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-...
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.
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