The archtop is a class of steel-stringed guitar, acoustic or electric, with an arched top similar to a violin’s. Often sporting a pair of f-holes instead of a single, round sound hole, archtops were popular with jazz, blues, and country musicians, and are widely associated with music of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.

Gibson is considered the inventor of the archtop guitar, if not the archtop stringed instrument, which, of course, goes back centuries. Acoustic Gibson archtops from 1902 to the mid-1920s such as the early O and L models are collected more for their historical value than their sound quality. Gibsons from the second half of the 1920s through the early 1930s are somewhat better regarded, especially guitars with f-holes. But the best acoustic Gibson archtops are the prewar models, including the Super 400s and the L-5s, particularly those with cutaway bodies and natural finishes.

Prewar Gibson electric archtops are some of the most sought-after electric guitars around. Especially prized are the ES-150 (introduced in 1936, it had a sunburst finish) and ES-250 (a bit bigger than the 150, it was introduced in 1939 and was offered in sunburst or natural). Postwar models that fetch high prices include the L-5CES and Super 400CES, both of which were introduced in 1951 and are still in production. Of the more recent electric Gibson archtops, the acoustic Citation with humbucking pickups from 1969 is revered for its gold-plated hardware and fleur-de-lis inlays.

Though best known for its flat-top acoustic guitars, Martin made a few acoustic archtops in the 1930s, and an even smaller number of electric archtops in the early 1960s. Acoustic models include styles C (1931), F (1935); and R (1932); electrics were released in the F (1961) and GT (1965) series. Sure they are Martins, but archtops are not what Martin fans and collectors are looking for, or what the company did best, so prices for the instruments reflect their lukewarm demand.

In 1939, Gretsch came out with an acoustic competitor to Gibson’s 1935 Super 400, the Art Deco-styled Synchromatic—not coincidentally, its top-of-the-line model number was also 400. The Synchromatics were unique in that they had a stairstep bridge, a harp-shaped tailpiece, an asymmetrical neck, and cat’s-eye sound holes instead of the more traditional-looking f-holes. But the quality of these Gretsch guitars was never as good as Gibson’s, or even Epiphone’s, so the guitars are not aggressively collected today, despite their age.

When it comes to archtops, Gretsch is better known and regarded for its electric models, particularly the single-cutaway versions of the drop-dead-gorgeous White Falcon (1955) and the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman. Introduced as the Chet Atkins Hollow Body in 1954, the Gentleman was renamed in 1957 and achieved its greatest fame in 1964 when George Harrison of The Beatles played a double-cutaway model on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

During the 1950s, Guild staked its reputation on archtop guitars, which represent some of the company’s most collectible vintage instruments. One example is the A-50 Granada from 1956, which had a laminated-maple body with a sunburst finish, a rosewood bridge and fingerboard, and a three-piece mahogany and maple neck...

Of Guild’s electric archtops, the X-550 (a blond bombshell from 1953) and Aristocrat M-75 (1954) are two prizes from the 1950s. For ’60s fans, the DE-500 (DE stands for Duane Eddy, a popular guitarist when this archtop was introduced in 1962) and George Barnes (in 1963, Guild named a guitar for the acclaimed jazz guitarist) are most collected.

Last but not least is Epiphone, which, in the late 1920s, introduced a complete line of “Recording” acoustic archtop guitars. The guitars had model names from A through E and came in spruce and maple. Today these old archtops are either played by blues musicians or treasured by collectors. Even more prized are the later acoustic archtops. Models to look for include the Broadway (1931 to 1958), De Luxe (1931 to 1957), and Emperor (1935 to mid-1950s).

Epiphone’s electric archtops are generally not as collectible as its acoustic counterparts, but collectors and players still seek out double-cutaway versions of the electric Emperor archtop (only 66 copies were made). Blond versions of the Sheraton from 1958 are also rare and in demand.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vintage Guitars Info

Vintage Guitars Info

This great reference site features detailed sections on vintage guitar makers, including Gibson, Fender, Martin, Gr… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Want to see all the old brochures and ads for your favorite vintage axe? Check out this great site, which showcases… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1940 Gibson L50, Stunning Vintage Archtop! Pre War Gibson Archtop!Vintage 1949 Gibson Es 150 Archtop Guitar, P90,17" Mojo Machine! L5 175 335 Vintage 50's Silvertone Hollowbody Archtop Electric Guitar Tobacco SunburstGibson L-30 Archtop Guitar BlackJazz Hollow Body Guitar Project--les Korn Custom ArchtopGibson 1946 L50 Archtop Acoustic Guitar1935 Gibson L-50, Great Vintage Hollowbody Archtop Acoustic!Eastman Ar371ce Hollowbody Archtop Electric Guitar W/ CaseEpiphone Etdtvsch1 Dot Arch Top Electric Guitar Vintage Sunburst 179474 AweVintage 1956 Gibson Es 125 Electric Hollow Body Arch Top Acoustic GuitarVintage 1947 Harmony Monterey H950 Acoustic Archtop Guitar, Very Nice Original !The Loar Lh-600 Archtop Acoustic Guitar Vintage Sunburst With Original CaseEpiphone Blackstone Archtop Guitar C.1948Harmony 1960's Vintage Archtop Acoustic GuitarVintage 1949 Epiphone Zephyr Jazzbox Electric Guitar Archtop Hollowbody A+playerVintage Harmony H1215 Archtop Acoustic GuitarSamick Hf-650, Blonde Archtop Hollowbody GuitarEastman Uptown Ar810ce Archtop Guitar (no Reserve)Glenn Cronkhite Leather Gig Bag For Gibson Archtop Guitar (reunion Blues Style)Vintage Made In Japan Hollow Body, Sunburst, Arch Top Guitar W/caseVintage Harmony Archtop F Hole Acoustic GuitarJackson Js22 Dinky Arch Top Electric GuitarVintage Archtop F Hole, Harmony Broadway, 6 String Guitar Read Description1998 Peavey Wolfgang Evh Amber Archtop D-tuna 6 String Guitar Eddie Van Halen1950's Epiphone Archtop Trapeze Tailpiece Emperor Triumph Zephyr Regent VintageArcher Archtop Guitar Contact Pick Up Model R-65251950's Epiphone Archtop Wooden Bridge Emperor, Triumph, Zephyr Regent VintageIbanez Artcore Tailpiece Wood For Afj81 Jazz Archtop Guitar Rare # 2tp12a0011D'angelico Hardshell Case For An Exl1 Archtop Hollowbody GuitarVintage Archtop Dreadnought Guitar CaseArchtop Bridge.Bigsby Archtop Bridge, Gold UsedArchtop Jazz Guitar Rosewood Roller Saddle Tune-o-matic Bridge For Gibson IbanezIbanez Rosewood Inserts For George Benson Guitar Tailpiece Gb12 Jazz Archtop