamba family - because there's always one of the two that's just a bit better at doing everything that's in vogue and/or at doing novel things that lead to the next vogue.
My point precisely, and the fact that the archtop was not only capable of doing American-school classical music, but superseded the tenor and plectrum banjos as the preferred instrument for the then-emerging genre of big-band jazz - not to mention its easy adaptability to the cutting-edge concept of electrification - would have, by our mutual definition, made it the superior instrument for general use; by the same token, absent Segovia's 1928 American debut the Spanish classical style might well have remained largely confined to the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America. Unfortunately, with the classical-music world being what we both know it is - back in the early-70's I caught a load of crap from a couple undergrad music professors, when I took majors' sequence courses (for which I passed the knowledge/theory placement exams with no problem) and completed the required work on guitar - we may never know the answer at this late date...
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  #20  
Old 09-15-2021, 04:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Steve DeRosa View Post
the fact that the archtop was not only capable of doing American-school classical music, but superseded the tenor and plectrum banjos as the preferred instrument for the then-emerging genre of big-band jazz - not to mention its easy adaptability to the cutting-edge concept of electrification - would have, by our mutual definition, made it the superior instrument for general use; by the same token, absent Segovia's 1928 American debut the Spanish classical style might well have remained largely confined to the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America.
Not so fast there The classical guitar as we know it may have its roots in Spain, but was adopted/copied/adapted/etc in most countries throughout Europe (Segovia played a guitar by Hauser, a German luthier crucial in the development of the instrument). Even if most of the original repertoire for the instrument (as we currently know it) was probably written by Spanish composer-performers there are enough original transcriptions of lieder and other compositions from the early 19th century and onwards that a friend of mine has set up a duet for this repertoire specifically.

There was definitely a fling with American music in early 20th century France but also with Spanish music and as such I cannot imagine that a guitar strung with steel strings (*) and played in a way that hadn't been used (= usable) since the days of medieval lutes (i.e., a plectrum) would have been able to replace the classical guitar in classical music. You will see it (or even an electric "descendant") in orchestras when the repertoire calls for it, but could you really imagine something like the Concierto de Aranjuez (1939) having been written for anything but the Spanish/classical guitar?

I *could* imagine a gut/nylon strung archtop to have "taken over" but apparently there are sufficient explanations why that didn't happen (not too hard to find on the classicaldelcamp forum). FWIW, baroque guitars have an arched back (contrary to vihuelas), and IIRC a friend of mine mentioned a kind of guitar with arched top and/or back around the 1800s (I'm trying to confirm that with him).


*) AFAIK, reliable and cheap production of strings with proper intonation was basically a by-product of WW2; before that most serious concert violinists still used gut E strings for instance.
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  #21  
Old 09-16-2021, 03:04 AM
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Here are a few interesting recordings of a vintage Gibson L48. It sounds beautiful - I suppose we'll have to assume that they are faithful recordings (actual volume aside of course).

I'm not even certain if I hear anything that would make me recognise an archtop without the video, instead of just a very nice (and possibly electric) guitar. Basses are round, deep and full, maybe it's more in the trebles that there is more sweetness and less jangle. The trebles of a flattop can have a nasty twang to them that I associate with piezo pickups (but maybe is just something those pickups amplify); I don't hear that here.
(This reminds me of a possible anecdote that the famous viol builder Joachim Tielke gave his instruments an arched instead of a flat back to obtain a sweeter, rounder sound.)





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Old 09-16-2021, 08:23 AM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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Here are a few interesting recordings of a vintage Gibson L48. It sounds beautiful - I suppose we'll have to assume that they are faithful recordings (actual volume aside of course)...
FYI the L-48, except for a few very rare early models and late-60's exceptions built on existing L-50 bodies, is an all-laminated instrument - and an interesting illustration of the fact that laminated construction doesn't seem to be quite as detrimental to tone as it is with flattops, something that double-bass makers have known for the last century and some archtop luthiers (Benedetto, Triggs, Sadowsky, American Archtop, Moll, et al.) have been rediscovering in recent years. Not surprised - while it'll never have the sonic refinement of an old D'Angelico New Yorker it's got all the tonal/visual vibe most casual and semi-pro players will ever need, and FWIW many a postwar ES-150 (17" all-laminated, single P-90) could give contemporary noncut L-7's a real run for their money...
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  #23  
Old 09-16-2021, 01:22 PM
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Laminate arched tops are pressed I presume, or maybe even held under tension on the bracing? I guess you could compare that to a flat aluminium top (which I presume would sound horrible) vs a resonator cone. (The arched form probably also allows the top to be thinner?)
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  #24  
Old 09-16-2021, 04:40 PM
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Laminate arched tops are pressed I presume, or maybe even held under tension on the bracing? I guess you could compare that to a flat aluminum top (which I presume would sound horrible) vs a resonator cone. (The arched form probably also allows the top to be thinner?)
In order:
  • The layers in a laminated top are glued/pressed into shape and, as with solid tops, the type/thickness of woods(s) used - to which the additional factor of overlapping grain patterns comes into play - determines the final tonal envelope;
  • Your evaluation of a flat aluminum top is an accurate one (find yourself a Martin ALternative X and you'll see just how accurate ) but in case you're unaware, aluminum orchestral strings enjoyed a brief vogue circa 1930 - they're very rare (I've only seen one in my lifetime - a double bass that needed work), but they do come up for sale on occasion:
https://reverb.com/item/34656915-193...-co-4-4-violin
https://reverb.com/item/39985998-193...-co-4-4-violin
https://reverb.com/item/4307501-alco...ux-wood-finish
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Old 09-17-2021, 04:13 AM
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In order:[*]The layers in a laminated top are glued/pressed into shape
I'm not sure if you mean that the lamination and arching steps are combined, but I suppose that would make sense from (at least) a mechanical and production point of view.

You didn't answer if arched laminate tops can be thinner than flat ones (and/or than carved arched tops). The top of that Troubadour guitar of mine seems under 3mm thick at the soundhole rim, given its price category it must be laminate and I presume that in that case it's probably of a uniform thickness throughout. IOW, it seems very thin.

It also responds well enough to brass-wound nylon bass string (= on the side where the brace has come loose) that I have half a heart to ask my luthier to remove the brace rather than glueing it back into place, and see how the instrument does as a nylon stringer before deciding what to do about the neck. The top has already warped on the bass side and the few siblings (with f-holes) I've seen auction records of went for 50-200$ so it's not like I'm risking a valuable instrument.

Quote:
[*] in case you're unaware, aluminum orchestral strings enjoyed a brief vogue circa 1930
I guess the war made an end to that vogue. I think I knew this.

BTW, "orchestral strings" reads as "strings for bowed string instruments" to me. And if memory serves me well, aluminium-wound strings exist or existed for violin at least. In any case I have a memory of trying less expensive strings that were supposedly very good but which I really didn't like (I can't say I like the current aluminium-bronze strings either).
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  #26  
Old 09-17-2021, 07:25 AM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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...You didn't answer if arched laminate tops can be thinner than flat ones (and/or than carved arched tops)...

BTW, "orchestral strings" reads as "strings for bowed string instruments" to me...
  • Yes, they can: vintage Brooklyn-made Gretsch hollowbodies (as well as the all-acoustic Corsair and New Yorker archtops) and Godin's 5th Avenue line (which once included an all-acoustic archtop) are both noted for their extremely thin top and back plates, which contributes to their lively, resonant tone as well as significantly lighter weight compared to similar instruments (BTW I own examples of both);
  • The term "orchestral strings" is used here to refer to the bowed instrument family - violin, viola, cello, double bass - and while it's at least remotely possible I've never seen/heard of an aluminum viola or cello...
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Old 09-20-2021, 03:33 AM
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I've never heard an unamplified arch top guitar that sounded as good as a flat-top. Were arch-tops designed to be played amplified? The ‘f’ holes don’t seem to move much air. The arch seems to limit movement of the soundboard. They appeared to be very popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Don’t intend to offend anyone but am I missing something here? Other than aesthetics, what’s the attraction? Some are very beautiful. The plucking physics and dynamics of fingerstyle and plectrums are different than a horsehair bow. Haven’t seen much modern new build enthusiasm. Is this a cult,,,,, like Skyline Chile?
Talk is cheap. Here's one built by a friend of mine in Montreal, Guillaume Bettencourt (sp).



And here's where they came from. A little heavy on the reverb, but blame the architect. This is plectrum style at its finest.



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Howard Emerson
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Old 09-20-2021, 03:59 AM
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For those who don't know it yet, luthier Ken Parker has a nice documentary series called "Archtoppery" which has some beautiful soundbytes.
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Old 09-20-2021, 05:34 AM
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Andy said it best imo with his summation of the early years...I believe even Ken Parker would concur. i will only add that..Lloyd Loar was making Works of Art for Gibson until his departure when Gibson moved more towards mass production...profit over passion...just my opinion
Ken Parker thinks that a good archtop is the most versatile guitar that can
be built... can be asked to do almost any kind of music played on any kind
of guitar...



-Mike
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Old 09-20-2021, 06:03 AM
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can be asked to do almost any kind of music played on any kind of guitar...

Does this count?
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