Acoustic Archtop Gas - Maybe a Gretsch 9555?

Discussion in 'Other Guitars, other instruments' started by Fluddman, Jun 19, 2021.

  1. Fluddman

    Fluddman Tele-Holic

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    I dabble in Jazz and more recently Western Swing which has me gassing for a nice acoustic archtop.

    I played a Gretsch 9555 some time back that I really liked the feel, sound and look of, but, I played another recently and it didn't sing like the first.

    Going to play another Gretsch tomorrow and perhaps a couple of Epiphone Masterbilts (Century Olympic and Century Classic Deluxe - I've been put off these because of the very mixed reviews and that they appear to have been dropped from the range. But because they look good, I thought I should at least play one.

    Seems to be quite a few old Hofner's around but nothing I can play first which I think is critical for a second hand archtop.

    It would mainly be a home player but could get used for the occasional gig. Budget is up to a couple of grand (aussie dollars).

    Eastmans are a bit above my budget and are in short supply at the moment but might be worth waiting and saving up for.

    Any recent experience, thoughts and suggestions?

    Thanks
     
  2. LGOberean

    LGOberean Doctor of Teleocity

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    I too dabble in jazz, and grew up hearing my Dad play Western Swing. And Dad played it all on a Harmony archtop guitar. I got my start on that guitar, so I've always had a thing for archtops, and in particular am sentimental about Harmony brand archtops.

    So much so that a year ago I found a Harmony archtop made in 1953 (my birth year), and had to pull the trigger on that. The model # is H954, called the Broadway. Mine's in really good condition for something that's as old as me, and is playable up and down the neck, so it's not just a sentimental wall hanger.

    05-21-2020 - 1953 Harmony Broadway H-954, front & back.png 08-24-2020 - Bella, my 1953 Harmony Broadway H-954 and me - 1.jpg

    This doesn't necessarily help you, I suppose. I wouldn't expect that many old Harmony archtops made their way down under. And to be perfectly honest, mine's not the best player I have. The neck has not truss rod or steel reinforcement of any kind. It's just a maple neck the size of a baseball bat. The Harmony archtop models of the '60s had slimmer necks that were steel reinforced, so some play better than others.

    One recommendation I can make that might be easier to find in Australia is the Godin 5th Avenue. There are several in the series, I actually got to play a CW Kingpin II. It comes with either two P-90s or humbuckers and a cutaway. The top, back and sides are Canadian wild cherry. It's around $1,330 in aussie dollars.

    There is also a 5th Avenue Kingpin with just a neck P-90, no cutaway, for around $935 AUD.
     
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  3. El Marin

    El Marin Friend of Leo's

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    I can tell you about the ones I have tried and owned... and own.

    I played the Gretsch. I did not liked it. I found it a litlle dull

    I played the Godin... worst than the Gretsch. and the neck was very thin

    I played a Loar LH-300 I liked and bought it. Not bad guitar. I liked the feel and the tone much better than the Gretsch. I have a 6120 and wanted to like the Gretsch, but the Loar was better. Goos chunky V neck

    Time after I sold the Loar. I had to electrify it so I sold it and got a flat top with a preamp

    Years later I got the itch... try some again with the same results. Gretsch good but meh, Godin is a NO. Some German made, even a sixty something Gibson from a friend... and then come to an Epiphone Zenith Masterbilt Classic... I am not very happy with my Epiphone experience and was reluctant to play it but I did... It came home with me.

    Nice finish, PERFECT finish, no flaws at all, nice chunky C neck... oh my... the biggest neck I have ever played but comfortable. Sounds good unplugged and even better plugged. Vol and Tone are hidden in the lower "f"
    My friend even sold the Gibson and got one too. Don't know why but is one of those guitars that you know is going to get old and better.

    So, my recommendation is try the Epi, you may like it

    [​IMG]

    I like it as you see in the below photo

    [​IMG]
     
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  4. WingedWords

    WingedWords Friend of Leo's

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    I found my '56 Gibson ES125 very close to your budget. It's playable and sounds wonderful, but needs work on a very poor refret job and chipped bridge. Threads like this remind me how much I enjoy archtops. I really should play it more and really must make this year the year I get it into a better condition than when I bought it. I won't see its centenary but I hope my son will.

    20180902_184722.jpg
     
  5. RomanS

    RomanS Poster Extraordinaire

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    Seems like opinions about those Epi Masterbilts vary - I hated all 3 that I tried (one was the largest size one, the other where the mid-size ones, can't remember the model names) - VERY quiet for an acoustic archtop, and the sound doesn't have the midrange "chunk" required for swing/jazz rhythm chording; they sounded more like cheap, quiet flattop acoustics (and there really isn't a lot of arch to the top, anyway).

    I also have a Godin Kingpin (2x P90, cutaway), and a Loar LH 300.
    Acoustically, the Loar is hard to beat - loud & projective (if you use the correct strings - at least 12s; and roundwounds, like they used in the 30/40s, not flatwounds, like they used for electric bebop playing). However, the Loar has a huge neck with a hard V profile, and very wide string spacing (both at the nut and at the bridge), you better make sure you like that; oh, and mine came with rather bad fretwork (but no finish flaws, which other users sometimes seem to have).
    The Godin is a different animal - much quieter unplugged, and with even less bass (acoustic archtops are all about midrange, and don't have a lot of bass - and the Godin has less); but it feels super-lively and resonant, almost as much as a flattop; and that lively, resonant, rich tone also shines through plugged in; it's probably my most "acoustic" electric guitar, perfect for 1940s/50s jazz/blues/swing tone - it really captures that ES-150/125 with P90s vibe. I guess the liveliness comes from the super-light construction the top (3 layer laminate) has to be the thinnest I have ever seen on any archtop, the whole guitar is feather-light (exactly what you want with an acoustic). Rather thin neck - but with very pronounced shoulders - it's very much a D shape rather than a V or C. I have the black version, and didn't like the matte finish, so I polished it up with car polish, has a nice, "greasy" vintage semi-shine now (I guess you might to that to the Epis, too, but I hated each of the three examples I picked up instantly, so I never got the urge...)

    Never had a chance to try the modern Gretsch New Yorker, but it is said to be acoustically inferior to the Loar (pressed vs. carved top); however, there's also a version with that nice DeArmond monkey on a stick pickup.
     
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  6. RadioFM74

    RadioFM74 Friend of Leo's

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    I play in a big band and have done a pretty thorough research.

    Your #1 option is, in my view, a Loar LH-600 or LH-700. You might be able to find a used one in your budget. It's head and shoulders above all its competitor as an acoustic archtop, and can be electrified no problem with a DeArmond (reissue Rhythm Chief, or better still for Western swing an old "Guitar Mike" FHC). Note of caution: true to their being replicas of 1920s L-5s, these Loars have big, big V necks. I think it's best possible shape for playing four-to-the-bar and soloing à la Charlie Christian, but you may think otherwise!

    None of the other competitors you're considering has a carved top and this has an impact on both acoustic timbre and volume. Here's how I see the rest of the market

    New production:
    - Guild Savoy: very beautiful, reasonable acoustic tone, comes with a reissue DeA which sounds good. A nice C neck. Among the modern production ones, it's the one I'd get if I could not put my hands on a Loar
    - Epiphone Masterbilt (modern production). I am a fan of Epiphone, but those I played sounded dead acoustically – totally overbuilt and overfinished. But I haven't played all that many
    - Gretsch – I have not tried the New Yorker or the Synchromatic. I would not expect either to have a very good acoustic sound given the price point and construction, but if you can try one do so!
    - D'Angelico EXL-1: I tried one, it was very beautiful but also sounded dead acoustically

    Affordable Vintage:
    - Höfners can be great or meh… you need to do a lot of research on the model you have under your eyes. I got me a carved top 16" for 800€ and am very happy with it, but it was a chance find. Most of those I see around are lam top models.
    - Epiphones: the "budget" models are actually very usable archtop. A vintage Zenith or better still a Blackstone could be the ticket if you find one that is still in good shape in spite of its age, and at a reasonable price. They pop up from time to time. Stretch your budget to a Triumph and you have a first-class archtop, but it's a big stretch indeed.

    PS: @RomanS beat me to it!
     
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  7. Fluddman

    Fluddman Tele-Holic

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    Thanks everyone for the input so far. Appreciate it.

    Larry G - that Harmony looks great. I would be happy with something similar. Plenty of old Hofner's but I haven't seen any Harmony's yet. Will keep an eye out for a Godin.

    El Marin - that Epiphone is sure a looker. I'm going to check them out tomorrow. I have a 6120 too and have a soft spot for Gretsch guitars but I do understand the current New Yorker is not like the old ones.

    WingedWords - the Gibson looks great too but they don't come up to often down here. Especially ones I can play before buying.

    Cheers
     
  8. RadioFM74

    RadioFM74 Friend of Leo's

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    Well, actually you'd better HOPE the new New Yorkers aren't like the old ones. I remember someone over at the JazzGuitar forum commenting that it was an odd decision to reissue "firewood" :lol:
     
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  9. El Marin

    El Marin Friend of Leo's

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    Regarding the Epi... is a guitar that sounds better the more you play it. Even in the same session. Really. If yu try one, please, plug it. I believe is the strength of the Epi... plug and unplug. I mostly use it plugged.

    I am even thinking on getting a second one... I need a #2 for the Gretsch at gigs just in case of string break. I am really thinking on getting a couple of Dynasonics, a Metal bridge and a Bigsby and electrify a Zenith

    By the way... here is a pic with it's cousin

    [​IMG]
     
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  10. Fluddman

    Fluddman Tele-Holic

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    Thanks RomanS and RadioFM74 for the valuable information. I'll try and find some Loars to play but I haven't seen them anywhere in shops down here. Is there quality consistent enough to import one?

    There are a few Hofner's for sale including a carved top on. For example this one https://echotone.com.au/products/c1...cetoptobaccoburst?_pos=7&_sid=9f85dc47b&_ss=r

    Also an Epiphone Triumph https://echotone.com.au/products/19...solidsprucetophsc?_pos=8&_sid=9f85dc47b&_ss=r

    Unfortunately these are not close enough to where I live to be able to play them. Both seem a little pricey and not something I'd likely buy without playing first.

    Cheers
     
  11. Fluddman

    Fluddman Tele-Holic

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    Wow - a couple of good lookers!
     
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  12. RadioFM74

    RadioFM74 Friend of Leo's

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    Hi!

    Quality control problems were reported on early Loars. If you go high end (600 or 700) you can expect them to be good. Bear in mind that they still are affordable, Made in China Archtop. They look, and sound, like a million bucks, but they still need some TLC. So, buy with confidence provided that you have a solid return policy AND you budget in any case for a good in-depth set-up. Mine was very good, but needed a fret leveling to give its absolute best.

    The two ADs
    - The Höfner is advertised as "solid top" (not carved) and I'm not even sure it's that. "400 series" means basically nothing – it includes the 465 (which is a nice little carved top 16" guitar, top of the line in its time) and the 455 Senator which is a lam top budget guitar (still nice if at a good price!). So unless you get substantially more info on the precise model from the seller, it's a NO!
    - The Triumph is a top-notch instrument that was reasonably priced because it had less bling than a DeLuxe, but it is substantially the same guitar. I might strangle a relative to have a nice one here with me :D. if you have the funds, if there is a good return policy, and if you're assured that there is no structural issue, it's a solid, solid, solid choice. I would not get the one you're looking at: it's not cheap for a Triumph, I don't like the crack on the top, and the transducer under the saddle is a bit of an odd mod for a golden era Epi. Frankly, if you go for a golden era Archtop, I'd buy from a specialized dealer shipping worldwide (archtop.com springs to mind immediately).
     
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  13. Sparky2

    Sparky2 Friend of Leo's

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    I picked up this Ibanez AF71F in Nashua, NH week before last.
    Played it while visiting my sister in her final days on this earth.

    Mahogany set neck, maple top, back and sides.
    Nothing, and I mean nothing is screwed into the top of the body.
    (Floating bridge and tailpiece, and even the mini-humbucker floats above the body. It's mounted to the base of the fingerboard.)

    It is a splendid guitar!

    :)

    [​IMG]
     
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  14. Fluddman

    Fluddman Tele-Holic

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    RadioFM74 - thanks again for your kind advice. I really appreciate it as the archtop world is new to me. Cheers
     
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  15. Fluddman

    Fluddman Tele-Holic

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    Thanks Sparky - sorry to hear of your sisters passing.

    The Ibanez looks like a real nice one!
     
  16. Wildeman

    Wildeman Tele-Holic

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    I have around ten archtops, all vintage and none of them were very expensive or hard to find, i don't know if that will be the case for you but there's no way i would choose one of the newer guitars mentioned in this thread over, say, an old Vega or upper end Kay or Harmony. The Vega's are total bargains at the moment, at least over here.
     
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  17. Fluddman

    Fluddman Tele-Holic

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    Thanks Wildeman - I'll add these brands to the list. I haven't noticed any for sale down here but also haven't been targeting them.

    Did you purchase most of yours privately or through guitar shops?

    It would be nice to buy something with a bit of history if I can find a decent one.

    Are pre truss rod models something to avoid if possible?

    Cheers
     
  18. RomanS

    RomanS Poster Extraordinaire

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    That's the problem: yes, a nice, well-serviced vintage archtop would be the best choice - unfortunately, if you live anywhere outside the US, those are super-rare, and ridiculously high-priced for that reason.
    If you check prices for Regals, Vegas, Harmonys, and the likes in Europe, you could get a nice vintage Epiphone, or maybe even a lower end Gibson (L-48, L-50) for the same money in the US. Even former "budget" models rarely go for less than 1500€, if they are in playable condition.
    That's why something like a Loar becomes a great deal (and the Loar is pretty much the only currently available "budget" guitar for vintage acoustic swing tones - everything else is geared more towards electric playing, or more modern playing styles - like the Eastmans).

    Jonathan Stoud, who is probably THE contemporary authority on 30/40s swing playing, has a great blog, where he gives gear recommendations:

    https://www.campusfive.com/swingguitarblog
     
  19. Fluddman

    Fluddman Tele-Holic

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    RomanS thanks for the post and the link to campusfive - its good reading.

    Cheers
     
  20. WingedWords

    WingedWords Friend of Leo's

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    Fluddman - I had a browse round the web this morning, and think I underestimated the cost of an ES125 these days. I bought mine maybe 15 years ago now. Also, it's not got much of an acoustic tone, so it's probably not what you're looking for. However, you have spurred me into making arrangements to have the work done on mine that it needs. Provisionally arranged for September, so thanks for the prod and good luck with your guitar hunting.

    Pictures when you find it!
     
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