When talking about archtop guitars, most people refer to hollow-body electric guitars with standard pickups. From the name, you can guess these guitars have an arched top, but they have an arched bottom as well.
The archtop guitar is popular in Blues and Jazz music genres, and many beginner guitarists want to know what it’s like to play the guitar. The archtop blurs the line between acoustic and electric guitars, but before we talk more about this, what exactly is an archtop guitar?
An archtop guitar is a hollow semi-acoustic or acoustic guitar with steel strings. It has a characteristic arched top and an adjustable bridge.
Instead of the standard flat body, archtop guitars have a peculiar curved shape, and they produce a sound especially popular in the jazz music genre.
Please continue reading to know the history of the archtop and what makes them so famous.
History of the Archtop Guitar
As jazz evolved in the 20th century, jazz orchestras wanted to transition from banjo to guitar. However, regular flattops weren’t loud.
Orville Gibson—the inventor of the archtop guitar—believed he could make the guitar louder by curving the top like a violin. Gibson used wood to carve the top and also increased the size of the guitar so it could produce more sound.
Since then, archtop guitars have undergone several modifications like the addition of cutaways to let guitarists reach higher frets.
When jazz guitars became a thing, archtops were pretty much the most popular. Like Jimi Hendrix influenced many rock guitar players, Charlie Christian contributed to why so many people use the archtop guitar today.
Other musicians like Wes Montgomery also used a distinctive tone that became strongly associated with archtop guitars.
Archtops Vs. Flat tops
The archtop is an umbrella term used to refer to both acoustic and electric archtop guitars. Both the electric and acoustic have roughly the same use, and they’re sometimes generally called semi-acoustic guitars.
As stated above, archtop guitars have a curved body and soundholes. They usually come with F-shaped soundholes that facilitate better vibrations in the guitar body and relieve tension. Although some archtops have other soundhole shapes, they’re all located in the treble and bass sides of the guitar body.
Flat tops are the parlor guitars you see everywhere. They are standard acoustic guitars with steel strings people play on campfire nights.
Flat tops are used as both lead and backing guitars in various music genres. They come with a soundhole in the center and have proper bracing inside.
Regarding tone, flat tops have more of a shimmering bright, resonant tone. Of course, this differs depending on the guitar body and brand. On the other hand, the archtop sounds like a mellower version of a solid-body electric guitar. It sounds smooth and round, which is why it’s used to play blues and jazz music.
Volume is a bit subjective to the guitarist’s experience. But archtops are generally louder than flat tops. Most archtop guitars are used as electric guitars because they’re plugged into an amp to amplify the sound they produce.
Why Are Archtop Guitars Mostly Used for Jazz?
You can play jazz music on any guitar type, from acoustic to electric guitars. The archtop guitar became the default jazz guitar because popular jazz guitarists played it back then, and it has a sound that befits jazz music.
The sound from the archtop guitar is not hindered by braces or bridges like flat tops, so the volume isn’t dampened, and the sound is rich. The curved body offers enhanced projection and a unique punchiness.
Many jazz people end up playing an archtop or any other semi-hollow body guitar because the archtop has a warmer, jazzier sound.
Do Archtops Have Soundposts?
A soundpost is a dowel usually put in string instruments like the violin and mandolin to transfer vibrations in the instrument. Archtop guitars have a soundpost that serves as structural support and transfers sound from the top plate to the backplate.
Soundposts also alter the sound coming from the instrument by changing the vibrational modes of the plates.
Some of the Best Archtop Guitars
Finding a great archtop guitar can be daunting because there are too many shapes and body styles to choose from. Below are the best archtop guitars you can purchase today.
Eastman AR503CE Electric Archtop Guitar
Eastman is prominent for its quality handmade guitars. Not only are their products top-notch, but they’re also affordable. Musicians like Neal Casal and Jon Herington used Eastman guitars, so the brand has only gained increased popularity over the years.
The AR503CE is an electric guitar produced by the Eastman Guitar company. It has a single-cutaway and great body design. It produces a deep, resonant, articulate sound reminiscent of a piano, so any jazz lover will easily fall in love with it.
D’Angelico Premier EXL-1 Electric Guitar
D’Angelico Guitars was founded in 1932 by a skilled luthier named John D’Angelico. John was renowned for his handmade mandolins and Archtop guitars. Even though John died many years ago, the company has consistently produced quality guitars.
The Premier EXL-1 hollow-body electric guitar has a single cutaway. The fretboard is made of rosewood, and the neck is made of maple. Although it has a single pickup, meaning the tonal range is limited, it still sounds punchy and warm. And it’s perfectly suited for playing jazz music.
Gretsch G100CE Acoustic-Electric Guitar
Gretsch is no doubt one of the world’s largest guitar-producing companies. It has been producing guitars and other musical instruments since 1883, so it has a reputation for producing quality Instruments.
The G100CE is an electric, hollow-body archtop guitar that combines a vintage style with excellent playability. It produces a mellow tone that is perfect for jazz.
Archtops have evolved to look and sound better over the years, and many guitarists still use them today. Although you can play jazz and blues on any guitar, archtop gives you that mellow sound you won’t get on any other guitar.