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 for 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    

1951 Gibson L-7 C Premier Archtop Guitar Vintage Sunburst W Hsc As IsGretsch Anniversary Vintage Smoke Green Electric Guitar Archtop Hollowbody As Is1930’s Vintage Harmony H958 Archtop Acoustic €1942 Gretsch American Orchestra Archtop Tenor Guitar Rare & Cool Easy Project Vintage Harmony H973 Archtop Acoustic GuitarEpiphone Etdtchch1 Dot Archtop Electric Guitar Cherry 126765 Ts1950s-1960s Kay Archtop Acoustic Guitar Harmony Silvertone Estate Find: Vintage 1946 Harmony Broadway Sunburst Arch Top 072-h954 Guitar S46Gretsch 1946 New Yorker Archtop Project1930's Vintage Epiphone Spartan Archtop GuitarArchtop Jazz Guitar Vintage Bigsby Gretsch Profiles 6120 Gibson Bridge Luthier1946 Vintage Gretsch Archtop Guitar; New Yorker, Model 6050 Vintage Harmony Monterey Arch Top Acoustic Guitar UniqueCarlo Robelli Archtop Guitar Pm30sc Csb Jazz Johnny Smith Mint! Peerless!1966 Harmony Master Archtop Guitar H945Harmony Archtop Jazz Guitar (luthier's Project)Vintage 1956 Gibson Es-125 Archtop Hollow Body Electric Guitar With Hard CaseVintage Old Kraftsman - Kay Speed Demon Hollowbody Electric Archtop Guitar 1960sPrs Mccarty Archtop Treble And Bass Humbucker Pickup Set (gold With Gold Screws)1960sultra Rare Kay/harmony Guitar Tremelo Made By Bigsby.new Old Stock ,archtopVintage 40s 50s (1943) Kay Silvertone Harmony H1060 Archtop Project Guitar NrVintage 1960's Old Kraftsman Acoustic Archtop Guitar Repair Project Parts Rare1940's Kay Archtop Guitar. Jack WhiteVintage Airline Archtop A/e Guitar W/ Hard CaseVintage 1951 Gretsch Electromatic Archtop W/ Original Tweed CaseVintage Harmony Crusader Archtop Acoustic Guitar & Case *kluson DeluxeVintage 1970’s Epiphone Broadway Archtop Cutaway Guitar Awesome Player OhscHamer Xt Series Archtop Blonde Electric Guitar W/humbuckers And Set NeckVintage 6-string Archtop Jazz Guitar W.herold Sinfonia - Germany / 1950'sVintage Framus Archtop ? Acoustic GuitarEpiphone 1951 Nickel Arch Top Bridge W/ MountsDean Palomino Archtop 6-string Hollowbody Accustic-electric Guitar - (14354)tArchtop Jazz Guitar Rosewood Bridge Roller Saddles Adjustable Abalone Inlay B10Oil Painting Maple Korea Hardware Arched Top Hollow Jazz Electric Guitar 2503Guitarmaker # 36 Mark Campellone--frank Finocchio-archtop Guitar Building IssueGretsch Archtop Guitar Watercolor PrintReal Epiphone Pro Wiring Harness Push/pull Alpha Pots Switch Fit Gibson Les PaulVintage Hofner 12 String Tailpiece, Abm West Germany, Archtop, Orig. Nr, 3-day!!Artec Side Mount Pickup For Arch Top Jazz Guitar ChromeGuitarmaker # 26 Bob Benedetto: Building An Archtop Guitar--dick Boak-great Info