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  1. #1

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    I have had the good fortune to play and own a number of top-drawer carved arch tops- Triggs, Hopkins, Holst, Campellone, Heritage, Zimnicke. Wonderful instruments, superb craftsmanship etc. etc. Set up well, generally with .012 gauge strings.

    I also own a '59 L7C and a '51 Epi Triumph Regent- factory guitars, not much bling, been played a ton.

    Both of the vintage instruments, when played unplugged, leave the ALL of new instruments, without exception, in the dust in terms of tone (HUGE) and volume (LOTS). Even with flat wounds. The new instruments sound thin, light, delicate in comparison.

    Is this your experience as well, or do I happen to have anomalous instruments? Is it the age of the wood that makes such a big difference?

    Second part of the question- given that we have access to all manner of amplification, does it even matter what these guitars sound like acoustically? Or is it an apples and oranges kind of thing? I know that some folks are trying to replicate the sound of a traditional instrument being played without amplification, just louder, but for most of us, does amplification make the acoustic sound irrelevant?

    Thanks for your thoughts. Clearly a life or death situation here, counting on the Collective Wisdom of the tribe........

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  3. #2

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    Aged wood is one thing, crystal-hard old glue is another. The second question is trickier - so many variables in the signal chain: player, guitar, bridge, strings, pick, PU, amp, effects and speaker. Whichever the type of amplified music in a band setting, nuances get diluted. Half-acoustic big-band comping might be an exception. Solo chord-melody is where the archtop really stands out, but on this Forum we have had fantastic scores played on premium instruments, and equally fantastic performances on budget archtops. The way I see it, the less amplification, the clearer the advantage of an older instrument. And it wouldn't be me if I didn't point out that the speaker is the most overlooked component in the signal chain; for the complex timbre of a noble (or plain old) archtop, you need a separating speaker excelling on cleans, not one meant to be played on distortion. As in photography, a lens judged by its sharpness and not by how it performs out-of-focus (BOKEH).

  4. #3

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    This leads to a discussion like this one: Trying to solve my frustrations with amplifying a floating pickup guitar

    Electric VS Acoustic guitars. Before amplifiers came along guitars were built for volume. Newer arcbtops are generally a compromise between that and the feedback problems of a livelier instrument.

    The old wood / new wood question is tough to pin down. Also goes to discussion of a guitar that's been played a ton and 'opened up' as we say, and ones that are still...um...stuck? A lot of anecdotal evidence. Not much science.

  5. #4

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    I believe it does matter in an amplified guitar. Question is how much? It’s a fun question.
    Forgetting about everything outside the guitars output jack for a moment, if you trace the output waves from a guitar (using an oscilloscope) just about anything you change in the equation (playing style, pick angle, pickups, electronics parts, wood, age) is going to result in some observable change in the waveforms.

    Question is, how much is the change, and is it audible. The high end audio people make a ton of money convincing people that some micro-volt changes in amplitude or millisecond changes in wave form sound astronomically better. Much like sellers of amazing guitar cables, or boutique resistors.

    Once that (perhaps) observable change gets through the jack and out to all the other electronic, acoustic, and human ear/perceptions I suspect unless it’s quite a change it’s gone. Maybe. I say that because I’ve had my L5 since it was new in 89. There was (to my ears) a mellowing that occurred about 20 years in that made it a much more comfortable guitar to play. But I’ve had the luxury of knowing and playing this one guitar for 30+ years, and with one Walter Woods amp/EVM12L setup pretty much the entire time.

    Google out into the violin world, and you can find pages of university level research trying to answer the old vs new wood question. Their forum fights are as passionate as ours but in general ‘new wood’ to them is like post 1900 lol.

    It’s a fun concept to consider but I doubt any answers other than personal observations will be the rule.

  6. #5

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    unless you play electrically thru well isolated headphones only, the acoustic resonance of the guitar will not only impact the sound, but the way you play

    cheers

  7. #6

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    It matters tremendously if in addition to a pickup you use a mike to capture the acoustic sound so as to be able to blend the two sources - I’ve seen Anthony Wilson do this very successfully on several occasions

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by JazzDaddyD
    I have had the good fortune to play and own a number of top-drawer carved arch tops- Triggs, Hopkins, Holst, Campellone, Heritage, Zimnicke. Wonderful instruments, superb craftsmanship etc. etc. Set up well, generally with .012 gauge strings.

    I also own a '59 L7C and a '51 Epi Triumph Regent- factory guitars, not much bling, been played a ton.

    Both of the vintage instruments, when played unplugged, leave the ALL of new instruments, without exception, in the dust in terms of tone (HUGE) and volume (LOTS). Even with flat wounds. The new instruments sound thin, light, delicate in comparison.

    Is this your experience as well, or do I happen to have anomalous instruments? Is it the age of the wood that makes such a big difference?

    Second part of the question- given that we have access to all manner of amplification, does it even matter what these guitars sound like acoustically? Or is it an apples and oranges kind of thing? I know that some folks are trying to replicate the sound of a traditional instrument being played without amplification, just louder, but for most of us, does amplification make the acoustic sound irrelevant?

    Thanks for your thoughts. Clearly a life or death situation here, counting on the Collective Wisdom of the tribe........
    All else being equal, older guitars have usually been played more and have opened up more in relation to their younger, less-experienced peers. If you believe in this sort of thing, and I do! Seriously. Take two identical models fresh off the curing rack. Put one in the case. Play the other for 20 years. Pull out the case queen and play it. See how it sounds compared to its putative twin (making allowances for the third fret job on the busy guitar). I rest my case.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by citizenk74
    All else being equal, older guitars have usually been played more and have opened up more in relation to their younger, less-experienced peers. If you believe in this sort of thing, and I do! Seriously. Take two identical models fresh off the curing rack. Put one in the case. Play the other for 20 years. Pull out the case queen and play it. See how it sounds compared to its putative twin (making allowances for the third fret job on the busy guitar). I rest my case.

    Indeed .. I've always felt that it takes some time before a guitar sounds the best. Same thing with cymbals actually

  10. #9

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    This probably isn't helpful, but without any proof or research to back this up, I believe the age makes a difference, even though the amp. Completely anecdotal, but my 1993 American Telecaster seems to sound better and better the older it (and myself) get. Even not plugged in, it just sounds good. I could never prove this, but damn I swear this guitar did not sound as good when I first got it, and most brand new Teles I play don't as good as this one (yep, that's totally subjective, I get it).

    To be clear, I'm not talking leaps and bounds here, but it is a noticeable difference (to me).

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by JazzDaddyD
    ...Both of the vintage instruments, when played unplugged, leave the ALL of new instruments, without exception, in the dust in terms of tone (HUGE) and volume (LOTS). Even with flat wounds. The new instruments sound thin, light, delicate in comparison.
    Is this your experience as well, or do I happen to have anomalous instruments? Is it the age of the wood that makes such a big difference?
    I have spent a lot of time considering the differences in sound between older and newer acoustic archtop guitars. While I do think a guitar that has been played a lot can get a more developed sound, I've found that newer acoustic archtop guitars that are built similarly to older acoustic archtop guitars have tended to sound quite similar to them. I believe that it is very specific to the instrument being played and the skill of the builder.
    I suspect that many of the archtop builders active over the past thirty or so years haven't attempted to duplicate the sound of '30s and '40s acoustic archtops. I think that many of the modern builders have done a fine job of making beautiful-looking instruments that play great, and sound fine with pickups, but just aren't that good as acoustic archtop guitars.

    I've had a chance to compare a couple of excellent-sounding Bozeman L-7C guitars to a variety of '30s Gibson Advanced archtops, and they sound remarkably similar. These are very similary constructed guitars. The main difference is that the older guitars sound like they have been played a lot more. I believe that the better acoustic archtops of the '30's and '40s are not bound to any particular era-specific music or style - they are simply great-sounding guitars.

    I also think that acoustic archtops are inexorably bound to body size - 16" archtops simply do not sound like 17" archtops, and so on, just as (even if the tuning is matched) violins do not sound like violas, or alto saxophones like tenor saxophones.
    Last edited by Hammertone; 02-15-2021 at 07:49 PM.

  12. #11

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    +1 what Hammertone said above.


    Modern guitars are often built fundamentally differently than they were 70 or 80 years ago.
    This already applies to the processing of wood: in the past, woods were air-dried, for example, and had to go through several seasonal cycles to prove that they were ideally suited for the use of high-quality instruments. The selection of the woods was a skill that the industry is trying to take on today - but to a large extent from a purely visual and not acoustical point of view. The general level of manual skills in guitar making was higher in the past - the human hand was, still is the tools' tool. A CNC machine, for example, cannot decide whether a certain spruce top or bracing should be made a little thinner or left a little thicker (mass /stiffness ratio) to later present good acoustic properties.

    Today's guitars are often largely uniform commodities, with narrow tolerances due to the machine work, but little acoustic and individual soul. They make it hard to shape your own, individual sounds on the guitar. Yes, then we tend to look for a different pickup or amp or pedal ... On such guitars where the pickup makes up to 90 and more percent of the sound, the customer, for distraction, can then choose between more or less blings, special hardware or a dozen color finishes - but none of this is important for the sound. The acoustically appropriate construction of the guitar plates still has to be laboriously done by hand, although today's CNC milling machines could produce at least the (usually) outer surface of each plate exactly. Some woods are tricky to work on: to mill a fine and aged bearclaw spruce wedge is hard and demands many different steps and directions.
    The result is that the archings have become very flat, the formerly often distinct recurve is only hinted at (the development of the sunburst finish often only fakes a something like a recurve to the player's eye). Even a previously pronounced graduation of the plates is rarely found today. The factually undeniably superior bone glue is rarely used anymore in guitar making. The finish procedure makes a big difference: from the 1950s to the 1960s alone, the average layer thickness increased massively. And so on and so forth. You could call it archtop guitar evolution.

    In a nutshell: from an economic point of view, modern carved acoustic archtop guitars are made using industrial methods. As a result of this and the massive "musical evolution" towards the far more lucrative solid body guitar construction and sound, the essential skills of the craftsmen have suffered, and the traditional transfer of corresponding skills, which essentially come from violin making, has also been prevented. Modern instruments, even if they may look very similar to the player, no longer sound acoustically like their predecessors 7 or 8 decades ago.

    Also, today - despite the existing "golden times" in guitar making in many ways - it has become more difficult to get acoustically good tonewood, at least in Europe, for example, soundboards made of high quality, evenly grown Alpine spruce. Fortunately, there are still some to be found, and there is no reason why an archtop guitar made today according to traditional methods should sound worse than an old one. Of course, to a certain extent, there are effects of physical "warming-in" and familiarization with both the instrument and the player. The main mistake that is made is: instruments can only be compared in the direct A / B process. If someone believes that he/she could safely judge how excellent a guitar sounded 5 decades ago or 1 year ago or even yesterday, then he/she is only overestimating the performance of his/her hearing: as far as memory is concerned, except for a few geniuses, the human brains are nothing but extremely coarse screens!


    Among other things, we've checked the influence of the age of the tonewood on the sound of archtop guitars; all such tests can of course only be of a subjective nature. For example, the tops of early Artur Lang instruments are verifiably made from spruce that was cut more than 500 years ago. In the meantime, some Lang instruments have largely been reproduced according to the original criteria as far as possible, including some thinline hollowbodies. Original precarved tops and backs from Lang (around 50 years old) were used and compared with plates / guitars made of newer tonewoods. If that new tonewood was produced properly (i.e., according to the criteria of violin/cello making), there is no significant acoustic difference between old and new wood. At least the acoustic differences in the woods used for the individual instruments are to be classified as greater than the differences between old and new. And there's little if any significant acoustic difference to original Lang guitars from the 1960s, instruments that have been played since then.


    I always wonder when the question arises whether amplification does make the acoustic sound irrelevant.
    The answer depends mainly on your listening and playing habits: in a dynamic band with a hard drummer and electric bass, or a brass section in acoustically loud environment, it is certainly irrelevant.
    For everyone else, the following applies: an excellent electro-acoustic guitar sound can only arise
    if the guitar has also excellent acoustic performance from the ground up.
    In the area of southern Germany / Austria there is a well-known professional jazz guitarist who alternates in his genre between a carved full-hollowbody guitar and a Tele, depending on the moon phase, or whatever. He plays superbly on both instruments. However, the difference is immediately noticeable for every listener, and not only in terms of sound: the solidbody leads to a slightly different style of playing - not worse or better, simply different.

  13. #12

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    Hammertone, thanks for your thoughts. If I am understanding you correctly, the main reason my vintage archtops sound so much different unplugged than contemporary guitars (of the same dimension and materials) is that they are fundamentally different by design. Archtop acoustics and archtop electrics are really different critters, intentionally.

    From the outside, to my eye, they all look basically the same- spruce tops, maple back and sides, f holes, 17x3 etc.
    There must be quite a difference in the bracing and the carving of the top. Is that what you have found?

    My understanding of the justification for a floating, as opposed to mounted, pickup is that the vibration of the top is not impaired. This would seem to be a consideration primarily for acoustic archtops, yes? I don't really like floating pickups because they are hard to change out and nearly impossible to adjust relative to the strings (unless you have a KA with the adjustable pole pieces). I wonder if the floating pickup is really more a "trendy" thing.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by JazzDaddyD
    I have had the good fortune to play and own a number of top-drawer carved arch tops- Triggs, Hopkins, Holst, Campellone, Heritage, Zimnicke. Wonderful instruments, superb craftsmanship etc. etc. Set up well, generally with .012 gauge strings.

    I also own a '59 L7C and a '51 Epi Triumph Regent- factory guitars, not much bling, been played a ton.

    Both of the vintage instruments, when played unplugged, leave the ALL of new instruments, without exception, in the dust in terms of tone (HUGE) and volume (LOTS). Even with flat wounds. The new instruments sound thin, light, delicate in comparison.

    Is this your experience as well, or do I happen to have anomalous instruments? Is it the age of the wood that makes such a big difference?

    Second part of the question- given that we have access to all manner of amplification, does it even matter what these guitars sound like acoustically? Or is it an apples and oranges kind of thing? I know that some folks are trying to replicate the sound of a traditional instrument being played without amplification, just louder, but for most of us, does amplification make the acoustic sound irrelevant?

    Thanks for your thoughts. Clearly a life or death situation here, counting on the Collective Wisdom of the tribe........
    I have another more important question for sure. You have a nice collection of guitars from some top notch guitar builders. I would extremely interested in your take on the sound of your guitars and how they compare with each other. Of course I am looking for the acoustic sound primarily and which ones you like the best if you can tell us. Then you can give a run down on the electric sound.

    Please do not feel bad about giving long a detailed answers and insights. I say that because at the moment in Central Illinois is 2 degrees above zero and snowing. Cannot go out to ride my bike, to cold and sloppy to run. I am a bit tired of playing the guitar.........yes that happens but it does helpmy chops. So feel free to go at the run down I am waiting on your thoughts. I have cabin fever entirely.

  15. #14

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    An acquaintance, Richard Hoover of SAnta Cruz Guitar, once joked that the answer to whether choice of wood affected a guitar’s tone was always, “yes” (and then hope no one asked how).

    Everything has a subtle effect on tone, from wood choice to the particular carve of the plate to the bracing, etc. There are some good rules of thumb, but it is impossible to make two identical instruments even if made by a mindless robot. Hand making a guitar gives you the chance to get some feedback as you build and make adjustments as you go, but there are no guarantees. It also takes a lot more time and skill, which is why boutique archtops often cost $6,000 and up.

    That said, it is absolutely true that archtops have changed in eighty years far more than steel string flat tops. The difference between your guitars probably has much more to do with design than age. Archtops originally were meant as loud acoustic ensemble instruments and morphed into electric instruments for soloists. Perhaps the biggest problem is the fundamental difference between an acoustic and an electric instrument, and the fact that the archtop traditionally tries to straddle the divide.

    An acoustic guitar is essentially a speaker whereas an electric guitar is a microphone. If you look at a typical speaker it has a magnet attached in the center surrounded by a flexible membrane. The magnet is like your guitar bridge, it pushes the membrane in and out at a set frequency like the bridge excites the top.

    An electric guitar is more like a microphone. Especially a ribbon mic. The sound waves in the air push the ribbon causing vibrations that magnets in the mic transform into an electrical pulse. The pickup in your guitar does virtually the same thing.

    Trying to make a guitar that is both a good microphone and good speaker at the same time is very challenging, to say the least. Usually, the builder has to sacrifice one or the other. You design and built to best suit either role.

    Early archtops were designed as good speakers, but most people today want good microphones. I got into building archtops precisely because I wanted an older acoustic instrument that no Ibanez or modern Epiphone was going to be. The guitars I built fit my needs, but probably not many others.

    There is little market for good acoustic archtops because most people who want an acoustic guitar like the timbre of a Martin dreadnaught (or, an OM at the outside). People who want to play like Wes Montgomery or Pat Matheney want an electric guitar. It isn’t surprising few primarily acoustic archtops are made today.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro

  16. #15

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    I feel like the goal of the modern builder is to make the amplified tone of an archtop guitar sound like a great old carved top guitar. I do think the acoustic character of the instrument counts, but it seems to me there are certain tradeoffs. In my experience the best acoustic sounding instruments are often the most challenging to make sound great amplified. The great sounding electric archtop has a nice acoustic voice but not "great" sounding acoustically. Then when we throw in feedback issues there is another tradeoff. You need to decide what your after. 50 or 60 years of wood drying and becoming harder couldn't hurt.

  17. #16

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    The way i hear it, the whole pickup, amp, electricity thing comes after the acoustic part of the sound. The pickup is just a microphone, reproducing what's already there in the first place. Even with electric solidbodies, play them unplugged and the sound of the guitar is already there, sustain, full notes that translate to mellow treble and deep bass, consistency, resonance, etc, a guitar either has that or not. You are just hearing it louder through a pickup and an amp, colored a bit by the kind of electronics you choose.

    And then loud volume will be a whole different thing, introducing new puzzles as to how the guitar will behave. My ideal guitar both excels in the wood/construction and in the electronics department. But if i could only check one, i would rather check the unplugged part, even on say a les paul/tele..

    I am a big believer of guitars improving when being played, i have experienced that with some i own for more than 20 years. You play them, they wake up. You leave them, they leave you..

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by JazzDaddyD
    Hammertone, thanks for your thoughts. If I am understanding you correctly, the main reason my vintage archtops sound so much different unplugged than contemporary guitars (of the same dimension and materials) is that they are fundamentally different by design. Archtop acoustics and archtop electrics are really different critters, intentionally.
    From the outside, to my eye, they all look basically the same- spruce tops, maple back and sides, f holes, 17x3 etc. There must be quite a difference in the bracing and the carving of the top. Is that what you have found?
    To me, this is where it gets interesting. Good designs for carving and bracing, as well as neck angle, are well known and widely used, but once that is done, it is up to the individual luthier working on the individual instrument to carve/sand/scrape the braces and the plates of the instrument to enhance or optimize the acoustic character of the instrument. It's a combination of understanding various rules that affect acoustic response, and the talent of the builder. To your comment about "difference in the bracing and the carving of the top," a great acoustic archtop and a mediocre one may look remarkably similar, but the devil is actually in the details that are not easily visible.

    A factory instrument is built to a spec and that's where it stops - most of these instruments, regardless of price, are not built to optimize acoustic response. I can guarantee that if one were to take a recently produced factory-made carved archtop with a floating pickup (Gibson L-5C, Legrand, Heritage GE, for example), and hand it to a really talented archtop builder with a mandate to make it as acoustically fabulous as possible (done mostly by adjusting the recarve of the top plate), it would come back as a significantly better acoustic archtop guitar. All it takes is time and money. I don't think it's a lost art, just one that is not in great demand, except among a very small group of acoustic archtop guitar enthusiasts and a correspondingly small group of builders.

    Custom builders typically ask the question at the front end - does the customer want optimized acoustic response or electric sound? The point has been made that most consumers probably want the electric sound. So, companies and individual luthiers build to that objective, and make instruments that look like acoustic archtop guitars but do not have great acoustic properties. Builders large and small benefit by this choice - it's much easier and takes less time, and most of them are OK with the trade-off.

    It also means that consumers often focus on aspects of the archtop guitar that have very little to do with its acoustic sound, such as the prettiness of the wood, the amount of attached bling, and the precision with which the bling is installed. Again, builders large and small benefit from this focus, because they can make more money with these more elaborate offerings. It's the difference between an L-7 and an L-5, a Legrand and a Citation, a Campellone Standard and a Campellone Special, and so forth.
    Last edited by Hammertone; 02-15-2021 at 08:49 PM.

  19. #18

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    it's a lost art cause there is no more apprentice system...students learning from masters and becoming masters themselves...jimmy d'aquisto started as a kid with d'angelico...sweeping floors...they grew together...if d'angelico didn't pass away, jimmy would probably stayed working for him...in obscurity

    in fact prior to jimmy d'aquisto, there was jimmy di serio..who did much work at d'angelico (from 1932-1959), but remains virtually unknown these days cause he didn't have his own celebrated brand




    cheers
    Last edited by neatomic; 02-15-2021 at 10:23 PM. Reason: typo-

  20. #19

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    Apprenticeships still exist in the guitar world. Of note, Damon Mailand was Bob Benedetto's apprentice, and inherited Bob's workbench and chisels when Bob retired. Apprentices have always existed, and probably always will, to one extent or another.

  21. #20

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    For excellent examples of how seriously aged wood can produce magnificently sounding instruments - very different from industrially produced top end guitars - look no further than Masterpiece Guitars where Steve Howe and Martin Taylor play a wide range of guitars from Scott Chinery's collection. I play this album every now and then to remind myself how magnificent an excellent guitar can sound, even if I'l never reach the level of those two great players. From full bark to bell-like clarity with incredibly complex and rich overtones. One of my all-time favourite CD's.

  22. #21

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    So- do vintage arch tops that were built for acoustic play and have a great acoustic voice make better electrified archtops than the contemporary high end archtops that have a not-so-robust acoustic sound?

    I have very little problem with feedback- I keep my amp on a stand behind me and to the left (peg head side) and play pretty darn loud sometimes. If it is behind and to the right that create problems for sure.

    Cheers!

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by JazzDaddyD
    So- do vintage arch tops that were built for acoustic play and have a great acoustic voice make better electrified archtops than the contemporary high end archtops that have a not-so-robust acoustic sound?

    I have very little problem with feedback- I keep my amp on a stand behind me and to the left (peg head side) and play pretty darn loud sometimes. If it is behind and to the right that create problems for sure.

    Cheers!


    In my opinion, yes, the best sounding electro-acoustic archtops must have a great acoustic sound from the start! However, if others say they prefer, for example, the sound of cigar box guitars, that's ok - sound is totally subjective! So it's all about your own personal choice and freedom.


    Feedback problems of electrified acoustic archtops are said to be generally worse than of archtops designed for electric use.
    Not true - it all depends on the construction! Some (German) vintage archtops are surprisingly feedback resistent due to a soundboard thickness of approximately 7mm at a max. These guitars can be as loud, responsive and projective as constructions with a max thickness of 4mm; it depends on the graduation, recurve and bracing, etc. Of course, there are physical limits for archtop guitars: if your band and/or venue is too loud for an archtop, you don't benefit from its tonal finesse and advantages anyway.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by JazzDaddyD
    So- do vintage arch tops that were built for acoustic play and have a great acoustic voice make better electrified archtops than the contemporary high end archtops that have a not-so-robust acoustic sound? I have very little problem with feedback- I keep my amp on a stand behind me and to the left (peg head side) and play pretty darn loud sometimes. If it is behind and to the right that create problems for sure. Cheers!
    I think both flavours sound great but different. Most archtop guitar players play electric guitars with negligible acoustic tone, and have simply not been exposed to great acoustic archtop tone, either unamplified or amplified. It is best experienced live and in the hands of the player. The reaction is often something like "I had no idea...."