Archtop Guitars and Books

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A brief history of the origin and development of the archtop guitar from 1897 to date.

1897 Around this time Orville Gibson had produced the first Archtop guitar in America with an oval sound hole.
1919 Lloyd Loar joined Gibson and began designing their new guitars.
1923 Gibson released the first f-hole Archtop guitar designed by Lloyd Loar. The Gibson L5.
1932 John D’Angelico sets up shop at 40 Kenmare Street in New York City and made some of the finest Archtop guitar to date.
1936 Gibson released its first commercially built electric guitar the ES150 which was played by Charlie Christian.
1949 Gibson releases the ES175 which sold for $175- This guitar had a laminated top instead of the solid carved top and was designed more as an electric guitar than as an acoustic.
1964 John D’Angelico passed away at the age of 59.
1965 Jimmy D’Aquisto a twelve year apprentice of John D’Angelico has taken over the D’Angelico shop at 37 Kenmare Street and was continuing on with the traditional fine work of his master. Later Jimmy would be recognized by many as one of the greatest guitar makers ever. By the 90’s Jimmy had broken new ground in the development of the acoustic Archtop, right up until his death in 1995 which sadly was also at the age of only 59.

The first thing to note about the modern Archtop guitars is that they are not always as responsive as many players might expect when comparing them to flat top guitars. To understand this you need to know a little more about the development history of the Archtop. Around the turn of the 20th century the orchestras etc had begun to introduce the guitar to fatten up their rhythm sections. Now remember, there was no amplification in those days so everything was acoustic. The common flat top guitar of the day did not quite provide what was needed. It was light and responsive but when played loud, became boomy and therefore the centre of sound did not hold together well. The first Archtop design introduced by Orville Gibson in 1897 had an oval hole and was constructed with much thicker timber than a conventional flat top of that time. The top and bottom were carved like a Violin and were more suitable for the appropriate percussive centred bright sound that was required. When played hard and loud, the sound did not break up like the flat top guitar and it was still able to achieve the well centred percussive sound at loud volumes, which was required for the guitar to cut over the top of the orchestra. To accommodate the even louder volume of sound required from a guitar for the big bands, the Archtop soon grew from a 16" Gibson L5 to around 18" and then a rival of Gibson's at that time Stromberg made some Archtops with a very large bout of around 19”.
When electrification and amplification were introduced the Archtop began to shrink again to a size of around 16" for the modern electric Archtop of today. The point of this historical information is to understand how the Archtop guitar at one time was admired for its tone and acoustic ability. Today however, it is no longer appreciated by many in quite the same way. Many modern Archtop guitars that look very traditionally attractive may sound very acceptable when plugged in, but acoustically some of these Archtop guitars often leave a lot to be desired as an acoustic traditional Archtop instrument. It could then be said that the acoustic sound of the Archtop has slowly taken second place to the electrified sound that we hear on most Jazz recordings today.
The traditional Archtop guitars were made with floating adjustable height bridges, so that when the guitarist needed to play louder, they could simply raise the height of the strings, with the use of the bridge height adjustment and avoid fret buzz. In so doing, if it was necessary to raise the strings quite substantially, this might affect the intonation and so then, the floating bridge could be moved slightly backward or forward to correct that problem.
This information should be helpful to evaluate your priorities when looking for an Archtop Guitar.