What is an Archtop Guitar?

There are many different types of guitars, one of which is called an archtop. With an arched top and back rather than a flat one, the archtop guitar is typically a hollow steel-stringed acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar with six strings, as well as an adjustable/moveable bridge.

Archtop guitars were invented in the 1890s by Orville Gibson. He patterned his creation after other archtop instruments of the time, such as the cello and the violin. During the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, archtop guitars had their heyday, especially popular with jazz, rockabilly, and blues players. Offering a warm and rich sound, archtops, at that time, were usually crafted with solid tops made from spruce carved into an arched shape.

As guitars became more technologically advanced, becoming amped, tonal nuances thanks to the carved solid top became less important to guitar players. Pressed-arch laminated tops as well as flat-top guitars became more popular than archtops after the 1940s. Jazz players still appreciated the archtop guitar’s tonal qualities, though, keeping it alive in the 1950s and onward.

Archtop guitars involve luthiers using their skill to “tap tune” the spruce wood top, listening for resonances that enhance the instrument’s overall tone. Of course no two pieces of spruce are exactly alike, so wood is carved to balance its resonance in order to achieve the tap tone the luthier wants.

Hand-carved archtops are still being made today, rivalling the best of the 1920s and ‘30s. There are about 100 archtop guitar luthiers in North America. When they need Sitka Spruce figures to build instruments, they utilize the quality spruce wood Alaska Specialty Woods supplies.  See the figured offerings here: https://www.alaskawoods.com/products.php?catid=1&category=Figured And the non-figured offerings are here: https://www.alaskawoods.com/products.php?catid=2&category=Non-figured

If you have any questions, please email [email protected].

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