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Acoustic Archtop


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David Rawlings' main guitar is an epiphone archtop...


David Rawlings gets his signature, midrangey guitar sound from a 1935 Epiphone Olympic archtop with a carved top and plywood mahogany back and sides. He likens its sound to that of a resophonic guitar. "I bought it without a bridge," he says, "and had a one-piece mahogany bridge made for it. I think with a top this small it really behooves you to get as much stuff touching the top as you can, because the top doesn’t have that much flex to it." He says his guitar is unique in that every note on every string plays at the same volume. "It doesn’t have any dead spots or any high spots—which is very, very strange," he says. "It makes it fun to play lead, because you don’t have to worry where you’re at. It’s not much of a solo instrument, but I can’t really play by myself worth a darn, so it doesn’t make much of a difference."

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Archtops are indeed a whole different breed than a flat top.

First off, guitars like the Emperor are not designed to be acoustic guitars. They are electrics. The tops are heavy and with steel strings, they won't sound like much.

The original acoustic archtops were made primarily as rhythm instruments for the big bands. LOUD and midrange heavy to compete with horns. They arent meant to be subtle; they don't offer much in the way of harmonics, trebles or bass. They are LOUD and punchy when played correctly.

They need to be set up with a fairly high action and the heaviest strings you can tolerate. I run 13's on my Godin and my Silvertone to get the most projection from them.

They are terrific strummers and will drown out a dread when played right.

I love the things, but you have to understand what they were made to do.

Many people assume that since the jazz players hang pickups on them and play cool jazz runs, that they were made for that. Many of the electric versions were built with that in mind, however, a true acoustic archtop is all about LOUD PUNCH. Cutting through the mix with open position chords is what they do so well.

The Godin is a nice little archtop. I've had mine for a year and half now and have finally just now got it set up where it is at it's best. The bridge is the kety to the whole thing. Dump that junk they ship from the factory and put on an ebon bridge with a bone saddle. Then have that bridge properly fitted to the top. That is absolutely a must to get any kind of sound from these things. The Godin has a laminate top, which limits the sound somewhat, however, it also makes for a stable instrument that stays in tune and travels well. It's relatively unaffected by changes in temperature and humidity. The TRIC case is insulated, which also helps while travelling.

The old Harmony/Kay/Silvertones are a whole different beast. They came in all shapes, sizes and price ranges, so you need to know what you're looking at when shopping for one of those. The models with birch ply tops aren't bad, but the solid spruce ones can be very nice. They are going to have chunky necks and most do not have truss rods. An awful lot of em need neck resets. Not something you want to get into if you don't know how to do it.


Archtops are very misunderstood creatures and there are many folks who try to make them do things they weren't intended to do. They don't respond well to a soft touch. The top requires some serious vibration to get going, but when it does, they will belt it out loud and clear. It's like taking your shred machine and trying to use it for folk songs. It just ain't gonna work very well.


Hope this helps some.



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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi Ksdaddy,although you may not be pleased with the outcome of your archtop,the workmanship and luthiery involved looks first rate indeed.I have small hands and smaller necks feel very comfortable to me if you want to give it a good home where it would be played and loved lol.Re Harmony,Kay etc. archtops:The Harmony Montereys and especially the Patricians were excellent archtops,even the low budget Archtone like the one I have had a unique and very pleasing tone,good projection and volume and the action was surprisingly close for a low cost guitar.Ebay would certainly be worth a look as I've seen some older archtops at almost give away prices.

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My old Harmony archtop, I'm convinced it is the relatively common H65 single pickup, plays exceptionally well even though it's showing its 1950s age. The neck is a bit thicker than I prefer, but...



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  • 1 month later...
I've been listening to a lot of early (pre-Comets) Bill Haley lately and I need that runk-chunk runk-chunk rhythm in my arsenal.

I'm only familiar with him with the Saddlemen (pre-Comets), anything else I should check out?


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