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  #1  
Old 08-23-2019, 06:46 PM
acoustictone acoustictone is offline
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Default Sound of an Archtop

Acoustic Archtop that is. My archtop is very punchy and balanced with clear notes to the end of the fretboard. My flattop is a bit more muddy if I can use that word. Maybe overtones is a better word. Also, the way you play it you can get a lot of different tones out more so than my flattop. What's your opinion?
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Old 08-23-2019, 09:21 PM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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Originally Posted by acoustictone View Post
...My archtop is very punchy and balanced with clear notes to the end of the fretboard...Also, the way you play it you can get a lot of different tones out, more so than my flattop...
That pretty well sums up archtop tone in general, although each individual instrument has its own specific tonal profile - IME far more idiosyncratic in this respect than typical flattops of similar quality...
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Old 08-24-2019, 08:21 AM
mrjop1975 mrjop1975 is offline
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I think each type of guitar shapes style has it's own nuances that makes it special. I do agree with archtops sounding punchy - my Olympic is very punchy IMO both plugged into my little acoustic amp or not plugged in.
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Old 08-24-2019, 09:49 AM
Richard Mott Richard Mott is offline
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To me the biggest distinction between an archtop guitar and a flattop guitar derives from the fact that the archtop bridge creates sound by pushing down on the top, whereas the bridge on a flattop pulls up because the strings are normally anchored to it. The tendency for cross-string vibration is typically greater on the flattop, such that everything fills in, especially on chords and arpeggios. By contrast, chords and notes on an archtop come quicker, but can feel a little more abrupt. Flattop players love the natural sustain and fullness of their instruments. Archtop players like the speed of response, emphatic punch, and cross-string clarity of theirs. Flattop players sometimes struggle with the dryness and more restrained bass response on archtops. Archtop players, at least this one, struggle with what they have come to see as exaggerated bass on many flattops, and find that cross-string vibration and overtones at times interfere with the music. That said, in my experience, the very best flattops and archtops are more alike each other than not—i.e., greater fullness and sustain in the best archtops make them suitable for a wide range of music, and the best flattops, with a more controlled bass, and manageable sustain and harmonic envelope, allow freer and clearer playing. Examples of the former include a wonderful cut by Howard Emerson called “Sit Calm Leigh” played fingerstyle on a Monteleone archtop https://monteleone.net/Artists-howard_emerson.php, and jazz work by the New West Guitar Quartet doing a demo at Healdsburg of flattop guitars built by Jeff Traugott. The overlap of the truly top-flight archtop and flattop instruments is considerable.

Last edited by Richard Mott; 08-24-2019 at 10:17 AM.
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Old 08-24-2019, 11:25 AM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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Originally Posted by Richard Mott View Post
...greater fullness and sustain in the best archtops make them suitable for a wide range of music...
I've posted on several occasions about the "classical archtop" school that flourished between 1925-1940 (and upon which the well-known Mel Bay method was based); unbeknownst to many current players archtops were considered virtuoso instruments in their heyday - what a recent Ibanez ad campaign justly referred to as "guitar royalty" - the earliest iterations reflected a "concert hall" rather than an Art Deco "bandstand" aesthetic, orthodox archtop technique/notation/terminology borrows significantly from the orchestral-string world, and had it not been for Segovia's sensational 1928 concert tour the plectrum-style archtop might well have become the accepted "serious" instrument in North American/Northern European classical-music circles. Maybe it's my New York City roots - back in the early-60's the windows of Manhattan's 14th Street "Pawnshop Row" were filled with those no-longer-fashionable Big Band-era comp boxes (mostly Epiphones - ironically the last New York factory was just a short walk away) - but most players born after the Eisenhower administration have never had the opportunity to play a fine old 18" non-cut all-acoustic archtop, much less with the correct technique (what the old-timers used to call "coaxing the velvet out"): not only do they defy the common complaints of stridency and lack of frequency/dynamic range, but in the hands of a knowledgeable player they exhibit an expressiveness that IMO makes them the ultimate guitar...
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Old 08-25-2019, 08:22 AM
Richard Mott Richard Mott is offline
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Steve DeRosa wrote: “in the hands of a knowledgeable player they exhibit an expressiveness that IMO makes them the ultimate guitar...” I think it was Linda Manzer who called archtops the “Everest” of guitar lutherie. She may have been referring both to the difficulty of building them as well as the resulting instrument. But in 20 years, I have gradually come around to that view.
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Old 08-25-2019, 11:06 AM
mot mot is offline
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Excellent information. Thank you Richard and Steve. I am fascinated by how flat tops became predominant when arch tops are arguably better for getting a precise color or feel into a musical idea or phrase. I think that was the case at least, but not sure anymore. I still haven't seen a violin in a concert that didn't have a tail piece, so maybe tail piece instruments are superior or we are just stuck in an outmoded way of thinking.

I suspect that the flat top is/was considered easier to create or maintain for a similar sound and that's the reason they are more ubiquitous these days and perhaps also because of stellar musicians such as Andrés Segovia who gave them that early market share boost. Not so sure flat tops are easier to maintain these days and suspect arch tops are still more difficult to create, but are arch tops all that when it comes to performance?

What's a good entry level and/or a high end arch top (or flat top) to begin/continue this journey of finding the ultimate six stringed guitar? I'll consider anything from expected price to name brand so I can settle on a good place to start. I have played a couple of ok arch tops and lots of quality flat tops and am still looking for the holy grail.
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Old 08-25-2019, 12:40 PM
Richard Mott Richard Mott is offline
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Hi Tom—Just a few thoughts. While I have come to prefer archtops for their greater projection, speed of response, and cross-string clarity, I recognize that other guitar designs are surely better for certain types of music—a D-18 may always be preferable for bluegrass if for no other reason than history, likewise Selmer-Maccaferri-style guitars for gypsy jazz, etc. One additional point favoring archtops is that they are often more successful 12-key instruments, with fewer major resonances around D and G than are built into many flattops.

In terms of the ubiquity of the violin tailpiece, that is pretty much requisite in ANY arched instrument design, whether a guitar, a mandolin, or any of the bowed instruments like violas or double basses—where the strings are anchored to the bottom of the instrument and press down on the bridge to move the top. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the flattop vibrates the top by pulling on the bridge and bridge plate they are attached to.

In terms of the preferability of design, the one objective aspect that favors archtops is top weight. Because the arch itself increases the stiffness and strength of the top, it is possible to get by with relatively minimal internal bracing. Compared to a more fully braced flattop, an archtop design thereby yields a greater stiffness-to-weight ratio in the top, which is something luthiers typically strive for. It often results in greater volume.

I think there is no question that successful flattops are easier and quicker to build. They are also initially easier to play in many respects than archtops, so are a more welcoming point of entry for beginning players, who thereafter stick with them. Luthiers I have spoken with say that archtops can take them anywhere from twice to up to five times as long to build. That is reflected in their price, which is probably another barrier to entry; to the extent that players can’t afford to buy them, builders can’t afford to make them.

The result of all this is that archtop building is a much rarer activity than flattops. There are scores of absolutely top-flight flattops being built today—from old hands like Jeff Traugott and Ed Claxton, to new names like Tom Sands and Isaac Jang. Arguably some of the best instruments ever made are being built today, and in growing numbers.

There are truly great archtops being made too, by the likes of John Monteleone, Cristian Mirabella, Linda Manzer, Theo Scharpach, Steve Gilchrist and others—but their collective output might be around 20-30 or so instruments a year, ranging in price from around $20K up to well into six figures.

Though I have not heard or played their instruments, well regarded builders like Andrew Mowry out in Oregon, Jim Triggs in Tennessee, Lawrence Smart (of mandolin fame) make great looking archtops for very reasonable prices. Eastman reportedly has some real values. Another route to go for value is the used instrument market, some of the Epiphones built in the 1940s get rave reviews and are very affordable.

Hope this helps!

Last edited by Richard Mott; 08-25-2019 at 03:51 PM.
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Old 08-25-2019, 12:53 PM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mot View Post
...What's a good entry level and/or a high end arch top (or flat top) to begin/continue this journey of finding the ultimate six stringed guitar? I'll consider anything from expected price to name brand so I can settle on a good place to start. I have played a couple of ok arch tops and lots of quality flat tops and am still looking for the holy grail.
As far as flattops are concerned, a quick trip over to the General subforum will get you all the advice you need - and IME plenty that you don't...

In the archtop camp, you can get your feet wet for around $500 with the Godin 5th Avenue - an all-laminated good-sounding 16" entry-level box in the mold of the old Harmony/Kay student guitars of the '40s/50s, but made to the usual high Godin standard of QC and tone - bearing in mind that you're not going to achieve the tonal complexity of a solid-wood instrument. $1500 or so will get you an all-solid/all-carved Chinese-made Loar LH700 (a near dead-ringer for a Lloyd Loar-era Gibson L-5) or Eastman AR610, designed by the late Epiphone expert Jim Fisch and a latter-day version of the circa-1950 Epiphone Devon with its spruce/mahogany construction (a great option if you prefer a sweeter, mellower tone for vocal accompaniment or chord-solo work), as well as player-grade non-cutaway 16" comp boxes from Epiphone/Gretsch/Guild (Gibsons - with the exception of the all-laminated L-48 - tend to be priced higher overall); IMO $2000-4000 is the sweet spot for the used archtop market - here's where you'll find the classic working players' 17" Epiphone (Triumph, Broadway)/Gibson (L-7, L-12)/Guild (A-150, A-350)/Gretsch (Synchromatic 300/Constellation) jazzboxes from the Big Band/Bop eras...

Once you reach the $4000-6000 mark you start getting into the prestige models from the major labels - vintage Epiphone Deluxe/Super Deluxe/Emperor, Gibson L-5/Super 300/Super 400, Gretsch Synchromatic 400/Eldorado, Guild A-500 - as well as modern "entry-level" hand-carved instruments from individual luthiers (Triggs, Campellone, etc.); IME the latter represent particular bargains in today's market if you're looking for a "lifetime" archtop, often selling for significantly less than their major-brand counterparts (price a top-of-the-line Campellone Deluxe, versus a new L-5C from the Gibson Custom Shop, and you'll see what I mean). This, however, is where the rabbit hole begins: crack $7500 and you're moving into both collector-quality vintage stuff and "big-name" modern makers, and it just goes up (way up - as in mid- to high-five-figure bracket for an excellent-condition D'Angelico/Stromberg/D'Aquisto, or a new Benedetto/Monteleone) from there; this is also, with some notable exceptions listed above, where you're going to find that sweet, rich, creamy, "tone you can eat with a spoon" that represents the Holy Grail for hardcore archtop aficionados with any real consistency...

The bottom line here is what works for you - tone, size, price, long-term ownership prospects; in the meantime, here's an example of one of those ultra-high-end drool boxes - well worth four pictures:









Scharpach Vienna Apex.
$35K.
Several years' wait.
Only guitar I'd even consider spending that kind of money for.
When St. Peter shakes my right hand I want him to hand me one of these with his left...
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Old 08-25-2019, 02:07 PM
MC5C MC5C is offline
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I think there is tremendous range in the sound of an archtop. Steve thinks the Godin sounds good for a laminate instrument, while I think it's terrible. I have a laminate Hofner Senator and a 1946 Epiphone Zephyr to compare it to. I think if you are serious about finding a guitar that sounds good to you, the only thing to do is search out and audition guitars in three or four ranges. The under $1,000 range of imports, including the Godin and many others, the more serious factory made instruments including vintage guitars, the up to $5K range of semi-boutique instruments, and some small independant luthiers, and then the range of small maker, boutique instruments, Benedetto, Collings, and so on. The point is to educate your hands and your ears, and only then can you start to search for "your guitar". I find a wide variance in tone between very modern, lightly built and tuned instruments and quite highly regarded vintage guitars from the 1940's and 1950's. You need to hear that difference and decide where your tone lies.
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Old 08-25-2019, 02:34 PM
Richard Mott Richard Mott is offline
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Steve DeRosa wrote: “When St. Peter shakes my right hand I want him to hand me one of these with his left...”
When that happens, you’ll know you lived right! I think there’s even a song “Vienna waits for you ...”
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Old 08-26-2019, 09:23 AM
rpguitar rpguitar is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Mott View Post
That said, in my experience, the very best flattops and archtops are more alike each other than not...
I agree, and this is an astute observation that can only be made by someone who has experience with the best archtops. Really good flattops are easy to find.

I own a 1928 dot neck L-5, from before the time when they were made bigger and louder and, frankly, not as good sounding. It is as fine an acoustic guitar for any style of music one might play as a Martin 000 from the 1930s. It is not a "jazz guitar."

And of course, modern top end acoustic archtop makers such as Monteleone have been mentioned in the thread, and they picked up the torch that Gibson dropped way back when.

Some flattop players seem interested in trying an archtop, but don't wish to spend too much, so they are usually disappointed by what's available at lower prices - and the reputation of the archtop as a cheaper sounding instrument thus gains a new believer. This is unfortunate, but it's just the way it is when fine acoustic archtops have a much smaller market and take more handiwork to create.
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Old 08-26-2019, 07:42 PM
Richard Mott Richard Mott is offline
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Roger wrote: I own a 1928 dot neck L-5, from before the time when they were made bigger and louder and, frankly, not as good sounding. It is as fine an acoustic guitar for any style of music one might play as a Martin 000 from the 1930s. It is not a "jazz guitar."

From the same perspective, I read an interview with Steve Earle after he had just received his Gilchrist archtop, which is closely inspired by the late 20s Gibson L-5s and L-7s. Earle said it wasn’t a specialized instrument because he could play anything on it and it was making him completely “rethink” guitar.
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Old 08-26-2019, 08:31 PM
mot mot is offline
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Great comments. I am pretty sure I have a lot to learn as I explore and study this (to me) new world. That Scharpach guitar is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
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Old 08-28-2019, 11:16 AM
Prof_Stack Prof_Stack is offline
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I bought a '38 L-50 from archtop.com in May. Good price and wonderful sound for a "player's" L-5.

I had a Godin archtop for a while. You can coax out good sound from it, and the worksmanship is first-rate.
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