Pro and Cons Archtop vs Acoustic

Kandinskyesque

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It's time to start thinking about my long-term big acquisition.
My trusty Yamaha acoustic is long past its best, I bought it in 89, played it daily for decades, I bought it from a mate who bought it new in 84 but was upgrading when he got his new record deal.
I'm playing it less, because it no longer sounds as good as it did, especially compared to my Godin Multiacs.
lt will become an ornament soon enough, and no doubt will eventually become a grandkid's first steel strung acoustic.

I will probably buy a sub £500 acoustic to replace it in 2023, decent bargains always turn up when I go hunting.

However, I'm thinking on planning for a luthier-built replacement and will find the funds as the build progresses to have this side of my 60th birthday (just over 4 years to go). There are good luthiers aplenty here and their order to completion time is about 2 years minimum.

I've taken a liking to the appearance of Archtops but have very little experience of them.
My playing style has changed in the last 5-10 years from strumming to more jazz fingerstyle, which leads me to consider an Archtop.

Any advice or experience of these guitars would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance.
 

drmordo

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They are definitely different beasts. IMO archtops project forward more, so it's a bit harder to hear them when you play. They play and sound more like an electric IMO.

That said, I love them deeply. I own a handful of archtops; conversely I have not owned a flattop in 20 years at least and have never bought one for myself.
 

schmee

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I've had a couple of archtop acoustics. If you are just playing at home by yourself they can be nice. If playing with anyone else, you cant be heard. One of my favorite guitars of all time was a 1938 Martin archtop. Super low action and played like a dream. A great porch guitar. Quiet though. I also had a 90's Guild F47 F46? F?? archtop, ...something like that. The whole guitar was heavy flame maple. It was a work of art.

There are some great sub $500 acoutic guitars now days. I really like my new import Guild OM240ce. The flattops just sound great.
 

Swirling Snow

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Archtops were meant to accompany big bands. Very compressed, almost muffled - they were the shredder guitars of the '30s.

Flattops are meant to accompany solo singers. They cover the whole range, including cymbals.

There's a ton of stuff I wouldn't play on an archtop. The Overture to Tommy, for instance. There's too much wood used to make them polite "in a mix" for them to be as expressive as I want. YMMV, etc.
 

fjblair

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I've also owned acoustic archtops and agree with everything said here. I used to play one in a duet with a guy playing a flat top, it worked but I really had to hit it pretty hard to cut through on leads. I love them for chord work.
 

KeithDavies 100

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My first steel-string was a 1963 - same age as me! - Hofner Senator. It's an archtop, sunburst, with a single pickup. I've almost never played it electric. Cranked, the feedback is quick and almost uncontrollable! But as an acoustic guitar, I've never found anything I like playing more. I know that theoretically the presence of the pickup, and associated electronics - and, for that matter, a Bigsby unit from which the arm disappeared before we met - must be adversely affecting the tone. However, nevertheless I love it. What songs I've written have all been on that guitar.

Whether I've just been very lucky, or whether this is all about it being an archtop design, I don't know - which, I appreciate, is not very helpful - but that's my experience for what it's worth. It is the only archtop I've ever played.

Forgive the "arty" photo - the wedding photographer took it at my wedding in 2016!

1670260454371.jpeg
 

bottlenecker

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I've had a couple of archtop acoustics. If you are just playing at home by yourself they can be nice. If playing with anyone else, you cant be heard. One of my favorite guitars of all time was a 1938 Martin archtop. Super low action and played like a dream. A great porch guitar. Quiet though. I also had a 90's Guild F47 F46? F?? archtop, ...something like that. The whole guitar was heavy flame maple. It was a work of art.

There are some great sub $500 acoutic guitars now days. I really like my new import Guild OM240ce. The flattops just sound great.

Volume issues shouldn't be a problem if you are playing solo ... or if you use and amp.

The volume of acoustic archtops is all over the place. Some are very loud. I've played them loud through a PA with mandolin and double bass, using a mini condenser mic in a gooseneck clipped to the tailpiece or pickguard, and pointed at a spot near the bridge.
I've also played them in a circle with a bunch of bluegrass players with their "banjo killers", and I don't think there was any trouble being heard because of the midrange.
 

Mike Eskimo

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The only advice I would give you on arch tops is that I would never ever have one built.

Mainly, because there are a million of them out there on the used market. Epiphones, Gibsons, Gretsches, and a whole host of lesser makers that can still sound just as good, and in some cases even better than the big names.

And they’re all dusty and they’re all just sitting there. There are still plenty of bargains to be had even after the pandemic boom in prices.

The guitar that’s going to sit the longest in a vintage/used guitar store?

An acoustic arch top.

It’s all about the eye with those things, and then people pick them up and play a first position G chord, and realize that there’s no bass.

They were built as “cutters” in a band full of instruments that didn’t occupy that bandwidth.

Chank chank chank all day long…
 

Boreas

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Listen to some old Gillian Welch tunes where David Rawlings plays primarily a small archtop. It may give you an idea how they sound in a vocal mix. While Gillian plays a dread to fill out the tone, he punctuates it. They aren't boomers as much as punchers. Beautiful, full, sustaining chords, not so much. Tend to be more staccato.
 

bottlenecker

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The only advice I would give you on arch tops is that I would never ever have one built.

Mainly, because there are a million of them out there on the used market. Epiphones, Gibsons, Gretsches, and a whole host of lesser makers that can still sound just as good, and in some cases even better than the big names.

And they’re all dusty and they’re all just sitting there. There are still plenty of bargains to be had even after the pandemic boom in prices.

The guitar that’s going to sit the longest in a vintage/used guitar store?

An acoustic arch top.

It’s all about the eye with those things, and then people pick them up and play a first position G chord, and realize that there’s no bass.

They were built as “cutters” in a band full of instruments that didn’t occupy that bandwidth.

Chank chank chank all day long…

It sounds like you haven't played the good ones, and most of the dusty ones aren't, which is why people have them built. There really aren't a lot of really good acoustic archtops out there. There are a lot of guitars that look like archtops, and kind of sound like them, which can be cool with a pickup. Carved top guitars that really sound good acoustically, play good, and aren't falling apart? Slim pickings.


Listen to some old Gillian Welch tunes where David Rawlings plays primarily a small archtop. It may give you an idea how they sound in a vocal mix. While Gillian plays a dread to fill out the tone, he punctuates it. They aren't boomers as much as punchers. Beautiful, full, sustaining chords, not so much. Tend to be more staccato.

Not that this is wrong, but Rawlings plays an oddball small bodied archtop. Not the most typical example.
 

Mjark

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So if you play finger style, you're better off with a flat top. Yamaha makes nice guitars maybe consider taking it to a luthier for some work. A guitar as well made as they are should last a very long time.
 

Boreas

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Not that this is wrong, but Rawlings plays an oddball small bodied archtop. Not the most typical example.
It was the only example that readily came to mind. I have heard plenty of nice archtop music, but it isn't often combined with vocals in the same way a flattop is. Would love to hear more examples though. :)
 

4 Cat Slim

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As others have pointed out, it's a very different sort of sound that sounds best when played
forcefully in an ensemble setting. I think of Freddie Green's playing with the Count Basie Orchestra as
an example of this.

I also know that the heart wants what the heart wants, as we say. Good luck with it!
 

lammie200

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A few things:
Consider what kind of pickup(s) that you want. Dual pickups, single neck pickup, humbucker, single coil, floater, set in, etc.?
Consider laminate versus solid woods. Tame feedback naturally or electronically?
Consider the body dimensions. Fatter/wider for acoustic quality, thinner/narrower for comfort?
Consider scale length.
Consider neck specs, fret specs, etc.

At a two years wait you might want to pick up a production model, or two, before the luthier starts so you can get a feel for what you will discover. Off the top of my head I would say a Guild A-150 Savoy might help.
 
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Wildeman

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I have a BIG old '41 Vega C56 carved top of and totally agree with everything said here. It's a 17" guitar and I have parlor guitars that are louder, that said, it sounds beautiful and I love it, but way different than a flat top. If you really dig into it, it cuts like a knife, but it feels so right...
 




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