Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chapter Two: The Archtop

Gluing the Sitka Spruce top
Well, here we are again. I'm not sure who is the bigger glutton for punishment here: me for building another guitar or you for continuing to read my blog. But here we are, so I might as well get on with it.

This project has been brewing for quite a while now, since sometime last year when I and several classmates decided to build an archtop. Actually, we first decided it would be a good idea to build a mandolin and we were very excited about that. I couldn't wait. I figured it would be a good motivation to learn to play more than a few chords badly and, besides, I would never be able to afford to buy a good mandolin, so here was my chance. Then someone said, "you know, there's really not much difference between a mandolin and an archtop guitar." Well, that was the end of that. It was then that we decided that a couple of us would make mandolins and a couple would make archtop guitars since, as Ted pointed out, the process is very much the same. So my class from last year is intact, and we've added a couple of people, Will and Rob. More on them later.

So for those avid readers of my blog who aren't familiar with guitar types, two of the most prominent are flat tops and archtops. Flat tops are the most common these days, and include dreadnoughts like the one I just finished making, but also classical guitars, and many other shapes and sizes. The main thing of course, is that the top of the instrument is flat. (Or, as you may recall from one of my first posts, almost flat, since there's actually a slight radius on it). An archtop, on the other hand has - you guessed it - an arched top, which is made by actually carving an arched shape out of a fairly thick piece of wood as opposed to simply using a relatively thin, flat piece as you would with a flat top.

Some would say archtops are much more difficult to make (and the prices you pay for good archtops, which often get well over $10,000 for even a decent professional model, bear that out), but others would differ with that opinion. In any event, the process is very different.

In the end, the main difference between flat tops and archtops aside from their construction is the way they're used. To make a big generalization, these days flat tops are generally used for bluegrass, country, folk, rock - most popular music, in fact. On the other hand, most jazz players use archtops and a jazz club is where you will most often find them, although they're also used by blues players and many others. It's certainly not uncommon to find one in a rock band. There's much more history to it, of course.

So we have two classes under our belts now and we've made good progress already. Our tops have been planed to the proper thickness and the two book-matched parts glued together; the backs have been chosen; and several other preparatory steps are behind us. We'll be bending sides in the next week or two, so we're moving right along.

I'm excited about the wood and some special plans for my new guitar, but I'll save that one for next time. Until then...

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