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  1. #1

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    Attention, Impromptu musing !

    Recently I've become increasingly interested in exploring the tonal possibilities of a purely acoustic steelstring guitar that is NOT your more or less conventional flattop design of the Martin/Gibson lineage. I pretty much know what these types of instruments can do and where their tonal boundaries are so that leaves the acoustic archtop and what is generally referred to as the
    "Gypsy" or Maccaferri type. Now in the world of archtop lutherie I see ALL KINDS of very modern designs, builders all over the globe keep looking for better solutions and they are constantly pushing the envelope (many having cut almost all connections to the past) , offering the player an extremely varied collection of designs and tonal variation to choose from. When I look into the world of the Selmer type/Gypsy guitar I see only very slight variations of the ever same basic/original design elements, many of which I personally consider a hindrance for my playing style and not catering to my tonal tastes. In detail : still the majority of guitars of that type have boxy/severe D-shaped necks that I can't deal with, flat or only very slightly curved fingerboards and I get the impression that the builders more or less only cater to the players who are actually playing the Manouche style exclusively. I see no-one really trying to break out of that mold, to open up that design for a wider range of players who are looking for a loud, playable, acoustically pleasing and balanced sounding guitar .... am I missing something here , have I overlooked any significant developments , am I imagining things that are not there ?

    I've recently had the chance to try out a whole bunch of superb guitars by the famous german luthier Artur Lang who was way ahead of his peers in the mid 50's and throughout the 60's with his acoustic archtops. He commanded very high prices for his guitars and had some very unique beliefs re construction, aesthetics and tone - I can only attest to the very high quality of the instruments , they look great (i just like the design, you may not), have a unique tone, are very playable (except for the players who have very large hands/fingers, due to the normally rather narrow necks) and
    I have since asked myself, why not try to somehow combine the strengths of both designs : structural stability, high volume/cutting power, light weight, ergonomics, tonal depth, balance and modulation so as to have a top-notch steelstring guitar that could offer the same qualities as their nylonstring counterparts and would be suitable for a much broader range of styles !?
    Is that a pipe dream ? Your opinions please, gentlemen !

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2
    Any Artur Lang photos?

  4. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by gitman
    When I look into the world of the Selmer type/Gypsy guitar I see only very slight variations of the ever same basic/original design elements, many of which I personally consider a hindrance for my playing style and not catering to my tonal tastes. In detail : still the majority of guitars of that type have boxy/severe D-shaped necks that I can't deal with, flat or only very slightly curved fingerboards and I get the impression that the builders more or less only cater to the players who are actually playing the Manouche style exclusively.
    the thing is, those Selmer guitar designs work so well for Manouche style music that there is no real reason to change them much; plus, if they do not sound nor fell like what you want to use, there are plenty of other guitar designs.

    Quote Originally Posted by gitman
    why not try to somehow combine the strengths of both designs : structural stability, high volume/cutting power, light weight, ergonomics, tonal depth, balance and modulation so as to have a top-notch steelstring guitar that could offer the same qualities as their nylonstring counterparts and would be suitable for a much broader range of styles !?
    Is that a pipe dream ? Your opinions please, gentlemen !
    I like the idea; there has been a lot of experimenting with classical guitars in recent years, perhaps that could provide a model for inspiration to luthiers.

    "suitable for a much broader range of styles"

    There's the real issue - a range of styles. I wonder if a guitar that supposedly works for all sorts of steel string styles would be too much of a compromise and not ideal for any of them?

    I'm open to experimentation.

  5. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimmy blue note
    Any Artur Lang photos?
    The first one is a late 50's version, the second one a late 60's version with the long f-holes. Typical for the fancy models is the extra rim-binding, the red purfling-line inlaid in the top perimeter and the engraved metal faceplate. It added bling, was in instantly identifiable trademark and added stability and weight to the headstock - Herr Lang believed that the stiff headstock helped in avoiding dead spots. So I was told by the most knowledgable authority in all things "Artur Lang Gitarren" beknownst to me. I visited him and his collection of ca. 40 such beauties (and ca. 30 more from other famous european luthiers) from all years of Lang's work and I was blown away - by sight, sound and feel , beside the encyclopedic knowledge of the owner/restorer/keeper of this collection.
    Attached Images Attached Images Tradition in guitar building/design-lang-zoller-1-jpg Tradition in guitar building/design-lang-50s-1-jpg 

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS
    the thing is, those Selmer guitar designs work so well for Manouche style music that there is no real reason to change them much; plus, if they do not sound nor fell like what you want to use, there are plenty of other guitar designs.

    Absolutely, why change a winning team.


    I like the idea; there has been a lot of experimenting with classical guitars in recent years, perhaps that could provide a model for inspiration to luthiers.

    The world of classical guitar design really came alive in the 80's with luthiers like Ruck, Humphrey, Dammann etc. with the introduction of portholes, raised fingerboards and the double-top or sandwich top. It was as if a levee had broken ....



    "suitable for a much broader range of styles"

    There's the real issue - a range of styles. I wonder if a guitar that supposedly works for all sorts of steel string styles would be too much of a compromise and not ideal for any of them?

    I'm open to experimentation.

    Jimmy D'Aquisto wanted his guitars to be used in all styles but sadly he couldn't go on in the direction he was set for in his later period - just as certain nylonstring guitars are capable of producing absolutely convincing tones for a Bach Prelude , a Leo Brouwer piece, an Earl Klugh tune or something by Ralph Towner or Al DeMeola I fantasize about a STEELSTRING guitar that has the breadth of tone and volume to act as a vehicle for intricately plucked solo pieces, rapid-fire swing/bebop shredding (and pumping out 3 and 4-note chords), that can carry a lovely melody with sustaining notes that make me cry ... sigh

  7. #6

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    Well, seems like the issue is largely the top. A Torres style flat top with a flat thin plate (classical), a Martin/Gibson style braced top with a flat thin plate, a ladder braced top with a thin flat plate, a thin bent top with whatever type of bracing a Sel-Mac uses, a curved thick top with X or parallel bracing like an archtop. They all gave different tonal characteristics within the traditions of the music one finds those instruments in.

    There are a few other less-traditional approaches like the Hafling by Ribbecke, which I think shares some of your tonal aims.

    Builder Profile: Ribbecke Guitars - Premier Guitar

    And some others thinking outside the usual archtop box like NK Forster:

    520 Origin Error

    Ken Parker:

    Ken Parker Archtops - Finest Archtop Guitars

    Daniel Slaman:

    nylonstringjazzguitar

    Andersen double top:

    Double Top

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cunamara
    Well, seems like the issue is largely the top. A Torres style flat top with a flat thin plate (classical), a Martin/Gibson style braced top with a flat thin plate, a ladder braced top with a thin flat plate, a thin bent top with whatever type of bracing a Sel-Mac uses, a curved thick top with X or parallel bracing like an archtop. They all gave different tonal characteristics within the traditions of the music one finds those instruments in.

    There are a few other less-traditional approaches like the Hafling by Ribbecke, which I think shares some of your tonal aims.

    Builder Profile: Ribbecke Guitars - Premier Guitar

    And some others thinking outside the usual archtop box like NK Forster:

    520 Origin Error Unfortunately I have not found any sound-samples or

    Ken Parker:

    Ken Parker Archtops - Finest Archtop Guitars

    I've heard some excellent sounding DEMONSTRATIONS of this guitar, in the hands of an accomplished player and the guitar does sound different indeed, lots of promise there.

    Daniel Slaman:

    nylonstringjazzguitar

    I've yet to hear a convincing demo of Slaman's guitar and the nylonstring Selmer-type guitars I have sampled so far have all been more or less a disappointment re their tone.
    I have the feeling that the builders just did not have enough experience with the idiosyncacies of the nylonstring.


    Andersen double top:

    Double Top
    I guess many of us here have seen the clip where Bill Frisell samples this Andersen guitar but frankly, his extremely soft and delicate touch (his style, on all of his guitars) is - for me - not very indicative of the
    tonal and dynamic possibilities that this new design might offer.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimmy blue note
    Any Artur Lang photos?
    Here are a few threads have pix of Langs and a few other German archtops as well:
    Artur Lang Archtop
    Blonde Artur Lang Archtop price?
    Vintage German Archtops

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cunamara
    Well, seems like the issue is largely the top. A Torres style flat top with a flat thin plate (classical), a Martin/Gibson style braced top with a flat thin plate, a ladder braced top with a thin flat plate, a thin bent top with whatever type of bracing a Sel-Mac uses, a curved thick top with X or parallel bracing like an archtop. They all gave different tonal characteristics within the traditions of the music one finds those instruments in.

    There are a few other less-traditional approaches like the Hafling by Ribbecke, which I think shares some of your tonal aims.

    Builder Profile: Ribbecke Guitars - Premier Guitar

    And some others thinking outside the usual archtop box like NK Forster:

    520 Origin Error

    Ken Parker:

    Ken Parker Archtops - Finest Archtop Guitars

    Daniel Slaman:

    nylonstringjazzguitar

    Andersen double top:

    Double Top
    Nigel Forster's designs are indeed innovative. I visited his studio some years ago when he was still in Newcastle and met a man with a passion for the better qualities of tradition but with the curiosity and capability of not only thinking outside of the box but also the courage to take the risk of putting those ideas into practice. I was considering commissioning a mandolin when Nigel emigrated to Australia - talk about bad timing! If you visit the site in Cunamara's link you'll sed Nigel has written a few books about his guitar building. Well worth the read.

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by gitman
    I have since asked myself, why not try to somehow combine the strengths of both designs : structural stability, high volume/cutting power, light weight, ergonomics, tonal depth, balance and modulation so as to have a top-notch steelstring guitar that could offer the same qualities as their nylonstring counterparts and would be suitable for a much broader range of styles !?
    Is that a pipe dream ? Your opinions please, gentlemen !

    No guitar can do it all. I’ve had better success in commissioning guitars with a specific purpose in mind rather than a generalist / all-rounder guitars.

    I recommend knowing what compromises you are willing to make, for example:

    Acoustic volume vs overtones (live vs non-live back)

    High feedback threshold vs acoustic performance (overbuilt vs underbuilt soundboard)

    Sustain versus percussive attack

    Many others.

  12. #11

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    I recommend Trevor Gore for innovative acoustic guitar luthiery.

    Trevor Gore Guitars




  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tricky Fish
    No guitar can do it all. I’ve had better success in commissioning guitars with a specific purpose in mind rather than a generalist / all-rounder guitars.

    I recommend knowing what compromises you are willing to make, for example:

    Acoustic volume vs overtones (live vs non-live back)

    High feedback threshold vs acoustic performance (overbuilt vs underbuilt soundboard)

    Sustain versus percussive attack

    Many others.
    There are always compromises to weigh and consider and indeed, no guitar can do it all. My idea is just the evolution of these different types (flattop/archtop) towards a design that
    might fuse the strengths of both or at least widen the tonal possibilities of the 2 types.

    - acoustic volume is a major issue and I am a fan of guitars that have a strong fundamental tone and not too many diffuse overtones. I can control the amount of "sparkle" in a guitar by the choice of string, of pick (or nail/fingertip), where I hit the string, how strong I hit the string - to some degree. Many if not most of the "boutique" steelstrings I have sampled over the past 15 years or so have had way too much brilliance built in , often sounding more like a harpsichord than a guitar (to my ears). My current favorite steelstring is an all-mahogany 000-12 fretter from Santa Cruz Guitars which for my taste has just the right amount of overtones and a fat+solid fundamental note.

    - Stage-worthiness is not a high priority - if needed I would use my trusted Beyerdynamic M180 Ribbon mic in front of it. The soundboard should neither be over- nor underbuilt.

    - Good Sustain is something nearly all builders are very aware of and try to extend little by little. As a player I can control the length of the notes I play but I cannot make them sound longer.
    A compromise would have to be found between a quick and lively response and an extended note-decay - I have no idea how both aspects could be improved without one hindering the other but then again, I am not a luthier nor an engineer.