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Depending on who you speak to, the term ‘archtop guitar’ means different things to different people.
For the purists, the term ‘archtop’ refers to the hollow body acoustic/electric guitars popular during the ’60s in jazz circles and later played by jazz greats such as Pat Methany. Others consider any guitar that does not feature a ‘flat top’ an archtop guitar.
We’ll consider archtop guitars, as hollow or semi-hollow body instruments that feature an ‘arched’ top, generates a lot of interest amongst kit guitar builders.
The design of the archtop guitar borrows heavily from both the violin and mandolin, in terms of the hollow body construction, solid wood arched top and F-holes located on each side of the guitar.
Archtop guitars have long been associated with jazz and rockabilly along with blues and country to a lesser extent.
The archtop’s association with jazz and rockabilly is thought to be mostly due to the bright, clean tones associated with the instrument and the inclusion of a cutaway, providing greater access to the upper frets, found on the majority of archtops.
But perhaps, at least if taking into account the acoustic properties of the guitar, a more fundamental and often overlooked aspect of the archtop’s association with these styles of music has more to do with the ‘arched’ top of the guitar itself.
Traditional acoustic guitars feature a ‘flat top’, most commonly referred to as the soundboard. The timber used is often Spruce e.g. Sitka Spruce or a similarly strong yet lightweight, resonant timber. This provides the guitar with the resonance required to project volume and sustain.
Archtop guitars, mostly being both an acoustic and electric instrument, share some similarities with the acoustic guitar but also feature (as the name implies) an arched top. The top itself is constructed with greater thickness towards the middle of the body, tapering closer to the edges.
The timber used is typically thicker than traditional acoustic soundboards and as a result, some models do not require any form of internal bracing, unlike the acoustic guitar which relies on bracing to cope with the tension caused by the strings on the relatively thin soundboard.
The thicker arched top results in a faster tonal response as sound waves are reflected quickly of the more dense timber, especially when played with a pick. Archtops are also credited with more rapid decay, as opposed to the sustain afforded by the more resonant, flat-top acoustic guitar. The denser nature of the timber, (many models also feature a laminated top), accentuates the response and emphasis on the fundamental tone, with less accentuation of overtones.
Jazz and rockabilly players tend to gravitate to guitars of this nature as one of the features of both styles is the very fast runs and complex chord shapes that rely on great clarity (e.g. more of a focus on the fundamental tone and lack of sustain) for the listener to appreciate the delicate nuances of both styles.
While there are many different types of archtop guitars available, the archtop guitar kits currently on offer at https://www.xuqiumusic.com/ are based on some of the more iconic models seen through the years.
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