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Guitar Kit World offers a range of archtop guitar kits. 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.
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We’ll also cover the semi-hollow and hollow body archtop guitar kits currently available, including the famous guitars they are based upon.
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.
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.
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.
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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 types of archtop guitars available, here are some of the most well-known archtop kits.
Considered one of the more visually appealing guitars of its time, the Single Venetian Cutaway Hollow Body guitar was designed as a showpiece and first displayed at the 1954 National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) show.
An interesting aspect of the 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.
Perhaps the most iconic guitarist to play the Double Cutaway Semi-Hollow style guitar is the legendary blues guitarist BB King, who famously named his guitar 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, this guitar type 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.
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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 Single Florentine Cutaway Hollow Body guitar is manufactured completely from laminate, in an attempt to lower manufacturing costs at the time. This body type features a Tune-o-Matic bridge and trapeze style tailpiece mounted on the surface of the guitar, and therefore not requiring routing or drilling.
Due to its striking appearance and suitability to almost any genre of music, this semi-hollow body kit has been extremely popular.
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.