FRETS.COM Illustrated Glossary

Could be Arch Top
© Frank Ford, 10/9/98 Photos by FF

One word or two, the thing that comes to mind when you say "archtop" is the classic "f-hole" jazz guitar:

Some of these archtop guitars have pickups, volume and tone controls. ALL of them, as well as virtually all archtop instruments, also have tailpieces and a moveable bridge.

The arch of the fine archtop guitar is carved from a thick plank, an expensive procedure which requires quite a lot of skilled hand work to do correctly. Guitars of lesser price and quality have laminated, or plywood, arched tops and backs which are pressed into shape.

Not all archtop guitars have f-holes like these:

Some, especially early Gibsons, have round or oval soundholes:

The traditional archtop acoustic guitar is known for its mellow tone, smoothness through all ranges, relative lack of "sustain" and tremendous "cutting power" when played hard. Along with drums, the archtop guitar was half of the rhythm section in the "big band" era.

The better American style mandolins have arched tops similar to the archtop guitars. Actually, the mandolin came first, so I suppose the guitars are similar to mandolins. . .

If you look at the area around the edges of most archtop guitars you'll notice that the top "dips" just a little just as it reaches the edge.

It's clear that when the folks at Gibson designed the Les Paul solid body guitar, they remembered the archtop guitar, because that little "recurve" is present on these as well:

Just a little vestigial design element, and it makes for a very stylish look.

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