Archtop guitar

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Archtop guitar
The Gibson Super 400 CES,
an electric archtop
Classification String
Inventor(s) Orville Gibson
Related instruments

An archtop guitar is a hollow steel-stringed acoustic or semiacoustic guitar with a full body and a distinctive arched top, whose sound is particularly popular with jazz, blues, and rockabilly players.


Typically, an archtop guitar has:


A 1918 "The Gibson" acoustic guitar, with a 13th fret neck join, circular sound hole, and floating bridge. This was a transitional model with no f-holes and a much smaller body than the classic archtop. 1918 The Gibson acoustic guitar.png
A 1918 "The Gibson" acoustic guitar, with a 13th fret neck join, circular sound hole, and floating bridge. This was a transitional model with no f-holes and a much smaller body than the classic archtop.

The archtop guitar is often credited to Orville Gibson, [1] whose innovative designs led to the formation of the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co, Ltd in 1902. His 1898 patent for a mandolin, which was also applicable to guitars according to the specifications, was intended to enhance "power and quality of tone." Among the features of this instrument were a violin-style arched top and back, each carved from a single piece of wood, and thicker in the middle than at the sides; sides carved to shape from a single block of wood; and a lack of internal "braces, splices, blocks, or bridges . . . which, if employed, would rob the instrument of much of its volume of tone." [2] [3] But Gibson was not the first to apply violin design principles to the guitar. Guitar maker A. H. Merrill, for example, patented in 1896 a very modern looking instrument "of the guitar and mandolin type . . . with egg-shaped hoop or sides and a graduated convex back and top." The instrument featured a metal tailpiece and teardrop shaped "f-holes," and strongly resembled the archtop guitars of the 1930s. James S. Back obtained patent #508,858 in 1893 for a guitar (which also mentions applicability to mandolins) that among other features included an arched top, which were produced under the Howe Orme name. Another transitional design is the parlor guitar fitted with a floating bridge and tailpiece. These inexpensive instruments, manufactured by companies such as Stella and Harmony, are associated with early blues musicians. The earliest Gibson designs (L1 to L3) introduced the arched top and increasing body sizes, but still had round or oval sound holes.

In 1922, Lloyd Loar was hired by the Gibson Company to redesign their instrument line in an effort to counter flagging sales, and in that same year the Gibson L5 was released to his design. Although the new instrument models flopped commercially and Loar left Gibson after only a couple of years, Gibson instruments signed by Loar now are among the most prized and celebrated in stringed-instrument history. Perhaps the most revered instrument from this period is the F5 mandolin, but probably the more broadly influential was the L5 guitar, which remains in production to this day. The mature Gibson archtop guitar and its imitators are regarded as the quintessential "jazzbox."

Archtop guitars were subsequently made by many top American luthiers, notably John D'Angelico of New York and Jimmy D'Aquisto, William Wilkanowski, Charles Stromberg and Son in Boston, and by other major manufacturers, notably Gretsch and Epiphone. In Europe, companies such as Framus, Höfner, and Hagström took up the manufacture of archtops. Archtop guitars were particularly adopted by both jazz and country musicians, and in big bands and swing bands.

The Gibson ES-150, the first electric archtop (1936). Note the "Charlie Christian" Style pickup, a heavy affair mounted inside the guitar with three bolts through the top used by Charlie Christian Gibson ES-150.png
The Gibson ES-150, the first electric archtop (1936). Note the "Charlie Christian" Style pickup, a heavy affair mounted inside the guitar with three bolts through the top used by Charlie Christian

Gibson's ES-150 guitar is generally recognized as the world's first commercially successful Spanish-style electric guitar. The ES stands for Electric Spanish, and it was designated 150 because it cost $150, along with an EH-150 amplifier and a cable. After its introduction in 1936, it immediately became popular in jazz orchestras of the period. Unlike the usual acoustic guitars utilized in jazz, it was loud enough to take a more prominent position in ensembles. Jazz guitarist Eddie Durham is usually credited with making the first electric guitar solo, but it was ES-150 player Charlie Christian who popularized the jazz guitar as a solo, not just a rhythm, instrument. The ES-150's top was not carved on the underside, making it unsuitable for acoustic use.

In 1951, Gibson released the L5CES, an L5 with a single cutaway body and two electric pickups, equally playable as either an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar. This innovation was immediately popular, and while purely acoustic archtop guitars such as the Gibson L-7C remain available to this day, they have become the exception. In 1958, the L5CES was redesigned with humbucking pickups; most, but certainly not all, subsequent archtop guitars conform loosely to the pattern set by this model.[ citation needed ] The electric archtop was particularly popular with jazz musicians Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel and Johnny Smith.

Other manufacturers introduced electric archtop guitars, notable examples including the Gretsch White Falcon and various Chet Atkins models. Some of these instruments have a distinctive "twangy" sound and were taken up by country music and early rock and roll artists such as Duane Eddy and Eddie Cochran. Similar models remain popular in rockabilly.

G6122-1962 Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman developed in the mid-1950s Gretsch G6122-1958.jpg
G6122-1962 Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman developed in the mid-1950s

Gibson's last innovation in archtop design was the creation, in 1955, of "thinline" models with a reduced body depth. [4] Notable thinline models include the successful Gibson ES-335, introduced in 1958, as well as the Epiphone Casino, introduced after Epiphone was acquired in 1957 by CMI, Gibson's parent company. [5] These were more feedback resistant, comfortable to hold and easier to play standing up. The first thinlines were hollow bodies. Later thinlines such as the ES-335, ES-345 and ES-355 were semi-hollow. Thinlines can be classed as semiacoustic guitars, although not all semiacoustic guitars have an arched top. Thinlines became popular with mainstream pop and rock artists during the 1960s. The ES-335 and similar guitars were taken up by, and remain steadfastly popular with, electric blues players; B B King's various "Lucilles" are based on the ES-335.

The 1970s and 1980s were a low point of interest in archtops, with many rock and pop (and some jazz and blues) players switching to solid body guitars. One manufacturer for this period was Robert Benedetto.

Interest in archtops was revived in the 1990s. Archtops had long been expensive instruments, with a level of finish and ornament to match. Boutique luthiers such as Roger Borys and Bob Benedetto brought the aesthetics of the instrument to even greater heights, making them attractive to collectors, and also continuing to innovate in technical design. The Benedetto style of acoustic/electric archtop has itself been copied by luthiers such as Dale Unger and Dana Bourgeois. Most of the accessories (pickguard, bridge, tuner buttons, knobs, etc.) are made of wood (ebony or rosewood) instead of metal and have a clean acoustic look. It is estimated there are nearly 100 archtop guitar luthiers in North America alone. [6]

Contrastingly, mass-market archtop guitars became more affordable in the late 20th century, due to a combination of low labor costs in Asian countries and computer numerically controlled manufacture. [7] Most major guitar marques include at least a couple of archtops in their range, albeit not necessarily manufactured at their own facilities. Ibanez sells an extensive range of archtops under the Artcore marque. The Samick corporation sells archtops under its own name besides manufacturing for other companies. Gibson sells inexpensive Asian-made archtops under its Epiphone brand, such as the Epiphone Dot. [8]

Renewed interest in acoustic music has also led to the revival of purely acoustic archtops, such as the Gibson L-7C, The Loar Lh-600, Godin 5th Avenue and the Epiphone Century Series.

Recent technical innovations include Ken Parker's use of carbon fibre in high-end acoustic archtops, and the Godin Montreal hybrid guitar.


The Epiphone Dot, an inexpensive thinline archtop available since the 1990s Left handed epiphone dot.jpg
The Epiphone Dot, an inexpensive thinline archtop available since the 1990s

Archtops usually have three-a-side pegheads and necks similar in width to a steel-string acoustic rather than an electric. High-end models traditionally have "block" or "trapezoid" position markers.

The top or belly (and often the back) of the archtop guitar is either carved out of a block of solid wood or heat-pressed using either a solid top or laminations, the latter being a less expensive construction method. The belly normally has two f-holes, the lower of these partly covered by a scratch plate raised above the belly so as not to dampen its vibration. The arching of the top and the f-holes are similar to the violin family, on which they were originally based. The contours of the arching profile are usually derived in an ad hoc fashion. [9] The tops of Gibson's archtops were parallel braced. X-braced designs were introduced later, giving a tone closer to that of a flat-top guitar. [10] Sitka spruce, European spruce, and Engelmann spruce are most often used for the resonant tops of archtop guitars, although some guitar builders use Adirondack spruce (Red spruce), or Western red cedar. Archtop guitars often have Curly maple or Quilted maple backs. Full-sized archtops are among the largest guitars ever made, with the width of the lower bout in some cases approaching 19 inches (47 cm).

The original acoustic archtop guitars were designed to enhance volume, so they were constructed for use with relatively heavy strings. Even after electrification became the norm, jazz guitarists have continued to fit strings of 0.012" gauge or heavier for reasons of tone, and also prefer flatwound strings. Thinline archtops generally use standard electric guitar strings. [11]

Many vibrato systems cannot be fitted to an archtop owing to the need to cut large holes in the belly to accommodate the mechanism, with the exception of the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece and the long tailpiece versions of the Gibson Vibrola. These vibrato systems mount on the surface of the guitar and need no body routing.

Various use of the term "archtop"

Although "archtop" normally refers to a hollow-bodied, arched top instrument, some makers of solid-bodied guitars with carved bellies also refer to these as archtop to distinguish these from flat top guitars. For example, Gibson refers to the standard Gibson Les Paul as an archtop to distinguish it from flat top models such as the Les Paul Junior and Melody Maker.

A continuum exists from these solid body, purely electric instruments to purely acoustic instruments similar to the original Orville Gibson design, including:

All of these types may be loosely described as "archtop," but only the last possesses the characteristics most often associated with the type.

Bass guitars

Archtop 4-string bass guitars have been manufactured since the use of electric pickups became popular. The most famous example is the Höfner violin bass used by Paul McCartney. Warwick makes a range of archtop 4-, 5-, and 6-string bass guitars. Framus also makes a range of archtop bass guitars.

Other variations

4-string (tenor), 7-string, 9-string, and 12-string archtops have been manufactured.

A few luthiers [12] offer archtopped Maccaferri guitars.

The Mohan veena is a cross between an archtop and an Indian veena.

Some electric archtops also have piezoelectric pickups, making them hybrid guitars.

A relatively small number of ukulele makers offer instruments with flat tops but arched backs, generally of heat-pressed laminate construction with high-quality veneer; that design concentrates the uke body's internal resonance upward toward the sound hole, "like a parabolic mirror," according to the German seller RISA, whose Koki'o brand line of ukuleles all feature arched backs.

See also

Related Research Articles

Steel-string acoustic guitar

The steel-string acoustic guitar is a modern form of guitar that descends from the nylon-strung classical guitar, but is strung with steel strings for a brighter, louder sound. Like the classical guitar, it is often referred to simply as an acoustic guitar.

Electric guitar Electrical string instrument

An electric guitar is a guitar that requires external amplification in order to be heard at typical performance volumes, unlike a standard acoustic guitar. It uses one or more pickups to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals, which ultimately are reproduced as sound by loudspeakers. The sound can be shaped or electronically altered to achieve different timbres or tonal qualities, making it quite different from an acoustic guitar. Often, this is done through the use of effects such as reverb, distortion and "overdrive"; the latter is considered to be a key element of electric blues guitar music and rock guitar playing.

Jazz guitar Jazz instrument and associated playing style

The term jazz guitar may refer to either a type of electric guitar or to the variety of guitar playing styles used in the various genres which are commonly termed "jazz". The jazz-type guitar was born as a result of using electric amplification to increase the volume of conventional acoustic guitars.

Gibson L-5

The Gibson L-5 guitar was first produced in 1922 by the Gibson Guitar Corporation, then of Kalamazoo, Michigan, under the direction of acoustical engineer and designer Lloyd Loar, and has been in production ever since. It was considered the premier guitar of the company during the big band era. It was originally offered as an acoustic instrument, with electric models not made available until the 1940s.

Epiphone American musical instrument company

Epiphone is an American musical instrument brand that traces its roots to a musical instrument manufacturing business founded in 1873 by Anastasios Stathopoulos in Smyrna, Ottoman Empire and moved to New York City in 1908. After taking over his father's business, Epaminondas Stathopoulos named the company "Epiphone" as a combination of his own nickname "Epi" and the suffix "-phone" in 1928, the same year it began making guitars. In 1957, Epiphone, Inc. was purchased by Gibson, its main rival in the archtop guitar market at the time. Gibson relocated Epiphone's manufacturing operation from its original Queens, New York factory to Gibson's Kalamazoo, Michigan factory. Over time, as Gibson moved its own manufacturing operations to other facilities, Epiphone followed suit; Gibson has also subcontracted the construction of Epiphone products to various facilities in the US and internationally. Today, Epiphone is still used as a brand for the Gibson company, both for budget models of other Gibson-branded products and for several Epiphone-exclusive models. Aside from guitars, Epiphone has also made double basses, banjos, and other string instruments, as well as amplifiers.

Semi-acoustic guitar

A semi-acoustic guitar,hollow-body electric, or thinline is a type of electric guitar that was first created in the 1930s. It has a sound box and at least one electric pickup. The semi-acoustic guitar is different to an acoustic-electric guitar, which is an acoustic guitar with the addition of pickups or other means of amplification, added by either the manufacturer or the player.

Gibson ES-335

The Gibson ES-335 is the world's first commercial semi-hollowbody electric guitar, sometimes known as semi-acoustic. Released by the Gibson Guitar Corporation as part of its ES series in 1958, it is neither fully hollow nor fully solid; instead, a solid maple wood block runs through the center of its body. The side "wings" formed by the two "cutaways" into its upper bouts are hollow, and the top has two violin-style f-holes over the hollow chambers. Since its release, Gibson has released numerous variations of and other models based on the design of the ES-335.

Lloyd Loar

Lloyd Allayre Loar (1886–1943) was an American musician, instrument designer and sound engineer. He is best known for his design work with the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co. Ltd. in the early 20th century, including the F-5 model mandolin and L-5 guitar. In his later years he worked on electric amplification of stringed instruments, and demonstrated them around the country. One example, played in public in 1938 was an electric viola that used electric coils beneath the bridge, with no back, able to "drown out the loudest trumpet."

Variax is the name of a line of guitars developed and marketed by Line 6. They differ from typical electric and acoustic guitars in that internal electronics process the sound from individual strings to model (replicate) the sound of specific guitars and other instruments. The maker claims it is the first guitar family that can emulate the tones of other notable electric and acoustic guitars. It also provides a banjo and a sitar tone. The Variax is currently available as an electric guitar, but modeling acoustic guitars and modeling electric bass guitars have been available in the past.

Tenor guitar Four-stringed guitar

The tenor guitar or four-string guitar is a slightly smaller, four-string relative of the steel-string acoustic guitar or electric guitar. The instrument was initially developed in its acoustic form by Gibson and C.F. Martin so that players of the four-string tenor banjo could double on guitar.

A sound hole is an opening in the body of a stringed musical instrument, usually the upper sound board. Sound holes have different shapes:

Electric mandolin

The electric mandolin is an instrument tuned and played as the mandolin and amplified in similar fashion to an electric guitar. As with electric guitars, electric mandolins take many forms. Most common is a carved-top eight-string instrument fitted with an electric pickup in similar fashion to many archtop semi-acoustic guitars. Solid body mandolins are common in 4-, 5-, and 8-string forms. Acoustic electric mandolins also exist in many forms.

Gibson ES-175

The Gibson ES-175 is an electric guitar manufactured by the Gibson Guitar Corporation. It was dropped from the Gibson lineup for 2019 after 68 years in continuous production. It is a 2434" scale full hollow-body guitar with a trapeze tailpiece and Tune-O-Matic bridge. It is one of the most famous jazz guitars in history.

Gibson ES-330

The Gibson ES-330 is a thinline hollow-body electric guitar model produced by the Gibson Guitar Corporation. It was first introduced in 1959.

Fender Coronado

The Fender Coronado is a double-cutaway thin-line hollow-body electric guitar, announced in 1965. It is manufactured by Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. The aesthetic design embodied in the Coronado represents a departure from previous Fender instruments; the design remains an uncharacteristic piece of Fender history.

Acoustic-electric guitar String instrument

An acoustic-electric guitar is an acoustic guitar fitted with a magnetic or piezoelectric pickup, or a microphone. They are used in a variety of music genres where the sound of an acoustic guitar is desired but more volume is required, especially during live performances. The design is distinct from a semi-acoustic guitar, which is an electric guitar with the addition of sound chambers within the guitar body.

Epiphone Casino Electric guitar

The Epiphone Casino is a thinline hollow body electric guitar manufactured by Epiphone, a branch of Gibson. The guitar debuted in 1961 and has been associated with such guitarists as Howlin' Wolf, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Dave Davies, Paul Weller, The Edge, Josh Homme, Daniel Kessler, Noel Gallagher, Brendon Urie, Gary Clark, Jr., Glenn Frey, John Illsley, Peter Green and Dave Grohl.

The Gibson ES series of semi-acoustic guitars are manufactured by the Gibson Guitar Corporation.

Epiphone Dot

The Epiphone Dot is a semi-hollow archtop electric guitar manufactured by Epiphone, a subsidiary of Gibson. It was introduced in 1997 as a more affordable version of the Gibson ES-335, at the high end of entry-level pricing. Reviews describe it as a robustly-constructed, versatile guitar with a smooth, powerful sound, suitable for jazz, blues and some rock styles, but lacking the high output required for heavy metal.

Bridge (instrument) Part of a stringed instrument

A bridge is a device that supports the strings on a stringed musical instrument and transmits the vibration of those strings to another structural component of the instrument—typically a soundboard, such as the top of a guitar or violin—which transfers the sound to the surrounding air. Depending on the instrument, the bridge may be made of carved wood, metal or other materials. The bridge supports the strings and holds them over the body of the instrument under tension.


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