Acoustic archtop strings

DaveG

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I have a 1939 Gibson L5, and a 1954 Guild X-660. The latter is a 3 pickup (Franz P-90 style) electric.
On the L5 I'm using D'Addario Nickel Bronze, medium gauge.
On the X-660 Thomastik flat wounds, medium gauge

On the L5 I've been playing / learning so called "plectrum guitar" style for the last few years. This is the sort-of-jazz/pop style that came out of the playing of guys like Eddie Lang, Nick Lucas, Roy Smeck etc. in the 20s and early 30s.
It's largely forgotten. It's not really as hip as the jazz/swing like Django or Christian or Les Paul. It's a little more "square" than that. Lot's of dotted rhythms, 6/9 chords and sort of cheesy titles. It's pretty fun and challenging to play. The more well-known players are:
Frank Victor
Harry Volpe
Carl Kress
Dick McDonough
George Barnes
Mel Bay (yes, that Mel Bay)

There are famous duets by Victor/Volpe, Kress/McDonough, Kress/Barnes, and Lang/Lonnie Johnson. I'd love to find somebody to play them with. But, you need to read...

There's a good Mel Bay-published compilation of transcriptions called Masters of the Plectrum Guitar that's good. You can find other stuff on the web.

On the X-660 I play some of the above plus Django and Christian plus early rock and roll and some rockabilly. This guitar is a bit like Gibson Switchmaster without the switches: V&T for each pickup, plus a master V. It is big, challenging guitar to play. Can sound like early Scotty Moore. I may soon go down a gauge, as the flatwounds are like cables that can be very fatiguing to play for a long time.

Gibson-L5-front.JPG


Guild-X-660-front.JPG
 

Tom Grattan

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For many years I've been using D'Addario ERH350 half rounds, light gauge (12-52) on my 52 Gibson L7C which has a floating pickup. Sorry for the second post.
 

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bottlenecker

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I have a 1939 Gibson L5, and a 1954 Guild X-660. The latter is a 3 pickup (Franz P-90 style) electric.
On the L5 I'm using D'Addario Nickel Bronze, medium gauge.
On the X-660 Thomastik flat wounds, medium gauge

On the L5 I've been playing / learning so called "plectrum guitar" style for the last few years. This is the sort-of-jazz/pop style that came out of the playing of guys like Eddie Lang, Nick Lucas, Roy Smeck etc. in the 20s and early 30s.
It's largely forgotten. It's not really as hip as the jazz/swing like Django or Christian or Les Paul. It's a little more "square" than that. Lot's of dotted rhythms, 6/9 chords and sort of cheesy titles. It's pretty fun and challenging to play. The more well-known players are:
Frank Victor
Harry Volpe
Carl Kress
Dick McDonough
George Barnes
Mel Bay (yes, that Mel Bay)

There are famous duets by Victor/Volpe, Kress/McDonough, Kress/Barnes, and Lang/Lonnie Johnson. I'd love to find somebody to play them with. But, you need to read...

There's a good Mel Bay-published compilation of transcriptions called Masters of the Plectrum Guitar that's good. You can find other stuff on the web.

On the X-660 I play some of the above plus Django and Christian plus early rock and roll and some rockabilly. This guitar is a bit like Gibson Switchmaster without the switches: V&T for each pickup, plus a master V. It is big, challenging guitar to play. Can sound like early Scotty Moore. I may soon go down a gauge, as the flatwounds are like cables that can be very fatiguing to play for a long time.

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View attachment 984622

Great post!
I dig eddie lang, nick lucas (worked up a cover of one of his tangos recently), and george barnes. I thought "plectrum guitar" was the term for when a tenor guitar was used to do plectrum banjo parts. I'll have to expand my search terms now.
 

Freeman Keller

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Whew, lots and lots of good thoughts. As I said, I think I have the acoustic flat topped world covered - I have learned that I like PB over 80/20 and know the gauges that work on my guitars. One of the significant factors here is that I can cover almost all of my acoustic guitars with only a couple of standard sets which means I don't need to keep a large inventory of oddball strings.

I also know that I like Thomastic flatwounds on my electric jazz guitar. But they are nickel wound and while that guitar is not intended to be played unplugged, I'm just not that impressed with the sound when I do. Its a pressed top hollow body but has pretty heavy bracing and the pups screwed to the top so I don't expect good acoustic sound. I'm tempted to try a set of the Thomastics on the acoustic but they are expensive and I'm not sure....

The 12 gauge Elixers are plenty loud - I don't need to go any heavier. I finger pick as well as flat pick and 12s would be my choice on a flat top. The top three strings seem very bright - that probably is just the archtop sound and I need to get used to it. I play a mixture of folk/blues/jazz and I'm using this guitar to force myself to play more of the open jazz chords up the neck - I get much better note separation on this than on a flattop.

Anyway, I appreciate everyone's thoughts here - I'm going to play it with the Elixers for a few more weeks and then maybe try something else.

IMG_7412-1.jpg
 

trapdoor2

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I have D'adario phosphor bronze extra lights (EJ15?) on my 1915 L-1.

I use it for trad. country...Riley Puckett-style flatpickin', fiddle backup, etc.
 

Telekarster

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When I play my archtop, I play (try to play) Jazz. These are the strings that I use

 

ImprovGuru

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If you're going for a classic electric jazz tone like Montgomery, Benson, Martino, Burrell, Metheny, etc., it's flatwounds all the way. The gauge depends on how you play and what you're comfortable with. Metheny plays D'Addario Chrome 11s and Benson plays Thomastic-Infeld GB 14s. I play D'Aquisto 13s, but they are no longer available. The cool thing about flats is that the deader they get, the better they sound. I only change strings when they won't stay in tune anymore... for my dry hands that is measured in years, not months. Your mileage may vary.
 

Robert H.

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Pyramid Max Performance pure nickel round wounds. Standard set of 11’s. My archtops have floating or mounted pickups and that matters to me. These are not super expensive strings but last and sound great to my ears. Easy to play.
 

Swingcat

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The title says it, what are you using on your carved topped acoustic archtop - composition, gauge, coatings, round or flat wound? Also what genre(s) of music are you playing? I don't care about electrics or flat tops - I've got that worked out.
Great question. It actually depends on the voice if the archtop, but for my Load LH650, I use nickel wound 12 gauge electric strings, which give it a perfect voice for chunking out acoustic archtop rhythms.
The added bonus is that I actually get a wonderful ACOUSTIC sounding rhythm with the EMG 91 Archtop pickup as well, when in either our Bose L1, house systems OR my Deluxe Reverb amp!!
After MANY years of trying to get amplified acoustic tone (other than sitting stationary behind a condenser mic), I've finally NAILED it!! And who would think it would be an EMG floating pickup????
 

bottlenecker

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If you're going for a classic electric jazz tone
The original post was specific that it was not asking about strings for electric sounds. The post is about strings for acoustic guitars that have carved arched tops.


Great question. It actually depends on the voice if the archtop, but for my Load LH650, I use nickel wound 12 gauge electric strings, which give it a perfect voice for chunking out acoustic archtop rhythms.
The added bonus is that I actually get a wonderful ACOUSTIC sounding rhythm with the EMG 91 Archtop pickup as well, when in either our Bose L1, house systems OR my Deluxe Reverb amp!!
After MANY years of trying to get amplified acoustic tone (other than sitting stationary behind a condenser mic), I've finally NAILED it!! And who would think it would be an EMG floating pickup????

It sounds like you're already happy with what you have, but there is one more amplification option in between a pickup and sitting behind a mic stand.
I used to gig a 16 inch "ss stewart" archtop (made by harmony in 1946 with a carved spruce top). I clipped an audio technica atm-35 (since replaced by the atm-350) to the wood pickguard and pointed at a spot in the neighborhood between the bridge and f-hole. A good small diaphragm miked sound that let me move without the sound changing.
I've also used that mic on banjo, a couple flat tops, nylon string, and double bass.
 

Freeman Keller

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The original post was specific that it was not asking about strings for electric sounds. The post is about strings for acoustic guitars that have carved arched tops.
Thanks Bottlenecker. Several people have suggested nickel strings of one sort or another. I have always thought that nickel alloy strings were optimized for performance with a magnetic pickup, I've never hear of them being put on an acoustic guitar. I guess one of my questions would be are these really the best string for an acoustic archtop or did they just not understand the question.

Most of the other suggestions make sense and I'm trying to filter thru it all. And lastly, I've promised to put a recording of this guitar on the thread where I built it and when I do it will be my little SM57 pointed at it, otherwise the guitar will probably never be recorded or amplified. If I ever ever did I would float a pickup off the end of the fretboard, but I just don't see that ever happening.
 

Larry F

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In the early 60s, guitarist John LaChapelle taught guitar in Richland WA. One of his students was Larry Coryell, and I came along later. His guitar was an L-5.

When I played a string bass in high school, I found that some of the strings seemed to have been wrapped somehow. When I studied with him, his L-5 was strung with black, wrapped strings.

With all of my teachers, I peppered them with questions, questions, questions. I can't believe that I didn't ask John about those strings.

I'm getting tired again, so I don't think I can investigate them. Were they LaBellas?
 

bottlenecker

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Thanks Bottlenecker. Several people have suggested nickel strings of one sort or another. I have always thought that nickel alloy strings were optimized for performance with a magnetic pickup, I've never hear of them being put on an acoustic guitar. I guess one of my questions would be are these really the best string for an acoustic archtop or did they just not understand the question.

Most of the other suggestions make sense and I'm trying to filter thru it all. And lastly, I've promised to put a recording of this guitar on the thread where I built it and when I do it will be my little SM57 pointed at it, otherwise the guitar will probably never be recorded or amplified. If I ever ever did I would float a pickup off the end of the fretboard, but I just don't see that ever happening.

I have heard of people putting nickel wound electric strings with a wound G on acoustics because they didn't like the "zing" of bronze. But now I'd guess those people are using monel strings. My next archtop may just get martin retros for the monel wrap, but I want to see if guadalupe strings can do a monel wrap for me.
I think the martin retros are probably a lot like what was on most acoustic guitars when unamplified archtops were popular, except for the hex core.
 

twangster6

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The title says it, what are you using on your carved topped acoustic archtop - composition, gauge, coatings, round or flat wound? Also what genre(s) of music are you playing? I don't care about electrics or flat tops - I've got that worked out.
I have an early 50's ES125. Over the years I've used ribbon wound 12's for the classic Joe Pass 175 sound, 80/20 bronze 12's for an early Dolly Parton country sound, and lately Nickel wound 10's for rock. It all depends on what you're playing. Archtops are versatile
 

mike stanger

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My first arch top was a 1939 L-7 Gibson I always strung with medium gauge 80/20 bronze strings. I gave it to my guitar-playing son about 20 years ago, and he's using the same strings, but I think one gauge lighter.

I purchased a Guild Artist Award last fall that also sounded the best with them, but the bronze strings caused a big drop-off of volume when I plugged it in. I'm currently using a medium set of D'Adarrio Nickel Bronze on it, and they sound pretty good, but not quite as warm. They sound fine when it's plugged in.

I don't use the pickup very much though; the guitar is 30 years old, but had never been played, so right now, I'm mostly playing it acoustically to break it in. The L-7 is the best-sounding arch top I've ever owned, but this Guild is showing a lot of promise. It needs about a year of hard workouts to develop its potential.

I'm presently thinking of having a replacement pick guard made for it, so I can remove the pickup for a year or so. The pickup is a floater, attached to the pick guard, as is the small volume control. Since I plant my little finger on the guard when I play, a replacement is a good option for me.

Ken Parker, the most dedicated arch top maker I know of, insists on using nothing but bronze strings on his guitars. He worked with a small pickup maker to develop a pickup that is designed to work with the strings. The pickup sounds spectacular, but apparently, he's the only person who can get them.

His guitars are extremely radical and cost as much as a Chevrolet, but are the closest thing to an all-purpose acoustic I've ever heard. A good player could play anything on them, in any style. Once I got past their looks, I got a serious case of GAS. And it takes a lot now to impress me that much.
regards,
stanger
 

mike stanger

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Thanks Bottlenecker. Several people have suggested nickel strings of one sort or another. I have always thought that nickel alloy strings were optimized for performance with a magnetic pickup, I've never hear of them being put on an acoustic guitar. I guess one of my questions would be are these really the best string for an acoustic archtop or did they just not understand the question.

Most of the other suggestions make sense and I'm trying to filter thru it all. And lastly, I've promised to put a recording of this guitar on the thread where I built it and when I do it will be my little SM57 pointed at it, otherwise the guitar will probably never be recorded or amplified. If I ever ever did I would float a pickup off the end of the fretboard, but I just don't see that ever happening.

Really, it's all about the sound that appeals to you the most.
To me, the arch top seems to benefit the most from a string set that suits it. I always hear the difference more on an arch top than a flat top.

I used nothing but nickel-wounds on all my acoustics for years; always the same brand, (D'Aquisto) and always the same gauge.
I picked them up from Tony Rice, who always used them. While nickel-wounds never sound quite as good when new as bronze-wounds, their tone stays very consistent as the strings age, and they last longer. I only quit them after the D'Quisto company went out of business.
They weren't related to the famous guitar maker, and it was always a small family business. Always hard to find, but were quite cheap for their quality. I used them on my banjos too.

I think familiarity helps the player as much as the string's tone. No string will ever sound as good as when it's fresh, but a dependable long-lasting string will give the player everything it has tonally dependably until it's worn out. Few of the greats are obsessive about the strings' newness, though some are, for sure.
regards,
stanger
 




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