Archtop Guitar Kits
- L-5® style Guitar Kit (G130 Guitar Kit)
- 335 ES® style Semi-Hollow Body Kit
- 175 ES® style Hollow Body Kit
- LP® style Semi-Hollow Body Kit
These guitar kits are a lot of fun to put together and can be played both electric and acoustically in most cases.
In the following article, we’ll take a closer look at archtop guitars and guitar kits, the styles of music they are best suited to and how they differ to the more traditional solid-body electric guitar in terms of construction, design, and suitability to specific styles of music.
We’ll also cover the semi-hollow and hollow body archtop guitar kits currently available, including the famous guitars they are based upon.
What is an archtop guitar?
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, including models such as the Gibson L5® and ES 175®. Others consider any guitar that does not feature a ‘flat top’ an archtop guitar, placing guitars such as the Les Paul® also in the ‘archtop’ category also.
For the purpose of this article we’ll consider archtop guitars, as hollow or semi-hollow body instruments that feature an ‘arched’ top, but don’t worry we’ll still be discussing a Les Paul® variant toward the end of the article that generates a lot of interest amongst kit guitar builders.
A brief history of the archtop guitar
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.
First conceived of by Orville Gibson, founder of Gibson guitars. Patent number 598,245 (shown below) was issued on February 1, 1898, and shows what appears to be an archtop mandolin, but was also applicable to other stringed instruments, including the guitar.
This patent has largely been recognized as Gibson’s, first foray into archtop construction.
Styles of music associated with archtop guitars
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.
Archtop Guitar Construction and Design
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.
Available Archtop Guitar Kits
While there are many different types of archtop guitars available, the archtop guitar kits currently on offer at guitarkitworld.com are based on some of the more iconic models seen through the years including:
The G130 is loosely based on the Gretsch While Falcon®, famously played by rockabilly stalwarts such as Eddie Cochran and Brian Seltzer (Stray Cats) and later by artists such as Billy Duffy (Cult) and John Frusciante (Red Hot Chilli Peppers).
Considered one of the more visually appealing guitars of its time, the guitar was designed as a showpiece for Gretsch guitars and first displayed at the 1954 National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) show.
An interesting aspect of the white Falcon® and many other archtop guitars is the raised pickguard. As the pickguard partially obscures the F hole found on the underside of the guitar, the pickguard is raised to prevent dampening of the sound emanating from the body of the guitar.
The 335 ES guitar kit is based on Gibson’s ES 335®, played by the likes of Chuck Berry and more recently Dave Grohl, who plays a signature version of the 335 known as the DG335 featuring diamond-shaped soundholes as opposed to the standard F-hole design.
Perhaps the most iconic guitarist to play the 335 is the legendary blues guitarist BB King, who famously named his 335’s Lucille. Lucille’s features no F-holes at BB King’s request, to minimize feedback.
Less associated with jazz and rockabilly as other guitars featured, the 335 is a semi-hollow body guitar. The bridge affixes to a solid piece of maple running through the middle of the guitar (as opposed to the soundboard) with the top being constructed from laminate ply.
Laminate ply is often found in semi-hollow and hollow-body guitars, due to being less prone to feedback than solid wood, a problem that otherwise plagues hollow-body instruments when amplified.
The 175 ES® is based on Gibson’s ES 175®. Interestingly, the 175 had been in production since 1949 until being recently discontinued in 2019.
The 175 is manufactured completely from laminate, in an attempt to lower manufacturing costs at the time. The 175 features a Tune-o-Matic bridge and trapeze style tailpiece mounted on the surface of the guitar, and therefore not requiring routing or drilling.
Easily one of the more popular guitar kits available at guitarkitworld.com over a number of years the LP® hollow body is based on the Gibson custom Florentine® which in itself is based largely on the Les Paul, although with a slightly sharper cutaway.
The Florentine was first introduced in the early ’90s and is essentially a Les Paul® featuring a chambered body. Part of the guitar’s appeal is the lighter weight of the guitar compared to Les Pauls which are considered heavy by anyone’s standards.
While popular amongst kit guitar builders, the Florentine is a less well-known guitar in its own right.
Archtop guitars have been a popular guitar shape for a wide range of guitarists, and while mainly spotted in the hands of jazz guitarists such as Pat Methany, artists such as Dave Grohl, BB King, and even Eric Clapton have all used archtop guitars at one point or another throughout their careers, and providing evidence that the humble archtop is a lot more versatile than most people give credit for.
Having assembled and finished several archtop guitar kits myself personally, I can attest that they are a lot of fun to work on and even better to play.