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  1. #1

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    I'm a builder of acoustic archtop guitars. I've sold a couple, but it's really just a hobby. I often hear that players' tastes are shifting toward smaller-sized instruments, like 16" or even 15" lower bouts. This makes sense to me for guitars that are going to be amplified, but not so much for acoustic archtops. I've built smaller ones, even a parlor-sized one, and they have a pleasant enough sound, but to me it's just not as full and rich as the standard 17". So I thought I'd ask what people here think - are you willing to sacrifice some of the sound of a larger instrument to get the smaller size?

    Thanks,
    John

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  3. #2

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    There is a difference between guitars meant to be played amplified and those meant to be played purely acoustically. Duh! These days, purely acoustic instruments are very much in the minority, and most are used with pickups, either set or floating. Once you add a pickup, the pure acoustic sound becomes much less important. Smaller guitars are lighter, easier to play for most, and take up less space. This can become a factor if you fly with an instrument regularly. The best size depends on one's needs and preferences, and one size does not fit all. But I would guess that these days one size does fit most, and that size is smaller than it was in the early 1930s.

  4. #3

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    For me 16' is the best solution, nice acoustic sound, comfortable to play and easy on the feedback. 17' are great, but they do give you more troubles when playing live, especially when the room is not ideal.

  5. #4

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    Yeah 16" is comfortable for me sitting or standing
    only playing out electric tho
    my 16" lam has enough warmth for me
    (TI 13 flats with a bigger top string)

    Thinking getting into some more modern sounds
    with a bit of grit , lighter strings , for a bit of bending etc

    so I'm wondering about a smaller , but still hollow guitar

  6. #5

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    I often find the smaller acoustic archtops to be punchier. If one is looking for that, the smaller guitar could be a good choice, although I have a 16” 1933 L-7 that is a very even and full sounding guitar.

    That being said, most of the small vintage archtops I’ve sold in the last few years have gone to people that are not playing jazz with them. This is just for me personally, and it probably has something to do with being in Appalachia, but I can trace a lot of it to David Rawlings and his Epiphone Olympic (he recently got a ‘59 D’Angelico Excel, but the Olympic has been his staple for many years).

  7. #6

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    Give me an 18 inch Archtop any day over the others. If made correct will simply have more acoustic sound and otherwise can be carved to get what a 17 or 16 would do. At 19 they can get out of hand with some types of playing.

    Now that said I am 6'2" and the large guitar just sits much better for me. It is not a trend for sure but I have been going against the grain most of my guitar life. For me the acoustic nature of the guitar and that sound is the most important and plugging in to amp is simply something else I have to deal with and get sound. That however is secondary I want acoustic sound.

    I look at the guitar like a piano player. They still like big Steinway Grands. Also sometimes I want to hand a guitarist an acoustic guitar of any kind and ask them to play, it all I have ever heard them play is electric.
    specializing in repair and setup, does your guitar play like it should?

  8. #7

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    It pretty much depends on the gig for me : when playing solo, duo or trio gigs without drums my 16" lamtop Trenier is the perfect choice since it's light, responsive and just easy to handle. For gigs with drums and horns or with my organ trio I prefer either my 17" thinline Victor Baker (also a lamtop) or - if the stage is roomy enough and the venue is "safe" I take my 18" Super-400. That is a large and heavy guitar and I def. need a stool on stage but it gives me the punchiest, fattest and loudest tone (no feedback issues) of all my archtops - regardless whether I'm soloing or comping (which is my primary role in many bands) .

    It's a different situation when you want a guitar for around the house - a 15" is so much more comfy on the sofa !

  9. #8
    Thanks for the responses. I know that purely acoustic archtops are a tiny niche, but I call it home! IMHO, good acoustic instruments make poor electric instruments (and vice versa). I realize lots of players need to cover both, but in an ideal world each instrument would be optimized for one or the other. Maybe I'll give the 15" size another try, to see if I can coax more sound out of it. That's where the fun is in making these things. I actually like the sound I got from my parlor-size archtop with parallel bracing - very punchy, but not very versatile. 16" seems like too much of a compromise, though I realize that's the sweet spot for many.

    Thanks again,
    John

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by coldfingers View Post
    Thanks for the responses. I know that purely acoustic archtops are a tiny niche, but I call it home! IMHO, good acoustic instruments make poor electric instruments (and vice versa). I realize lots of players need to cover both, but in an ideal world each instrument would be optimized for one or the other. Maybe I'll give the 15" size another try, to see if I can coax more sound out of it. That's where the fun is in making these things. I actually like the sound I got from my parlor-size archtop with parallel bracing - very punchy, but not very versatile. 16" seems like too much of a compromise, though I realize that's the sweet spot for many.

    Thanks again,
    John
    Actually I don't necessarily believe that good acoustic guitars ( archtops) make poor electric guitars. It depends on the pickup used and where it is placed. Helps to have polepieces set up correct and good strings. Case in point, my 1949 D'angelico NY sounds like a piano when played acoustically, warm with a deep bass response and even all the way up the neck. It never loses sound as you go up the neck. That is a sign of a guitar top carved very good. I have a Dearmond 1100 on this guitar and played electrically it has a gorgeous sound that may well be my favorite electric sound. My 1979 Barker is in the same camp. It has a wonderful sound in both settings.

    I think the problem is that some guitars such as huge Strombergs and Epiphone Emperors are made so that they produce huge volume but do not respond well to single line playing of a more delicate touch. To me that means the guitar was not carved to it best response but rather made large to produce loud sound. These two things are not mutually exclusive but require the competent of guitar makers and that is where the ART of carving a top is all about, not science.
    specializing in repair and setup, does your guitar play like it should?

  11. #10

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    I would think that the only diffrence between a 18" to a 15" lower bout would only be how loud it is, the resonance and quality of sound is more in the way the top is cravrved and how it is braced, along with the bridge and saddel.

  12. #11

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    This big Levin Deluxe excels at acoustic and electric tone, and that’s an original Kjell pickup that does the electric lifting. Who knows who carved the top, but that Swede nailed it.

  13. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by JaxJaxon View Post
    I would think that the only diffrence between a 18" to a 15" lower bout would only be how loud it is, the resonance and quality of sound is more in the way the top is cravrved and how it is braced, along with the bridge and saddel.
    I respectfully disagree. Perceived "loudness" is a complex subject, but it has a lot to do with frequency range. A smaller instrument, voiced to emphasize the upper-mid frequency range (roughly 2.5khz - 4khz) may well sound louder than a larger instrument with a wider frequency response. The air resonance and main (monopole) top resonance both change significantly with the volume and width of the instrument. There is a reason that violins, cellos and double basses are the sizes they are.

  14. #13

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    [QUOTE=coldfingers;967038]I respectfully disagree. Perceived "loudness" is a complex subject, but it has a lot to do with frequency range. A smaller instrument, voiced to emphasize the upper-mid frequency range (roughly 2.5khz - 4khz) may well sound louder than a larger instrument with a wider frequency response. The air resonance and main (monopole) top resonance both change significantly with the volume and width of the instrument. There is a reason that violins, cellos and double basses are the sizes they are.[/QUOT


    Archtop guitars are not made like violins. They have no sound post completely different way the respond, the back of guitar is used as a violin would.
    specializing in repair and setup, does your guitar play like it should?

  15. #14
    deacon Mark, thank you for letting me know that archtop guitars are not made like violins. I'm sure that insight will improve my work.

  16. #15

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    coldfingers:
    You asked two separate questions:
    1. Are smaller archtops really the trend?
    2. ....Are you willing to sacrifice some of the sound of a larger instrument to get the smaller size?

    I suspect the answer is yes to both questions.

    While I don't worry about the future of archtop guitars, I think that a variety of factors have moved the marketplace toward smaller archtops.
    While CES-style as well as acoustic sound is affected by body size, I think it's easier to discuss this in terms of high-quality acoustic archtops. IMO, one of the first things to consider is that most players interested in archtops have never and will never have the opportunity to play high-quality fully carved, acoustic archtop guitars, so they will simply never know what they are missing. Most of the available instruments are and will be electrified. Large-scale makers much prefer to make smaller guitars. Same for small builders. It's easier, cheaper, faster, with fewer structural or wood quality issues. And it's MUCH easier, cheaper, and faster to make laminated archtops. So it's not in the best interests of large-scale makers to encourage consumers to learn about high-quality fully carved, acoustic archtop guitars, new or old.

    This makes it all-the-easier to "sacrifice some of the sound of a larger instrument to get the smaller size." Ignorance is bliss. As well, the sound of acoustic carved archtop guitars, large and small, involves complexity and subtlety, neither of which are in the interest of large-scale makers.

    I'm personally not willing to sacrifice
    the sound of a larger instrument to get the smaller size. I have a few excellent-sounding large-bodied acoustic archtops, along with a few excellent-sounding small-bodied acoustic archtops, and they are very different from each other. Small-bodied acoustic instruments simply cannot make the sounds that large-bodied acoustic instruments can make.

    So, I think the market has embraced the shift down in size - for the first 75 or so years in the life of these instruments, there was a reasonable spread of instrument sizes between 16" and 18.5". Now the spread has gone from, what, 14" to 17", despite the fine efforts of Elferink, Triggs, and a handful of others who still offer @18" acoustic carved archtop guitars.

    The other issue is cost. Despite advances in technology that help large-scale as well as small-scale modern luthiery, it is simply more expensive to build acoustic archtop guitars, and the big ones are more expensive to built than the small ones. Most buyers find it difficult to afford or justify the cost of these high-quality instruments. Combined with the onslaught of marketing efforts to convince players of the virtues of cheap laminated and/or pressed archtops, this makes it hard for buyers to understand the value of hand-built, acoustic archtop guitars, while they don't bat an eyelash at the prices of cheaply-built laminated guitars. IMO, the for-sale listings on this forum bear this out.



    Last edited by Hammertone; 07-21-2019 at 10:39 AM.
    "Somebody get me out of this chair." - BOB WILLS
    Hammertone is a registered Hofnerologist.

  17. #16
    Thanks Hammertone. I think I agree with all of that.

  18. #17

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    Just saw this older post, and wanted to chimeAre smaller archtops really the trend?-img_2222-jpg in. I'm a big fan of vintage Epiphones, have several, and play them out often, with a band, using condensor mics for amplification. In particular, I have a '43 Epi Ritz, a lower end model, 15-1/4" lower bout. Being a wartime model, when Epiphone ran short on spruce, it has a poplar top. This guitar sounds great: punchy, a rather sassy or cheeky tone, and lots of volume and cut. Plus, it's a very comfortable size. While my band plays roots music, I play vintage jazz standards with other ensembles. My '47 Blackstone is louder(I think), but the Ritz is charming: I encourage the OP to try one of Epi's '40s model smaller archtops(Ritz, Olympic, Blackstone or Zenith, depending on year of production). I've yet to try, at length, one of the smaller Epis(14-1/4", or 13-1/4"), but hear good things about them. You can see watch a video of me demoing my Ritz(and several other vintage Epis) at my facebook page, David Richard, Luthier.
    Be aware, that these vintage Epis often need maintenance for top playability: my Ritz needed a neck reset, and new frets.