Vintage archtop guitars

Discussion in 'Other Guitars, other instruments' started by Oldsmobum, Apr 11, 2021.

  1. knavel

    knavel Tele-Meister

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    To my recollection over my life I've had:

    -3x Gretsch (circa 1939, late 40s and 1954)
    -Harmony Cremona (high end 1950s)
    -Silvertone

    All gone and not missed save my brother still has his Gretsch Corsair (early 50s).

    To me they were all staccato and lacked low end. Some people like them, I just sold the last Gretsch I had about 6 months ago (late 40s Synchromatic, looked like the George Michael one). I had to have the neck reset on that to be able to get £1000 out of it. Fortunately here that's a £200 job if you know where to look. It actually sounded almost good--the buyer was delighted.

    Pre war some Gretsch archtops are solid spruce topped. Mine may well have been but I didn't think of those things at the time I sold it.

    There are often 2-3 archtops of the Kay, Harmony and Silvertone variety of Skopgoodwil. But search by brand not the word "archtop".

    Here is the pre war Synchro. I stupidly used to actually use eBay only for auctions and this one with original case but needing neck set went for $750. Tortoise binding too which doesn't rot.
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  2. Old Smokey

    Old Smokey Tele-Meister

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    4E2A5CED-A93C-4680-9922-0C77C0BB5D49.jpeg This is my 1970 Framus 5/51. It has served me well; got it for $400. More folk/blues than jazz really.

    There is a 1930’s Kalamazoo KG 21 on Reverb right now for $1000 and it’s already had $500 worth of work done to it. It’s in West Chester, PA if you’re trying to play it first.
     
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  3. jayyj

    jayyj Tele-Afflicted

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    The difficulty with old archtops is they vary so much, even sticking to one model, you don't really know what you're going to get until you have it in hand. I've had a bunch over the years, got it down to two great ones, both around the $1k mark.

    The first is an Epuphone Blackstone with the lacquer stripped off the top. I believe these were carved top, laminated back and sides. I bought it in Seattle, spent a day or so trying a dozen guitars and the Epi came out joint first - with a Gibson L-7 that was pushing $5k the other winner, making the Epi seem a bargain. It's lovely, very sweet and works well for fingerpicking Americana as well as straight up jazz chops.

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    Then there's this year's addition, an early Musima Record 15. These were made in the GDR and they're incredible guitars, with a unique construction that's flat in the centre and deeply dished around the edges - the design was orginally conceived by a guy called Wenzel Rossmeisl, whose son Roger would become an influential figure at Rickenbacker and other US makers - if you've heard the term German Carve, this is where it originated. Musima Records were made in Wenzel's Markneukirchen workshop but by point it had been seized by the East German government, Musima being a state owned entity that went on to produce a huge number of guitars. Anyway, it's a fantastic guitar, very clear and percussive sounding. That metal strip in the fingerboard is a pickup, buried inside the neck.

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  4. hamerfan

    hamerfan Tele-Meister

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    Under the name of L7 are construction wise two different models (elevated fretboard). The later one is just a plainer L5 and is therefore much more expensive.
     
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  5. RadioFM74

    RadioFM74 Friend of Leo's

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    So, if I get it right you're looking for an acoustic arch top with that 20s-30s sound (and looks) for under 1K$. I've been EXACTLY in your shoes a few years ago: I needed one for my swing big band, with good acoustic sound and a good solo voice with a DeArmond pickup. Ended up with two, and now looking for a third one more upmarket ;D I'll keep my comments as short as my enthusiasm for archtops allows. In my view, you have three options.

    1. Modern production, budget archtops. As many pointed out already, and as swing expert extraordinaire Jon Stout never fails to underscore, a Loar LH-600 or LH-700 is your ONLY bet at a modern production carved top acoustic archtop in that price bracket. I have a LH-700 and love it: it looks wonderful and sounds exactly like it must. QC concerns with Loar tend to concern very early production or lower models although you can never rule out having to do a bit of work. I got mine used for 500€ which, I realize, was a steal. It's worth a lot more than that. I point out two issues: (1) availability and (2) true to its origin and intent of copying a 20s L-5, it has a HUGE V neck. IME: a dream for playing Freddie Green chords, a nightmare for barré chords.

    -- None of the "modern" competitors is even in the same ballpark acoustically: surely not the Epiphone Masterbilt, not the Gretsch "New Yorker" (although I find it's 20s looks appealing), not the Gretsch Synchromatic, most certainly not the D'Angelico EXL. If you want modern production, but dislike the big V neck of the Loar, I'd suggest a Guild A-150 Savoy. It has a more common C neck, comes with a nice repro DeArmond pickup, looks spectacular, and despite having a pressed top has a pretty loud voice.

    2. Old low-tier Epiphone. No two ways about it, if you want to go vintage at or just above your price bracket you have to consider Zeniths or, a little upwards, Blackstones. You might get one at your price, and it might be head and shoulders above any comparable modern production guitar – they were all carved top. But bear in mind that these were Epiphone's amateur-grade instruments. While Epiphone in the 30s and 40s was a company incapable of putting out duds, they'll be 80-90 yo by the time you put your mitts on them! Note that for some more money you could get the deal of the century with a Spartan (Epiphone 16", all-carved response to the L4) or with a Triumph (a top-of-the-line 17" guitar in all save aesthetic appointments – and they're still DAMN BEAUTIFUL).

    -- Gibson's offer is distinctly less attractive in your price bracket. If memory serves L-48 and L-50s were not carved top and did not have a suspended fretboard. L-4s are great but they cost much more than Spartans. Let's not even talk about L-7s and L-5s…

    3. Minor brand vintage. This can also be a promising avenue. Höfners and other German Schlaggitarren can be great. Vegas can be great, on par with the best or almost. Other brands less so. But before you buy anything you need to do a lot of research on obscure specs to understand what it is you're buying – not to mention issues of provenance and condition. I got me a lovely '53 Höfner 465 and like it a lot: a nice carved-top 16.5" blonde. But I discovered after the fact and despite manic research that it has an extremely narrow nut and no truss-rod! I'm ok with that – forget about chord melody, it's got a big chunky C neck that's super-comfortable for chording and single note soloing. So it's become my bread-and-butter guitar for big band gigs (while the Loar gets played way more for chord melody). But many other guitarists would have been bitterly disappointed! I think I have a file somewhere about German archtops and if you PM I'll dig it up for you, but it does not catch that level of detail!

    Hope this helps! Happy quest! (Below, my two archtops of course in the company of my real swing showpiece: a '46 Epiphone Zephyr amp… don't get me started on that… )

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  6. KyAnne

    KyAnne Tele-Afflicted

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    Those old Kays and Harmonys were mostly rubbish. With the Black Diamond strings they had "back in the day", they'd cut your fingers to the bone marrow. For $1000, I think you can do a lot better than either of those!
     
  7. El Marin

    El Marin Friend of Leo's

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    Had a Loar LH-300, not bad, played a Gretsch not bad, Now I play this. Is the best. A friend of mine sold a vintage Gibson and got another

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  8. sloppychops

    sloppychops Tele-Holic

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    I have its sister:
    zenith.jpg
     
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  9. Oldsmobum

    Oldsmobum Tele-Holic

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    So far, a few options are:

    -the 1937 Kalamazoo kg-21 mentioned above, 1000+ tax and shipping. 3000 miles away

    -a Harmony Cremona (carved top, maple back and sides) that has had a neck reset, fret dressing, as well as some cleating to repair some separations in the back (is this a big deal?) it’s the cheapest, at $600. It’s somewhat local and I could possibly play it

    -a 1947 Epiphone Blackstone. It has been drilled for a Jack, and a tone and a volume knob. Supposedly everything else is cherry, and I could see this one in person too. $1350, might be able to negotiate this down a bit

    does anyone have any opinions?
     
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  10. JRapp

    JRapp Tele-Holic

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    Some of the old-time budget guitars are going for big $$$, esp. models with P13 pickups or the larger upscale models. They have a certain cachet for swing/blues guys and they get a big fat tone that fits their bag. Unfortunately for their retro desire for minute detail, very few if any of the original blues and swing guitarists played these models.
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2021
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  11. RomanS

    RomanS Poster Extraordinaire

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    Either of the ones you could try...
     
  12. Oldsmobum

    Oldsmobum Tele-Holic

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    Funny you mentioned the pompadours and pleats, because I used to know an old guy who would tease a buddy of mine for dressing like that. Better yet is when the girls wear pleated pants and pompadours...

    I watched a demo video of one of those p13 equipped harmonies, and it sounded REALLY good. However I also wonder how much had to do with the guy who was playing it...
     
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  13. JRapp

    JRapp Tele-Holic

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    I deleted some of that slag, but really...I have had a few P13 guitars and they do get that sound, but that's pretty much it. And they have a unique construction that does not suffer abuse easily. There's a reason Gibson sold the design to Harmony/Silvertone/etc after 1 or 2 years of using them in favor of the P90 in 1946.
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2021
  14. jayyj

    jayyj Tele-Afflicted

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    I've had two of the three, and still have the Blackstone. The Blackstone is one of the nicest archtops I've come across - it's sweet but loud, percussive enough to do jazz rhythm work, warm enough to play blues and ragtime. The Kalamazoo was very enjoyable to play, although they're quite small (L-00 sized) so they won't quite get you into the classic acoustic archtop territory. I'd still take a KG21 over a modern Loar or Epiphone, they're lively sounding guitars.

    I'd be cautious of the Harmony. If you can play one in person you might find it has something you like about it, but on the whole I've found them to be pretty thin sounding and the necks can feel pretty clumsy.

    Of the three, particularly if you can try it first to be sure, I'd say go for the Blackstone. It's a carved top, it's a decent sized body, they're very well made and it'll hold its value.
     
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  15. SackvilleDan

    SackvilleDan Tele-Holic Gold Supporter

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    Another vote for an L-48 - mine's a '56 and in incredible shape (neck reset, refret and tuners are not original, but at $1,000 I assume you're not concerned about that)...

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  16. glen851

    glen851 TDPRI Member

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    I also recommend the Loar LH700 and the Guild Savoy. The Loar definitely has the 20s-30s archtop sound and feel. It's an almost exact copy of a 1928 Gibson (forget the model).
    The first one I bought 5 years ago, needed a bit of bridge work and a good proper setup. Loved it but sold it...then regretted it! Got another last year, still needed bridge and setup. Not as nice as the first, but a keeper.
    The Guild is great. Changed the chrome hdwr to gold (just because) and upgraded the deArmond to the gold. Unique sound.
     
  17. fathand

    fathand TDPRI Member

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  18. RomanS

    RomanS Poster Extraordinaire

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    Oh, so they do make the LH300 again? It was definitely off the Loar site for a while, and not available for sale...
     
  19. Skyscraper1952

    Skyscraper1952 TDPRI Member

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    138FEC8E-7E42-42C0-B72B-157F6CEBE602.jpeg 6B249F7B-F9E7-497E-A196-8D6CD12BF271.jpeg

    I was lucky to find this 1943 Harmony Cremona V. It’s in near mint condition. I had to replace the tailpiece as it was originally wood and had dried up and would not hold the strings. The pick guard is made of the same wood as the tail piece was. The top is hand carved spruce (it says so inside with the date 5/43) and the back and sides are Birdseye maple. Amazingly the neck is straight and the action is very playable for a neck that does not have a truss rod. I added the D’Armond “monkey on a stick” pickup so I could perform with the instrument. Every guitarist who has played it says it’s one of the best sounding guitars they have played, the jazz guys love it! Oh, and I paid $100 for it before adding the tailpiece and pickup. It’s one of my favorite guitars.
     
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  20. sxl213

    sxl213 TDPRI Member

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    The off shore guitars may use funky lacquers that don't feel right - neck lacquers. I have enjoyed old domestic made Guilds that do not have this issue. But, under $1k, will be hard to find.
     
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