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Archtop recommendations

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My playing has taken a turn towards a mixture of Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, and a Bob Wills -Eldon Shamblin Western swing. I'm currently trying to bang it out on a dreadnought, but want to get a better sound. (Really it's just an excuse to buy an old Gibson). I'm looking for some recommendations on what model might be best. I'm not looking for a cutaway, and an L-5 is more than I can invest. Any thoughts on the ES or L series would be very helpful! Thanks!

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The ideal situation would be to go to a shop where you could sample various vintage Gibson archtops. Sometimes it's not the model, but the playability and sound of an individual guitar. To be completely honest, there are a lot of Gibson archtops that basically deliver the same sound, and feel/play much the same. At any rate, you never know what might happen if you went into such a shop. You might find an L-50 that would please and excite you more than an L-5.

 

Do you have a preference between acoustic and electric?

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Without mentioning budget, you've still got a lot of air between a low-end Epi flattop and an L5 - assuming you're talking electrified.

 

After all, even Django played electric in America.

 

I think the ES175 is ideal in size and sound. I like the 16-inch body 'stedda the 17 on the L5 (after 1930 something, anyway) and similar, or the 18 on a Super 400 and similar. I also prefer the shorter scale. More on that in a cupla sentencees.

 

I can't afford a new one and don't wanna take the old one "out," especially winters.

 

So... I got a cupla new pieces. Yeah, they're cutaways.

 

A semi-hollow allows pretty good sound for what you're talking about. Think $500 for an Epi Dot and hard case up to around $4,000+ for other variations of the Gibson classic 335 semi or thin-line hollows that some folks have been happy using for "jazz." It's also about a 15-inch lower bout and the 24 3/4 inch scale.

 

I got an Eastman one-pup version of the 175 that has a 24 3/4 scale. Quite nice, figure roughly $700 with case. Other Eastmans that have increasingly nice reviews go up... and up... in price.

 

Then there's the low-end Gretsch that's a one-pup hollow with the pup off the guitar itself and volume/tone controls on on the pick guard. It's the 16-inch body, but the longer 25 1/2 inch scale and a little "woodier" electric sound. with a case figure around $850. There's a version something over $2,000 that likely ain't bad. The longer scale does make a bit of difference in technique.

 

There are other options, of course. Ibanez makes a batch of 'em across the price tags. Honestly though, I'm not sure that much of anything that ain't close to a 175 sorta size is going to make me that happy regardless of price tag. I wouldn't mind a yet shorter scale, but that makes playing up around the 12th fret a little more problematic too.

 

m

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At late-40's or early 50's L-7 will give you exactly the same punch and tonal character as an L-5, at about half the cost. The L-7 is essentially a de-blinged L-5, so it's the same 17" body, with a carved spruce top and a carved maple back. A lot depends on your budget. Below is my 1947 L-7:

 

L-7-1.jpg

 

 

You should be able to get one of these for around $2,000 or so.

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I have always thought that a 50's era (16") L-50 is probably the best value in a Gibson acoustic, non-cutaway, archtop. They built thousands and thousands of them so they are very easy to find, and can be purchased at reasonable prices. A really nice L-50 can be bought for around $1000 (or less).

 

I will certainly agree with Nick about the L-7, for I also own a 40's model, and it might even be my "dessert island" guitar. But.... as an L-7 can be had for (less than) half the price of an L-5, an L-50 can be had for half the price of an L-7. It all depends on your budget!

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Great point about getting out and playing them and hearing the differences. Thanks. I haven't been to all the local stores (Charlotte,NC), but haven't found much inventory.

I want to go electric, and ideally stay in the pre 60s vintage. I do wonder how much different or louder sound comes out of an acoustic L series versus an ES(not plugged in)?

 

I saw an ES125TD - how does 2 pickups sounds compared to 1? BTW- I don't want to go Thinline so I can keep some acoustic resonance when not plugged in.

 

Lastly, anyone have experience with intenet buying?? Anything looking at online I'm trying o make sure they have a decent return policy.

I guess the sound can vary from model to model- or based on condition- significantly.

Thanks for the musings.

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J45nick

 

Geez. I wonder if that sounds as sweet as it looks. Wow.

 

So to go the L-7 or L-50 route, do you ever play with a pickup? I so what would you use, or would you play through a mike and an old tube amp?

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Great point about getting out and playing them and hearing the differences. Thanks. I haven't been to all the local stores (Charlotte,NC), but haven't found much inventory.

Archtops are such of a niche market, there only exists about a half dozen stores in the entire U.S. that would have more than one or two on the rack. I doubt any of them are in Charlotte.

 

 

I want to go electric, and ideally stay in the pre 60s vintage. I do wonder how much different or louder sound comes out of an acoustic L series versus an ES(not plugged in)?

There is a MAJOR difference! ES guitars are designed to be played through an amp (ES = Electric Spanish). Once you start cutting holes in the soundboard and mounting pickups to the top of a guitar, you DESTROY the acoustic properties!

 

I saw an ES125TD - how does 2 pickups sounds compared to 1?

It depends 100% on your playing style, or the "sound" your looking for. 99.9% of the time my L-5CES is on the neck pickup. My other two archtops ONLY have a neck pickup (floating).

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So to go the L-7 or L-50 route, do you ever play with a pickup? I(f) so(,) what would you use, ....

 

If you want to preserve the acoustic properties of a full bodied acoustic archtop, there are two types of pickups systems that will do the trick. Not only will the guitar maintain a FULL acoustic voice, the "electric" voice will also be different than cut-in pickups. I would describe it as more "woody".

 

You can get a fingerboard mounted pickup system, or a pickguard mounted system.

 

Here's my 50's Silvertone with a pickup that screws into the edge of the fingerboard extension. In this case, since is was a $36 dollar guitar, I mounted the pots to the face, and the jack on the rim.

5517693543_3a7f792399.jpg

 

On my 40's L-7, being a "vintage Gibson", I installed a pickguard mounted system on a repro pickguard.

5443652520_178567663f.jpg

 

The two most popular makers (sellers) of these types of pickups are Kent Armstrong and Benedetto (Duncan).

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Larry...

 

Have you played the inexpensive Gretsch? It has the "screwed onto the fingerboard and therefore more or less floating" pup. Relatively thin body...

 

I'm messing with various flatwounds on it - so that's another factor since I doubt flats are as likely to sound lively on a non-electric archtop.

 

I have to admit I'm happier with that little Eastman with the shorter scale, though, but I'm playing it pretty much as an electric or "bedroom" guitar.

 

To add to your comment, the ES supposedly used the laminated woods also to lessen electric feedback.

 

And the Silvertone reminded me of a harmony I added a sliding pup that was available in the '50s and '60s to - and actually used it for a bit of rock without serious feedback problems at the time.

 

m

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Archtops are such of a niche market, there only exists about a half dozen stores in the entire U.S. that would have more than one or two on the rack.

That's complete nonsense. There are at least a half a dozen right here in the SF bay area alone.

 

Vintage archtops are still out there in large numbers if you know where to look. If you're thinking about buying online, there are dozens of places that have more than two in their inventory. And yes, there are a lot of reputable dealers selling online, with return policies. Shop around. Talk to people who know the market in NC (wish I could help you more there, but I know nothing about NC). Watch ebay, check gbase.com, check Craigslist. Do more research online to narrow down what it is you really want.

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I wish guitar buying were so simple where I live.

 

The one real guitar store is a general music store more than an hour away - but excluding Epi and Ibanez thinbodies, mostly Dots, they probably sell fewer than half a dozen archtops a year, as far as I can tell, all electric. Otherwise it's a minimum of a day's drive to a ... GC.

 

That leaves web orders. I got my Gretsch through this forum's "trading post" and the Eastman by asking that if they get an Epi or Eastman to call. That was early last summer; the one Eastman came in December. Figure a four-hour trip because I did play before I paid.

 

I wouldn't care to buy a guitar over $1,000 sight unseen, and especially unplayed, regardless of photos.

 

I've had some backchannel conversation with Larry and I can tell you I trust him and his judgment more than anyone else on the forums, and when it comes to guitars, even around here. But ... He and I are not the same person with the same technique and same feel for a given guitar. So even a "Here's $2,000 to get me a great archtop" may or may not "work," regardless that I know he'd do anything and everything possible to help get a great guitar at a good price point.

 

He's right, compared to board guitars, any archtops, especially non-electric archtops, are today a niche market on the national and even international stage. Thinbodies are the exception, but even inexpensive ones that are great values, such as the Epi Dot, etc., aren't sold in anywhere close to the numbers for boards with a neck.

 

We might wish we had better access nationwide, but I don't think it's gonna happen.

 

As for "mail order," again, there's a thread in the Lounge about purchases of good to great guitars that just didn't "click" with a given player regardless of build quality. Been there, done that.

 

m

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Niche market or not, Larry's comment is complete and utter nonsense. I could literally spend all day listing stores across the country that have more than one or two archtops for sale. I'm not suggesting that everyone has access to such shops in their local community, but that doesn't mean that archtops are this scarce across the entire country. Anybody who follows the vintage guitar market would know that Larry is more than a little off with a comment like that.

 

When it comes to buying online and through the mail, a lot of it has to do with experience and familiarity. After you've done it for awhile- especially if you're dealing with well-known and reputable sellers, you typically know what to expect, both in terms of the guitar and the seller. I've been buying guitars that way for many years, and have had a very high success rate. Being able to play a guitar before buying is of course ideal, but rarely practical if you're looking for specific guitars.

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That's a wealth of information. Thanks to all for posting. I've got some looking and playing to do. I might shift focus and go for an acoustic which I can add a temporary pickup to. L-50 or if I can get a deal on an L-7- how ideal.

 

What model acoustics would not allow the easy addition of a pickup? Ie those with lower fretboards. How noticeable is the sound difference between a solid top and laminate top? I could learn this from playing them, but don't have that option now.

 

Thanks!

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To help the confusion...

 

Ages ago I used an old DeArmond with the "screw the bracket to the strings downstream of the bridge and prop the pup upstream and now you have a tone and volume control."

 

This page has more than you probably wanna know.

 

http://www.archtop.com/ac_access.html

 

m

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Another option to consider would be the L-10. They can be hard to find, but make pretty good guitars for the style of music you are looking to play. There is also plenty of room to install a floating pickup if you are looking to go that route. Here is a pic of mine.

post-53312-091301700 1360387452_thumb.jpg

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