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Old 06-02-2009, 08:29 AM
mhs mhs is offline
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Default Archtop Fingerpicking (and picking)

I think I've known this for a long time because I've been alternating playing jazz between electrics and archtops for much of my life, but over the last year or two, I've been alternating between flattops and archtops fingerpicking and picking and have realized what technical differences that presents.

I was wondering how anyone else that does this feels about it?

This is the situation::

~2 months ago I bought an Eastman archtop, and for me, this is a great guitar. ~2 years ago, I started playing acoustics. For the last 2 years, I've only played acoustics and archtops.

I fingerpick and I use a pick as well, about 50/50. The thing I notice is that due to the construction of the archtop (and the other archtops I've had) vs. the construction of the flattops, fingerpicking and picking on the various types of guitars are almost night and day.

It's not that its difficult to pick up an archtop for awhile and play it, because it's not that. The interesting part comes in when you focus on practicing cleanly and precisely on either one for an extended period. Since I've been playing the flattops, I have been completely amazed at how "relatively" easy it is to pick and fingerpick. I also love how they sound.

Since I've gotten back into archtops, I've been kind of blown away by how difficult it is (after playing a flattop), to do very similar things. I'm not talking about real "playing", but more about practice, so clean, slow, and trying to be consistent.

I'm realizing that this has to be something about the 'angles' at which things happen, and construction in general. The strings are further off the soundboard on the archtop, and they are "planed" up at an angle that is foreign to the flattop.

When I got the archtop, I purposely set it up, from an action and strings standpoint, identically to the flattop, so for me, 12-53 strings, similar tension to the ej16's I use on flattops, same height above the frets (both play easy), and both have 1.75" nuts.

So once again:: This isn't a "bad" thing. Its more of a curious thing for me. To put a finer point on this: I can much more easily play the flattops, any of them, than I can the archtops. The only way I play the archtop is after a good long practice session if I'm trying anything remotely challenging.

Just for drill, here are some things I notice when playing the archtop after the flattop:

1) String articulation: Very difficult by comparison when fingerpicking. I "think" this is because my right hand is "way up in the air" compared to where it is on an archtop.
2) Dynamics based on where my right hand is: On a flattop, I'd have a great deal of control without paying a price by playing either very close to the bridge, or somewhere else in the span between the neck and the bridge. On an archtop, the same basic things occur, but playing by the bridge becomes extremely difficult and playing by the neck also becomes more difficult. I think there is a sweet spot on the archtop and since I practice both guitars, I just play mostly there.
3) left hand: There is no particular difference (*phew*).
4) Picking is interesting: On the flattop, picking is a breeze. The pick, without any effort on my part, remains perpendicular to the strings. On the archtop, the pick "wants" to angle up towards the nut, so I countered this with a fair amount of practice where I always aimed the pick towards the bridge. That pretty much solved that.

Anyway:: I found this stuff interesting and since this is mostly an acoustic flattop forum, I understand if no one else does, but figured I'd present it anyway to see if anyone had any comments.

By the way: I'm not looking for a solution because I don't yet see a problem. I just think it's pretty interesting and perhaps a luthier could tell me some of the subtleties that I am probably not aware of as a player about the construction of these things in the areas I mentioned.

Another by the way: Amplification isn't a factor in this comparison: I often record both acoustically. I always practice acoustically.
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Old 06-02-2009, 08:54 AM
Dotneck Dotneck is offline
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I would think you'd need much more power from your fingertips to really get the air moving on an archtop compared to a more lightly built flat top. Could that be part of the difference?
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Old 06-02-2009, 09:06 AM
mhs mhs is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dotneck View Post
I would think you'd need much more power from your fingertips to really get the air moving on an archtop compared to a more lightly built flat top. Could that be part of the difference?
I think not, but thanks for the suggestion. The sound levels from each are amazingly similar for a given input. This is more about difficulty of playability comparing archtop (more difficult) to flattop (not so hard).

Your comment does make me realize that its difficult to define this thing. It's more that my fingers don't touch down in similar places to where they would on a flattop, thus making it seem harder. I think if I did nothing but play/practice the archtop, it would work out fine, but I don't want to play one or the other. I want to switch between them constantly ;)
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Old 06-02-2009, 09:21 AM
Howard Klepper Howard Klepper is offline
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I having a hard time understanding the differences you are talking about. The pick "wants" to point toward the nut? No comprendo. You mean the point of the pick, i.e., the pick rotates in its own plane? Where do the middle, ring, and pinky fingers of your picking hand go when you flatpick? Do you pick more from the elbow or from the wrist? Or from the thumb and index finger?

Do you fingerpick with ring or pinky resting on the top of a flattop? If so, proper adjustment of the pickguard on an archtop is critical (I think it's also critical for flatpicking an archtop, but that's another issue. Or do you use classical right hand position? Do you rest the side of your hand along the pins on a flattop?

I get that the two kinds of guitar feel very different to your picking hand, but some information about your technique would help.
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Old 06-02-2009, 10:28 AM
mhs mhs is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Howard Klepper View Post
I having a hard time understanding the differences you are talking about. The pick "wants" to point toward the nut? No comprendo. You mean the point of the pick, i.e., the pick rotates in its own plane? Where do the middle, ring, and pinky fingers of your picking hand go when you flatpick? Do you pick more from the elbow or from the wrist? Or from the thumb and index finger?

Do you fingerpick with ring or pinky resting on the top of a flattop? If so, proper adjustment of the pickguard on an archtop is critical (I think it's also critical for flatpicking an archtop, but that's another issue. Or do you use classical right hand position? Do you rest the side of your hand along the pins on a flattop?

I get that the two kinds of guitar feel very different to your picking hand, but some information about your technique would help.
Sure thing:

1) clarification about the pick position: By "pick wants to point towards the top", I only mean the edge of the pick. I tend to play using only very small picks and only the sharp pointed edge. On the archtop, there feels to be a desire for the pick to rotate towards the headstock.

2) picking technique: I'm pretty agnostic about picking technique. All the techniques you hear anyone speak of work for me if I practice that way for awhile. I can use any of my usual techniques: a) pick grasped between thumb and first finger, hand in a fist, moving wrist. b) Pick in same place, hand relaxed and not touching anything else but not in a fist, c) Pick in same, and hand slightly touching strings and or body top or finger rest. All 3 techniques result (unless I just watch it) in this pick rotation towards the top. (but only on an archtop, and I have 3 of them).

3) more on picking: I practice quite hard slow & focused and completely perpendicular to the string. When focused on the archtop picking, I can maintain favorable position no problem. When I "Play" (as in onstage, recording, whatever), pick wants to go "up".

4) flattops with similar notions of what I just wrote: none of the 'pick wants to point to the headstock' ever comes up. This seems significant and curious.

5) origin of picking motion: Over the years it seems like I've mostly been a 'wrist' picker. I've tried many ways and they all work about the same to me, but the 'wrist' gives me the best touch & feel.

6) fingerpicking:: I'm not sure how best to explain this. On a flattop, the strings always feel to be each individually easily accessible to each finger. On the archtop, especially if I'm focused on playing something like a cello prelude or a violin piece, then the "string plane" (excuse my clumsy terminology), feel "too flat". I have a more difficult time articulating the string to get a pure tone with my finger(s). Not impossible, just much changed from a flattop.


I feel like I'm being very verbose and saying very little, so just let me know if that's so. This is a situation where I'm coming up with something where many people would be in this situation and say "so what?". I'm pretty driven to be able to play both types of guitars without having to change my world around to do so, but I realize this may not be possible.

History: Picking has always come naturally for me (not that I haven't put in years of shedding), and I've never , aside from archtops, had any problem with the pick moving (rotating in it's plane) where I don't want it.

Thanks.

EDIT: I decided it would be easier to see than to explain or at least helpful :: here is a YouTube of me playing with pick, the archtop, and is typical of how I've been playing for the last month or so:

My Foolish Heart:: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUzC4t-yHAs

Last edited by mhs; 06-02-2009 at 10:31 AM. Reason: add a YouTube example for clarity:
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