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  1. #1

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    I've never owned a hollowbody carved top guitar. Carved as opposed to laminate.

    I've read some things that they are quite fragile, and not sure how accurate that is.

    I know you're not going to want to drop it on the floor or go walking around in the dark with it sure.

    But I've heard that weather changes will make them crack, and I've even seem some guitars on Reverb with significant cracks where the seller says something to the effect ... 'it was just the weather changes'.

    How accurate is that really?

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  3. #2

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    An archtop guitar, even with a carved top, is usually a fairly hefty piece of wood. Not like a Telecaster or a Les Paul, of course, but certainly nowhere near as thin as the top of a Martin flattop or a classical guitar. So I think they are more resistant to cracking as a result of weather changes. I live in Minnesota; in the winter it's very cold and dry and in the summer it's warm and very humid. My archtop has been sitting out in my living room for 16 years and has not cracked. A carved top guitar is probably more susceptible to cracking than a laminated instrument because of having coherent grain throughout the thickness of the top; when they crack due to dryness, it is almost always along the grain. But at least anecdotally- rather than as data since n=1- that hasn't been an issue for me. The only guitar I have had crack was a gypsy jazz guitar which also had a very thin top; the top is bent rather than carved in those instruments, so that may result in some residual stress in the wood.

    My wife has taken up mandolin; one of her instruments is a carved archtop A style mandolin with F holes; the top of that one did crack this winter. It was its first winter and it is a new instrument, so it is possible that the wood was perhaps not fully dried before it was carved; the top is also half the thickness of my archtop guitar.

    Frequently a cracked top in a musical instrument has surprisingly little effect on the tone. As long as the luthier has access to the inside of the instrument through a sound hole, it's fairly easy to glue a cleat to the crack to stabilize it and prevent it from worsening.

    I also think that weather and dryness get a bad rap on this issue. We don't really know beyond doubt what the cause of the crack was. It might be that the wood was not fully seasoned and still perhaps a bit green, so it shrank after it was carved as a result of continued aging. Or perhaps an inexperienced maker left a stress riser in the top. Perhaps there was a weakness or flaw in the wood all along. There are a lot of possibilities. If one is concerned about it, humidifying is a pretty simple thing to do.

  4. #3

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    Nothing accurate, as they're all individuals, and humidity swings vary a lot depending on where you are. My impression is that flattops are more prone to cracking, but they also outnumber carved archtops by a factor of 100-1,000, I guess. F-hole binding may actually be a life-saver. I live in Finland where it can get very cold and dry during the winter. 2020: wet-wet-wet; 2021: squeaky dry. Long ago, a new 12-string flattop developed 11 top cracks during the first winter. Apparently, it was made from unseasoned woods. A 1945 Levin archtop with a wafer-thin top around the f-holes: no problem. The lesson: a second-hand guitar from your zone is safer. If you can afford a carved archtop - which I find more beautiful than useful - you can certainly give it a life insurance with a moisturizer tube during the dry central heating periods.

  5. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by jobabrinks
    I've never owned a hollowbody carved top guitar. Carved as opposed to laminate.

    I've read some things that they are quite fragile, and not sure how accurate that is.

    I know you're not going to want to drop it on the floor or go walking around in the dark with it sure.

    But I've heard that weather changes will make them crack, and I've even seem some guitars on Reverb with significant cracks where the seller says something to the effect ... 'it was just the weather changes'.

    How accurate is that really?
    Pretty accurate really. On the Acoustic Guitar Forum, you'll hear of quite a few northern flattop owners that, even with a whole house humidifier, keep their guitars closed up in the case with a case humidifier through the winter anytime they're not being played. Spruce in particular is very reactive to changes in humidity. A carved top maybe up to 1/4" thick in the middle but tapers down to closer to 1/8" thick in the recurve area. The area around the F holes is particularly in danger of cracking. If you can hear the difference between a solid top and a plywood top and the acoustic sound of your guitar is important to you- then the carve top is worth the investment. They do require a little more consideration than a plywood instrument, particularly if you live in a winter climate.
    Last edited by Roy Boy; 02-27-2021 at 05:21 PM. Reason: grammar

  6. #5

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    One of the big reasons why you can get a perfectly functional archtop guitar for less than the cost of a small used car is laminate construction, AKA plywood.* It's strong like crazy in multiple directions, whereas solid woods are very strong along their length, but much less so across their width. The carved arch top has strong compressive force applied to the top by the floating bridge which tends to hold things together under normal circumstances. Any shock (by its nature, all shock is sudden) - mechanical (dropping), thermal (opening a case thats been in the trunk of your car on a night when it's 20 degrees F below zero) can have a deleterious effect on the structural integrity of the carved top and/or back. Flat-tops are just as bad; you've got lots and lots of tension on those strings trying to rip the top off. Archtops generally have even more force trying to crush the top. It's a delicate and dynamic balance of forces which we can exploit to create sound by plucking a string or six.

    My advice is to be as careful as you reasonably can.

    * Much less expensive than solid tonewoods.
    Last edited by citizenk74; 02-27-2021 at 09:50 PM.

  7. #6

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    Deleted this post; it was essentially what citizenK already said.

  8. #7

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    Handle it like it's a Faberge' egg and you'll be okay.

  9. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by citizenk74
    One of the big reasons why you can get a perfectly functional archtop guitar for less than the cost of a small used car is laminate construction, AKA plywood.* It's strong like crazy in multiple directions, whereas solid woods are very along their length, but much less so across their width. The carved arch top has strong compressive force applied to the top by the floating bridge which tends to hold things together under normal circumstances. Any shock (by its nature, all shock is sudden) - mechanical (dropping), thermal (opening a case thats been in the trunk of your car on a night when it's 20 degrees F below zero) can have a deleterious effect on the structural integrity of the carved top and/or back. Flat-tops are just as bad; you've got lots and lots of tension on those strings trying to rip the top off. Archtops generally have even more force trying to crush the top. It's a delicate and dynamic balance of forces which we can exploit to create sound by plucking a string or six.

    My advice is to be as careful as you reasonably can.

    * Much less expensive than solid tonewoods.
    The interesting thing is I have a flattop (Taylor) and I never really thought about it for that. But I've seen a lot of cracked f-hole carved tops on Reverb, and it just got me to thinking.

    Laminate (ES-175, etc) is the safe route, huh?

    Thanks for the info, I'll evaluate further.

  10. #9

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    I have had several carved arch tops and they where durable. Even hitch hiked around the country with one. Had one that I wore scallops in places on the fret board before I retired it. The Bridge and trap tail peace are more prone to damage than any other part.

  11. #10

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    I have lived in the desert at 3,500' for the last 24 years and never had a problem with dozen or so carved instruments I have had- however- they have all been used/ older. My favorite "local" luthier Steve Holst (he lives on the "wet" side of the state) thinks it takes carved instruments a year or three to stabilize and get used to the different stresses/ forces to which they are subject. And then they are, for the most part, good to go.

    The local Eastman/ Taylor dealer was fanatical about humidifying, but as he was selling new instruments, that makes sense. Plus he got to sell a bunch of case humidifiers. Before he went out of business.

  12. #11

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    I have a grand total of 2 carved archtops. I really don't treat them as perhaps I should. In fact I don't do anything for them. I hang them on the wall. Horrors of horrors it's an outside wall of a house with no climate control beyond heating. Never a problem. But I'm in a part of the world that's pretty kind to wood. Much depends on how harsh the humidity swings are where the instrument lives.

    The big problems come from quick or extreme change. If you have wood floors check out the gaps between boards in winter compared to summer. That'll tell you something about the kind of movement and stress a guitar built from lumber might have to deal with at your place.

    I would advise everyone to buy recklessly.

  13. #12

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    Hey JazzDad: Mid 70's I played many gigs at Inn of The Seventh Mountain. Is that even a place anymore? I always liked Bend. Smith Rock for one thing.

  14. #13

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    It‘s made to be played. Use your common sense and everything is fine. And a car trunk is never the right place for storage, not dvdn carrying a guitar (in its case).

  15. #14

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    The Inn of the 7th Mountain is still there, it's not locally owned anymore though, i think it is a Wyndam resort. I've only played there once, at a fundraising event, they don't have live music on a regular basis. Smith is still there too- I think they have put up routes to 5.14c! I quit climbing years ago, way too hard on the hands and body.

  16. #15

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    I have my Dad's Barker he got new from Bill Barker in March 1965. So it has been in the family all these 56 years. It spent the first 16 years of life in Los Angeles area and I have had it all these last 40 years in Illinois. The truss rod to my knowledge has never been adjusted. The guitar has been taken care of but my Dad and I both, played gigs with it all the time. Not the last 10 years but it is played mostly every few days. Depending on the season once in a great while I have to tweak the bridge action up or down very slightly, less that 1/64 of an inch. Carved top guitars will not take abuse but they certainly are not delicate unstable creatures if made well. I might add Bill Barker made fantastic guitar just ask Martin Taylor.

  17. #16

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    Actually, a good solid wood archtop shouldn't be all that delicate. Obviously you don't want to bang it around, but you don't have to be afraid to play it hard. I've kept mine in a gig bag for years and taken it to a lot of gigs with no disasters. I'm reasonably careful, but they're guitars. They were built to be played. A ship is always safe in harbor, but that's not what ships were built for.

    The issue with those guitars is more about extreme variations in temperature and humidity. Keep those factors reasonable and the guitar should be fine.

  18. #17

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    What's wrong with cracks? It's not yours until it's cracked!

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by JazzDaddyD
    I have lived in the desert at 3,500' for the last 24 years and never had a problem with dozen or so carved instruments I have had- however- they have all been used/ older. My favorite "local" luthier Steve Holst (he lives on the "wet" side of the state) thinks it takes carved instruments a year or three to stabilize and get used to the different stresses/ forces to which they are subject. And then they are, for the most part, good to go.

    The local Eastman/ Taylor dealer was fanatical about humidifying, but as he was selling new instruments, that makes sense. Plus he got to sell a bunch of case humidifiers. Before he went out of business.
    Another Oregonian! Hello, from Monmouth here!

    I didn't realize Holst was in Creswell, that's even closer than you are. Only 76 miles. Wow.

    Always loved looking at the pics of his work.

    Sent from my SM-G960U using Tapatalk

  20. #19

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    All guitar have cracks in them right down middle of the guitar. So just take a look at your basic L5 or D'angelico or ect. They all are 2 pieces tops glued together and therefore a planned crack in the making of the instrument. Not to mention the 5 pieces necks and even the backs. I point that out sometimes to folks who automatically write a guitar off that has a repaired crack. Not that we want unplanned cracks but that in most cases nothing is really compromised on the guitar. Even the horrible and dreadful peghead crack. It certainly makes the value of the guitar go down in the vintage market but in reality repaired by a real pro...........you have a stable guitar.

  21. #20

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    Just to make sure, we're not actually talking about finish "checking" are we?

    I've seen that on old Gibsons. As I understand it, it's a superficial thing, not a defect in structural integrity.

    I think it even looks cool.

    As far as structural integrity goes, I have no specialized knowledge, but I've seen a lot of very old archtops without obvious problems.

  22. #21

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    I've been gigging with solid carved top guitars for sixty years and I've had exactly one develop a significant crack:

    How careful do you have to be with a carved top guitar?-l-5-sig-top-crack-2-jpg

    It was not there when I set up, but between then and the downbeat there it was. Gibson decided it was covered under warranty, replaced the top, refinished it and sent it back good as new. That was thirteen years ago and the guitar has been fine ever since. Note that I live in a bone-dry climate where rapid temperature changes are not a thing--sometimes stuff just happens.

    Danny W.

  23. #22

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    "Had one that I wore scallops in places on the fret board before I retired it."

    Might want to keep your fingernails trimmed.

  24. #23

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    I have two of them, one for about twenty years now. I haven't faced cracks, but they do move with the seasons. I once was playing a summer festival only to have the guitar fretting awfully all over the neck the day before, thankfully raising the bridge and using the truss rod fixed it. The guitar played ok after, and returned to normal a few months later.

    The sound changes also a lot with the humidity and the weather. Like acoustics, different days will have you different guitars!

    Overall since keeping them in their cases when not playing them, .. zero problems.