Archtop builders, please tell me about Ken Parker's archtops.

bottlenecker

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Some comments on Freeman Keller's L5 build thread had me wanting to ask some questions, but I don't want to polute that thread.
I specifically want to ask builders, or at least people who've heard a lot of archtops.
I've never heard one of Ken Parker's archtops in person, but the videos I've found of people playing his archtops make them sound really thin, and "plinky".
Is this how they really are, or have I just heard bad representations of them?
I don't want to disrespect him or his work, I'm just trying to get an idea of what they're about.
I'm not really interested in opinions on the looks of them, just the sound.
 

Freeman Keller

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I can't really comment on the sound - I've never seen one in person or heard it played. However I have followed Parker as a maker for quite a while - first introduction was the famous (infamous?) Parker Fly, but his archtops are pushing the envelope also.

My limited experience with archtops is that they have a sound all of their own. They are prized for their projection - remember that originally they were designed for musician in jazz bands - they had to be heard above all the other racket. They tend to have a punchy sound unlike most flat tops and on a good archtop each note is well defined - when you play a chord each one stands out. How Parker's guitars fit in that mold I don't know.

My interest in Parker's guitars is a little like my interest in some of the inovations in flat top and classical construction - sound ports, weird bracing, double tops, strange materials. I don't necessarily like what I hear but I want to be aware of the trends. Same with Ken, you can spend hours at his website watching how he does things.

I will add that he must be selling a substantial number of guitars (and they are not inexpensive) so someone must like what they are hearing.

Other than that, I can't help much.
 

bottlenecker

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I can't really comment on the sound - I've never seen one in person or heard it played. However I have followed Parker as a maker for quite a while - first introduction was the famous (infamous?) Parker Fly, but his archtops are pushing the envelope also.

My limited experience with archtops is that they have a sound all of their own. They are prized for their projection - remember that originally they were designed for musician in jazz bands - they had to be heard above all the other racket. They tend to have a punchy sound unlike most flat tops and on a good archtop each note is well defined - when you play a chord each one stands out. How Parker's guitars fit in that mold I don't know.

My interest in Parker's guitars is a little like my interest in some of the inovations in flat top and classical construction - sound ports, weird bracing, double tops, strange materials. I don't necessarily like what I hear but I want to be aware of the trends. Same with Ken, you can spend hours at his website watching how he does things.

I will add that he must be selling a substantial number of guitars (and they are not inexpensive) so someone must like what they are hearing.

Other than that, I can't help much.

I think I have a good idea of what most people expect from an archtop, until it comes to Ken. I have owned and played a few acoustic archtops. A 20s L5 would be the best I've played. I currently have a regal built slingerland from the 30s, and I used to have a 40s "SS Stewart" 16 inch built by Harmony with a carved top.
That 16 incher was thin, bright, punchy, brash. I didn't keep it, but it did well in certain groups.

The modern archtops I've played seemed very evolved for modern jazz guitar sounds; very balanced, but mellower than what I prefer. Which makes it seem unlikely that Parker's guitars would have the thin brash sound they seemed to be making, and still be as respected as they are.
I'm hoping someone has heard one in person in here. I'm just curious if they sound very different from the impression I got, or if a lot of people like a thin, cutting sound.

With most new school acoustic guitar stuff, I can usually hear something I expect someone to like, even if it's not me. And it's very interesting to me to see what people try.
 

crazydave911

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First, he has an entire machine shop INSIDE his shop. Second he makes use of carbon fiber, some like it some don't. His methods and materials are VERY expensive.
Third, videos of his and others playing the guitars give me nothing to relate too. I've never heard an archtop like his and not sure I like what I hear. I do keep listening but haven't heard anything familiar yet, and that's ok, but not what I'd like from an archtop, yet
 

Freeman Keller

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I'll add one more comment. As I mentioned in my build thread there was a panel discussion on archtops at the 2008 GAL convention, it was written up in American Lutherie summer 2009. Part of the discussion was the direction archtops were headed in the future. One panelist said "After seeing that bizarre archtop of Ken Parker's at Healdsburg last year, the doors ar open for all kinds of design changes". Another said "Ken Parker is a genius. I wish him all the best and he may define an entirely new market. But that wouldn't be me....."
 

crazydave911

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I'll add one more comment. As I mentioned in my build thread there was a panel discussion on archtops at the 2008 GAL convention, it was written up in American Lutherie summer 2009. Part of the discussion was the direction archtops were headed in the future. One panelist said "After seeing that bizarre archtop of Ken Parker's at Healdsburg last year, the doors ar open for all kinds of design changes". Another said "Ken Parker is a genius. I wish him all the best and he may define an entirely new market. But that wouldn't be me....."
Nor me, regardless of my finances
 

PARCO

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A few years ago I was at a guitar show in Woodstock, NY and Ken had a booth at the show. I am in no way a good archtop style player but the tone of Kens guitar really had me thinking. I found it wonderful. The price was daunting. $30,000. I tend to think of guitar purchases in terms of how long and how many gigs to pay for it. $30,000 is a lot of gigs especially when it would probably take me a few years of serious wood shedding to get good enough to deserve such a fine instrument. The engineering alone is enough make me interested in the instrument but I thought it played really well and sounded excellent. I'm not exactly a Parker fanboy. I never thought much of the FLY guitar. I was able to speak to Ken for some time at this show and there was no doubt in my mind that he knows what he is talking about.
 

chezdeluxe

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They sound like no other archtop I have heard (online) and I don’t mean that as a compliment.

I say that as the owner of a 17” and an 18” acoustic arch top both with x bracing and traditional construction by excellent Australian luthiers Garry Albrecht and Gary Rizzolo.

They each have an individual pleasant voice that sounds nothing like the harsh spiky trebles of the Parkers.
 
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JohnnyThul

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I also never ever had the chance to play one of Ken Parker's archtops and I am also not overly knowledgeable when it comes to these types of guitars. But I really found intersting is the Ken Parker adjustable/floating neck system, where the neck sits on an adjustable pole. I find that a very cool idea actually and a helpful one, too.

Here is a highly recommended video of someone adapating this idea into one of his builds:

 

72_Custom

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I know the guy who makes the pickups for these and he’s as much of an unconventional thinker/mad scientist as Ken Parker himself seems to be. Don’t know the details, but I’ve heard the pickup design is as radical of a departure as the guitar itself.
 

bottlenecker

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I also never ever had the chance to play one of Ken Parker's archtops and I am also not overly knowledgeable when it comes to these types of guitars. But I really found intersting is the Ken Parker adjustable/floating neck system, where the neck sits on an adjustable pole. I find that a very cool idea actually and a helpful one, too.

Here is a highly recommended video of someone adapating this idea into one of his builds:



People always talk about how innovative his guitars are, but I'm trying to figure out how they sound, and if there are musicians who like that sound. I can appreciate his innovation on a mechanical level, but if they don't sound good I don't really care that much. I get enough mechanical innovation in my day job.
Maybe they sound good in a way that just doesn't suit the music I want to hear/play on archtops. It's hard to tell.
 

KokoTele

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People always talk about how innovative his guitars are, but I'm trying to figure out how they sound, and if there are musicians who like that sound. I can appreciate his innovation on a mechanical level, but if they don't sound good I don't really care that much. I get enough mechanical innovation in my day job.
Maybe they sound good in a way that just doesn't suit the music I want to hear/play on archtops. It's hard to tell.

Years and years and years ago, there was a great post from Monster Mike Welch about recording an album. Surprisingly, he used a Parker Fly on some of the songs, saying that it has a more neutral tone palette than other guitars. A Strat, Tele, or Les Paul would have led him in certain directions, but the Parker made it easier to find new paths sometimes.

My point is this: if you want traditional tones in a guitar, buy a traditional guitar. Innovators don't innovate to reproduce the sound of a 100 year old design, they innovate to find new sounds.
 

That Cal Webway

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Ken Parker's history is so fascinating...
it really needs to be pursued by anyone with even a setup interest on guitars.

It will reveal a knowledge base of so many woods and their properties and all to do with it.
And so much more with other materials, and his designs and experimentation and experimentation and experimentation...

A podcast with him I heard over a year ago, he talked about the differences of carbon fiber per manufacturer!!
Of how important it was to know and pick the correct one in guitar construction
(!!).


Like wow-
how many of us thought carbon fiber for luthier uses is a one size fits all as far as molecular structure and the weave pattern!
 

maxvintage

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What does an acoutic guitar sound like? If you listen to recordngs of Eddie lang in the 20s,/30s, he's likely playing an L5. He gets a great acoustic sound to my ears, but it's not a modern sound




It sounds to me like heavy strings, and he's prioritizing projection and a sharp, well-defined attack over sustain. Lots of midrange and punch: not a lot of shimmer. Really effective for the context he came up in, where there was no amplification.

Personally, I really like the relative lack of sustain and shimmery overtones in an archtop: I think it works really well for jazz, in chords where a lot of overtones would make for muddy and clouded harmonies. All that jangle just makes extended harmony notes, notes that approach dissonance, unpleasant to my ears. And I like the percussive "thunk" on the front end of the notes. There's real richness in the middle range instead of the high end

I have a 1978 Guild artist award which has a really gorgeous acoustic tone, but it doesn't sound like a Dreadnaught. And I have a chinese Selmer copy that's a really great guitar for fingerstyle playing. People think you have to sound like Django Reinhardt with those, but you don't. They have a great voice but its not the voice of a Martin OM, say.


I can't tell what Parker is going for in the clips I've seen. I haven't loved the sounds I've heard either. But I do love his skill and his commitment to innovation. Too rich for my blood, but I admire it anyway
 

bottlenecker

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Years and years and years ago, there was a great post from Monster Mike Welch about recording an album. Surprisingly, he used a Parker Fly on some of the songs, saying that it has a more neutral tone palette than other guitars. A Strat, Tele, or Les Paul would have led him in certain directions, but the Parker made it easier to find new paths sometimes.

My point is this: if you want traditional tones in a guitar, buy a traditional guitar. Innovators don't innovate to reproduce the sound of a 100 year old design, they innovate to find new sounds.

That's why I'm trying to figure out what his guitars sound like.
Is his innovation related to sound?
Can you describe the sound, and what is different about it?

I don't want to discuss the fly, because I already know what it sounds like. I will say that many years ago I was disappointed that it sounded very conventional to me.
 

bottlenecker

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Like wow-
how many of us thought carbon fiber for luthier uses is a one size fits all as far as molecular structure and the weave pattern!

Well I didn't, but that's because of other hats I wear. It is cool that he brings more material science into luthiery, and it is very interesting to discuss and learn from.
But when my musician hat is on, I just wish I could hear one. I think that ears build the part of guitars I care most about.
What's in his record collection or playlist?
 

bottlenecker

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What does an acoutic guitar sound like? If you listen to recordngs of Eddie lang in the 20s,/30s, he's likely playing an L5. He gets a great acoustic sound to my ears, but it's not a modern sound




It sounds to me like heavy strings, and he's prioritizing projection and a sharp, well-defined attack over sustain. Lots of midrange and punch: not a lot of shimmer. Really effective for the context he came up in, where there was no amplification.

Personally, I really like the relative lack of sustain and shimmery overtones in an archtop: I think it works really well for jazz, in chords where a lot of overtones would make for muddy and clouded harmonies. All that jangle just makes extended harmony notes, notes that approach dissonance, unpleasant to my ears. And I like the percussive "thunk" on the front end of the notes. There's real richness in the middle range instead of the high end

I have a 1978 Guild artist award which has a really gorgeous acoustic tone, but it doesn't sound like a Dreadnaught. And I have a chinese Selmer copy that's a really great guitar for fingerstyle playing. People think you have to sound like Django Reinhardt with those, but you don't. They have a great voice but its not the voice of a Martin OM, say.


I can't tell what Parker is going for in the clips I've seen. I haven't loved the sounds I've heard either. But I do love his skill and his commitment to innovation. Too rich for my blood, but I admire it anyway


I would not compare an archtop to a flat top, or consider them for the same job. They're about as much like each other as either are like a classical guitar, sonically. I think of them as completely different instruments when playing, arranging, or mixing them.
 

chezdeluxe

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For me the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

I don’t care about the innovation, appearance, skills of the builder, materials used etc etc etc if all of that is attached to a nasty sounding instrument. All of the sound clips I saw and heard on Parker’s website (no matter who the player was) revealed thin horrible tones especially in the treble register. Edit I am speaking of the acoustic guitars .

Not for me.
 
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