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Archtop vs. Flattop?


Verne Andru
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I have both - an archtop The Loar LH-300VS (based on 1920s Gibson L5 specs) and a flattop Silver Creek OM (based on Martin OM specs) - and find they are the same but quite different.

Specs are similar - body size is about the same and both have solid spruce tops, laminate hog back/sides, 14-frets to the body and 1 3/4" bone nut. Main difference is the tops and bridges.

I find the L5 to be louder and much more dynamic and responsive than the OM. The biggest difference is in the high strings - after playing the L5 the OM sounds like there is a blanket over the high strings.

Which makes me wonder why the flattop remains so popular when the archtop design seems to have some significant advantages. Price differences used to be an issue, but new archtops are quite competitively priced.

Anybody else ponder the differences?

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I remember them being difficult to play (poorly setup) and "thin" sounding when I started out. But that was in the 60s/70s, which wasn't Gibson's finest hour when it came to acoustic instruments. Kays had neck joint issues and Harmonys were pressed arches which never sounded very good, so the choices were limited and expensive.

I decided to try again with a The Loar when the opportunity arose, which are built to 1920s specs. When I  first got it I must admit to feeling a bit disappointed with tone and playability. I gave it a good setup and made sure the bridge fit the top properly, which made a huge difference to both.

Now that I've had it a few years the tone has mellowed and, more importantly, I've adjusted my playing to it. Unlike a flattop, archtops aren't nearly as forgiving as to string attack and where you pick, so it took a bit to find the sweet spots but it was time well spent.

Not sure I'll toss my flattop, but having both around gives me a much broader sound palette to draw on. My archtop also records much better than the flat - as said above, it isn't "boomy" which makes recording and EQ so much easier.

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Archtops certainly project well.  That's what they were designed to do - cut through the mix in a jazz band prior to the advent of amplification.  They were sometimes referred to as a "high hat with strings" - more of a percussion instrument than a melodic one.  I definitely prefer the bassier sound of a flat top to the brashness of an archtop.  I get that there are those who love archtops.  I certainly love the look, but not the sound.

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