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  1. #1

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    Here's a link to Ken Parker's lecture on Saturday Sept, 21, 2019 at the Rocky Mountain Archtop Festival. He covers the history and evolution of archtop guitars and gets into some very interesting stuff about design theory, mechanics, sound, structure, etc.

    Hopefully, this is the right place in the forum to post it:


    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  3. #2

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    Thanks for the link uburoibob. After watching the presentation twice I must say this is one of the best talks on acoustic archtops I have had the pleasure of listening to. I found myself agreeing with almost everything he said with the exception of his thoughts on F- holes. I think the f-hole design can work well provided that the f-holes are well reinforced with some type of extra stiff binding or other reinforcement on the inside surface. I like the traditional look of F- holes so I have some trouble accepting the idea of guitars that don't have them. That being said, I do plan on a build without the use of F- holes as an experiment.

  4. #3
    I built a lot of archtop instruments in the 70s and 80s mostly mandolins and a half dozen guitars . I worked with a well known luthier Bob Givens and learned a lot from him.he worked on the principal that the arch top was similar to a speaker a solid rim a diaphragm the recurve area and a magnet, the area under the bridge, so the area under the bridge was some what thicker than the over all top and the recurve the area out side the F holes was thinner, this principle was taken from measuring a mid 20s loar mandolin. I think that Kens approach is interesting and like Matt I wil l

    do a no F hole build Bob

  5. #4

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    Still unforgotten what Keith Richard reportedly said about Parker‘s “Fly“: “Nice guitar, but why does it have to look like a bleeding assault rifle?“

    Ken Parker‘s reasoning, like most of his lectures, provokes some observations and longer remarks. So, those in a hurry better skip the next three post ...

    In that video, Parker made some very good general statements about the acoustic archtop guitar – as well as he‘s been subject to recurring vague claims!

    If you go just through one article by violin maker Joseph Curtin, published in the STRINGS magazine in April 2006 ( ), you‘ll realize where Parker drew some inspiration from. Pics of his first ‘newer‘ archtop guitar on his website, I think, appeared not before 2007.

    Many violin and archtop guitar makers, once fascinated by the temptation of ultralight instruments, have accepted the fact that the construction, especially the top and back - the neck anyway - of any stringed hollowbody instrument, demands a critical mass to be able to ‘save‘ enough energy transmitted by the strings - if wide dynamic range and best possible tone separation at high volumes is on their target list! The existence of the banjo, and many attempts by violin makers during the last centuries to build ultralight and stiff soundboards (tops made of thin glass, etc.) seem to contradict this and show that different approaches are possible, but the vast majority of violin and archtop guitar players like to stick to the sound traditionally attributed to these instruments - within some limits. Most lightweight and slightly arched guitars, especially the fraction without sound holes in the traditional places near the bridge, do rather sound like flattop steel string guitars, may be fabulous sounding ones, but flattops are what they are, instruments with a different goal setting. That‘s the reason why most of the ultralight builders in introducing statements emphasize that their instruments would be suitable for all musical genres, including more ‘modern‘ ones. While this may be perfectly true, these instruments, due to their construction, show different resonance frequency patterns in comparison to the traditional archtop guitar, a fact which many players of f-hole archtops do not find appealing.

    Fully agreed when Parker says that the archtop guitar would be an instrument completely different from a bowed instrument - it definitely is an instrument of its own! However, more than 80 percent of its construction is borrowed from the violin and mandolin makers, and only the rest originates from guitar makers.

    Depending on whether you put a thin sound post under the bridge, or not, this has a huge influence on the direction in which the bridge is driven, or how the soundboard is moving.

    Originally, in violin making, the sound post was developed to support the top with fighting against the downward forces of the strings - nothing else.
    The sequence of constructional thinking of the old luthiers may have been gone like this, in flippant words:
    -- How do we get more power out of a small stringed body (only gut strings available, no amplification)?
    -- let‘s make a round sound hole in the center of the top, like on a lute, so we‘ll enable a little more air pumping between the out- and inside (though we know that by far most of the air is moved by the wooden surface)
    -- let‘s make the body arched so that it will withstand fatter strings and higher string forces
    -- let‘s take a horsehaired bow, it will transmit much more energy to the strings, in a continual way, compared to plucked instruments
    -- oh, that bow is a really ingenious invention, but somehow forces us to make a quite tall bridge for being able to play on a single string, plus even two cutouts at the waist of the violin, to restrict to only four strings, etc.
    -- oh, our tall bridge puts a high downward pressure on the top, for better withstanding let‘s make some higher arches, or add a bit more wood mass to the top, and put a small post between the top and the back, just put very loosely
    -- oh, fine, we discovered we could also use the sound post as a sensitive ‘fine-tuner‘ to improve some of the instrument‘s tonal imperfections
    -- damn, the center sound hole is right in the middle of where the main string forces are acting on the top, which has to withstand a substantial amount of longitudinal compression under the strings as well (while the back is stressed by tension), good that we made this sophisticated arched construction and didn‘t stick with a thin and flat top that would easily warp and fold straight below or behind the bridge, if not heavily braced
    -- let‘s make an even higher arch - hell, no, we don‘t like to carve like slaves, so we just add a longitudinal tonebar reinforcement under the strings and put some slim, elongated sound hole near the bridge
    -- wait a moment, most people like symmetry, so we decided to use two symmetrical sound holes on the left and right of the bridge; a simple C-shape looks too primitive, let‘s use cryptical and long f-holes shapes, so we can give our arched top some flexibility back, and uncouple it from the rims
    -- nice, our tall bridge moves longitudinally back and forth, and rotates sideways around the fulcrum of the sound post [thus preventing any potential 'phase cancelations' that the two soundboard halves could be subject to on an instrument with a sound post], etcetc.

    You can also play 'pizzicato' on a violin (sound post equipped), and somewould be surprised to hear how powerful this could be - it‘s just not the traditional musical approach:

    Naturally, a sound post will take some ‘sustain‘ off the vibrating top, though not as much as you may think: if a post would be appropriately fitted, it could be hard to discern it on an archtop guitar, which, by deliberate construction, is not a priori meant to be a sustaining wonder. I hear you bebop players … Also a nicely carved acoustic double bass, plucked, like is common in jazz, can have a decent and sufficient sustain (or little decay, if you like).

    Some will ask why carved mandolins (think of the Gibson F-4 and F-5 models), ‘sound_post_free‘ instruments comparable to violins in size and tuning, may sound a bit louder and more powerful than plucked violins. The answer is: mandolins have four courses of two adjacent strings, are played with a pluck, they sport metal frets, and are often played using the tremolo technique!

    If a comparable body size is given, the presence, or absence, of a small and soft sound post, plus the movements of the bridge, are hardly significant for the overall tonal result. All guitars benefit from a comparably low and stiff (less moving) bridge, defining hard the string length.
    The fretless instruments of the violin family need a tall, thin, comparably soft (i.e., strong moving) maple bridge; the corresponding string length can also be defined by the finger intonation – that‘s also why string compensation on the bridge is hardly an issue.

    And the following …
    [the pic below relates to my next but one post - ah, well, hard to accept that forum softwares are still more limited than human spirits!]
    Attached Images Attached Images Ken Parker at the Rocky Mountain Archtop Festival-lang-sm7-super-sdl-jpg 
    Last edited by Ol' Fret; 10-07-2019 at 07:25 AM.

  6. #5

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    Some of Parker‘s statements are cloudy, for example: "Don‘t put f-holes in it!"
    Well, any good violin maker spends a considerable part of the time working on the soundboard for making a really fine edge; for some it is even something like an obsession. Here a video of how they scrape a part of the area between the f-holes and the edge:

    Parker is not quite correct when claiming that the “f-holes effectively disable this whole part of the guitar.“ First, that part is not dead - if carved carefully enough it is also showing resonance frequencies, and, second, the f-holes play an important role in uncoupling the vibrating top from the sides, in combination with the recurve: you don‘t want to lose energy by vibrations of the rims. Third, if Mr. Parker is afraid that the theoretical maximal vibrating area of his soundboards could be reduced by cutting f-holes in it, why not just take a wider board, like 17", or bigger, and compensate for that? The probably inconvenient answer would be: it‘s much harder to make a really good sounding 17+" acoustic archtop guitar with a wide dynamic range than a 16" one. And it wouldn‘t be longer a very light guitar.

    There is that nice story, touched on in the video, that Ken himself likes to spread: Before Parker gave up his workshop on Long Island in the seventies, he brought his last guitar to Jimmy D‘Aquisto. D‘Aquisto looked at it for a long time. He turned it around in his hands, marvelling at its ingenuities – the adjustable tailpiece, the asymmetrical top, the unorthodox bracing – then gave it back to Parker. "A use doesn‘t exist for that guitar," he told him. "A use would have to be invented for it." Thirty years later, Parker said, he still wasn‘t sure whether he should have felt encouraged or forewarned. D‘Aquisto‘s answer, most likely, would have been "Both".

    Another quite controversial, vague topic in the violin, the more in the archtop guitar world, is the mysterious “tap tuning“ procedure, much to be said on.

    Talking about Chladni patterns and Carleen Hutching‘s teaching, I‘ve just read about what the Hutching‘s disciple Alan Carruth has recently been answering on a similar Parker presentation: MIMF • View topic - f holes

    Any information about tap tuning is mostly very arbitrary. Tap tones and a certain stiffness just get the maker in the ballpark. He/she has to decide when to stop thicknessing, and what the archings, fundamental for sound, look like. Some use to record the plate modes. Other makers have been taught to thickness by flexing and sustain, by way of "here, feel this!"
    Many experienced makers flex the plates by hand (flexing across and along the grain, and twisting slightly) to judge ‘absolute stiffness‘ (or bending stiffness) of the plate as carved.
    It‘s not about some absolute pitch, but rather a design parameter, where the plate has reached a certain stiffness to weight ratio. The most thickness sensitive areas for glued together plates are along their edges because that is where most of the bending occurs during vibration. Free plates are the opposite, and thinning the edges doesn‘t change much on such modes. Nevertheless, many luthiers measure the free plates.
    Tapping (and/or recording the modes) or flexing the plates (building for stiffness) are just two sides of the same medal. The relation between tapping and flexing is easy to understand: if you‘re thinning out a plate, its tap tone will get – now what, higher or lower? The answer (lower is correct) is just one of the quick questions by which you can get to know if someone has a bit experience on that matter, or not.


    Last edited by Ol' Fret; 10-07-2019 at 06:01 AM.

  7. #6

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    Thanks to my friend HR whom I‘ve recently been lucky to help a tiny little bit, I understand roughly the thinking of a trained violin maker and fine luthier, here Artur Lang, and what Lang did in terms of thicknessing the plates, and ‘reworking‘ the masterly prefabricated and stockpiled tonebars - if necessary - after gluing them on the top.
    We‘re at Parker guitars and theories, why do I point to Lang? Well, during his long "main" working period, Lang did all the essential work himself in his workshop, and this in a consistent and consequent way, probably unique in the small archtop guitar world. So, if there‘d be a candidate for researching consistently fine and prolific archtop guitar making, it certainly would be Lang.
    Though all of Lang‘s large-bodied Venetian cutaway models (all carved, most custom-made, at least, in terms of neck shaping) show some minor differences, the bodies share more or less identical construction and dimensions.
    It‘s easy to hear differences between the Super de Luxe model (with elegant and elongated f-holes) and the Super models (with the famous split sound hole design that later D'Aquisto got to love).

    However, after all this is said, it is confusing to experience that a special Lang model with small rectangular sound holes just around two mini-humbuckers (think of the ten built Guild Acousti-Lectrics models), sounds really about the same as the Super, in terms of power, loudness, dynamics and timbre! Of course, the structural weakness caused by centered pickup/sound hole cutouts in the most critical top area was compensated by an internal longitudinal bar that doesn‘t touch or affect the soundboard in a negative way, and also bears the pickup weight.
    What I like to demonstrate is that long f-style sound holes do matter in archtop guitar making, and Lang had a reason why he called his f-hole models the Deluxe models. In his last years, after approximately 1968, he made only these f-hole Deluxe archtops, next to some special custom models that Lang had always been famous for.
    You can also see that Lang, trained at the former Schönbach violin making school, spared neither trouble nor expense to achieve very nice arches, recurves and edges:
    [embed here the pic at the end of my first post above]

    Ken Parker has realized many of the correct targets, features that could help acoustic archtop guitars to stand out. Yet, he mixes his excellent craftmanship with some recognized principles of archtop instrument making, and the promoting of his very “own“ theories and ideas.
    Um, we still have to learn a lot about such guitars, their development may just have started!
    The stressed player and reader might declare now "I don‘t want to know about all these details, just let me play this or that axe!"
    That‘s ok, though – sound is a partnership! You don‘t have it without the player. And you don‘t have it without the instrument. To over- or underate the role of either is misguided.

  8. #7

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    Really interesting stuff Ol' Fret. And the mad fingers video was unbelievable! One thing I found curious was when Parker presses his hand against the soundboard and said if you can't tell the difference in the sound produced then that part of the guitar is simply not important to the sound. I mean it sorta makes sense but I'd like to get other folks' takes on this assertion, particularly from forum luthiers.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Cushman
    Thanks for the link uburoibob. After watching the presentation twice I must say this is one of the best talks on acoustic archtops I have had the pleasure of listening to. I found myself agreeing with almost everything he said with the exception of his thoughts on F- holes. I think the f-hole design can work well provided that the f-holes are well reinforced with some type of extra stiff binding or other reinforcement on the inside surface. I like the traditional look of F- holes so I have some trouble accepting the idea of guitars that don't have them. That being said, I do plan on a build without the use of F- holes as an experiment.
    I like traditional F holes without question and the ones that do not have not to my ears been better sounding guitars. I think to nail sound probably best not to reinvent the wheel but make a better wheel. That to me is in the carving a graduations so the tops response has the builder wants it too...……… for sure and art for sure. I also like regular inlay in that it is block or split block and has symmetry, please no tree of life inlay or dragons ect…. that is an immediate turn off.

  10. #9
    With you on F holes Mark, Kens guitars to me sound like loud flat tops . does any one play straight ahead jazz on one?

  11. #10

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    The main difference between flat top and archtop to me is the energy release mechanism from the strings. Trapeze tailpiece creates more downward pressure at the bridge which results in quicker release of energy (with more up down movement), hence the need for arching for increased structural support. This results in a punchier tone with more mids and less sustain. Flat tops with their stop tails and steep back angle result in a more gradual release of energy (with a rocking motion of the saddle). Hence the zingy, sustaining overtones of the treble strings.I'm sure this is all obvious to most here. So, I don't understand why Ken Parker compares archtops with flattops in terms of versatility. Someone who grow up playing flattops and listening to flat top music is not going to see light weight, efficient archtops as an improvement. They are apples and oranges.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 10-08-2019 at 07:38 AM.

  12. #11

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    Flatops have very neutral midrange and more low and highs in my overall opinion. Stratocasters are the same in solidbody guitars. Archtops in the Gibson tradition have more mids to them ,just like the ES-335 in the electric semi hollow design.I prefer the the Gibson thicker tops either acoustically or with pickup floating or built in to them. That is the tone we always heard by most of the famous guitarists o recordings. And it still sounds warmer than the thinner carved archtops like Ken Parker seems to build.I'm quite sure they are works of art,and maybe in a Solo guitar setting sound fabulous ! But there is just something about an L-5CES or Johnny Smith that rocks my world. Didn't hurt that Wes,J.S., etc played them either.

  13. #12

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    At 36:56 in the video, Parker describes what he considers to be the main coupling between the archtop string and the bridge. His explanation is simply wrong. Yes, the mechanism he describes does exist but is only of minor importance and could not possibly transfer the fundamental frequency of the string. The actual major coupling between string and bridge is the force perpendicular to the top which is required to send the reflected wave back along the string. There is a similar sideways force which couples more weakly to the body because the bridge/body combination is much stiffer and less sensitive acoustically parallel to the top.