He based the design on his 1898 patent for a mandolin. On the patent he wrote, “it was also applicable to guitars” and (the design) was intended to enhance “power and tone”.
The instrument he created featured a top and back that were each carved from a single piece of wood that was thicker in the middle and based on his mandolin design. The mandolins of his day were Italian bowl-back style. Gibson’s design for the mandolin (and guitar) was revolutionary since it had a thin arched back.
|Back of guitar|
His guitar featured an oval sound hole, like the one found on his mandolins. The strings were attached to a belly bridge that had 3 or 4 pearl inlay decorations on either side.
|1902 Gibson Style 03|
Due to the lack of a truss rod, the neck on Gibson’s guitar was rather thick. The neck was attached in a way that is appears to be carved from the same piece of wood. In fact that was his goal, but production of such instruments would be impractical.
|1903 Gibson Style O|
Initially he made these guitars himself in his private workshop and sold them through the company that eventually took his name when they purchased his patents. Orville Gibson was officially hired in 1908 but worked there for only a few years until he became very ill.
|1910 Gibson |
Style O Artist
Later in 1908 Gibson guitars redesigned the Style O and gave it the name Style 0 Artist. This version had an appearance more like a mandolin, with it curled upper bout. The top and back were carved and arched. The Style O Artist also had an oval sound hole. Unlike Orville Gibson's first version, this guitar did have a distinctive back and sides that were made of mahogany. This guitar also had a floating archtop bridge/saddle, and a trapeze tailpiece.
|1911 Gibson |
Style O Artist
At $265 it was priced out of reach for most musicians. The paddle headstock on the Style O Artist was updated to one that appeared more like those found on modern Gibson guitars. The neck on this guitar had a sharp V shape, which was a way to reduce warping. A truss rod was added in 1921, just a year before the guitar was discontinued.
|1907 Gibson L-1|
Following Orville Gibson's departure from the company, Gibson introduced the Model L-1, which was an arched top guitar with a round sound hole.
|Eddie Lang with Gibson L-4|
|1896 A.H. Merrill patent|
It is written that Orville Gibson was not the first person to patent the archtop guitar. This honour belongs to luthier A.H. Merrill, who in 1896 patented an instrument, “of the guitar and mandolin type” that featured a convex graduated top and back. The top had violin shaped “F-holes” and the strings attached to a metal tailpiece.
|Copy of Howe Orm archtop guitar|
Even earlier, in 1893 a fellow named James Back patented a guitar design that was based on the popular parlor style guitars of the day. These guitars were sold under the Howe Orm brand.
From a distance the instrument appeared to be a standard parlor instrument, but on further examination the top is arched. This instrument had a round sound hole. The design was based on Back’s Mandolinetto, which was a guitar-shaped 8 string mandolin. Original Howe Orm guitars had a floating bridge and a trapeze tailpiece.
|Lloyd Loar in his workshop at Gibson|
In 1922, Lloyd Loar was hired by the Gibson Company to redesign their instrument line in an effort to counter flagging sales. Loar was schooled as a sound engineer. He was also a mandolin player, and a luthier.
|1924 Gibson L-5|
|1924 Gibson K-5|
Initially the L-5 was a failure. Loar left the company within a few years. However the Gibson L-5 in various incarnations has remained one of Gibson most popular and resilient models. It also became one of the most imitated guitars and is still in production.
|1934 Gibson |
Ever striving for volume, Gibson introduced the Super 400 in 1934, It cost $400, which was an exorbitant price. The first models said L-5 Super on the truss rod cover. Five years later the tailpiece was redesigned to resemble what we see on modern Super 400’s. The body was 18”, which was a full inch wider that the L-5.
|1930's Oscar Schmidt |
There is one American designer that did base his archtop on a violin style body. This was William Wilkanowski,
|1934 Wilkanosk Archtop|
|1938 Wilkanoski Airway|
Some instruments featured a violin-like scroll on the headstock, while others had a headstock that had an unusual top (which may have where Ovation got their headstock design). Wilkanoski's instruments were sold under the AIRWAY brand, although some instruments were labeled with a W.
|Epiphone Recording |
Model D and B
In 1928 Epiphone came out with a unique series of archtop guitars that had round sound holes. These were the Epiphone Recording Models A,B,C,D, and E. Model E was the most expensive.
|Epiphone Recording |
The top was made of carved spruce. The back and sides were made of maple. The headstocks varied though the years, but always came with a cellulose (mother-of-toilet-seat) veneer. The necks were bound, with ebony fret boards. The position markers also varied depending upon the model.
|Duke Ellington Band |
Guitarist Fred Guy
Subsequently Gibson began making larger versions, such as the Super 400.
|'50's D'Angelico New Yorker |
and '74 D'Aquitson
So did other makers, such as John D’Angelico and his protege Jimmy D’Aquisto, whose original guitars were strongly influenced by the Gibson Super 400.
|'46 Stromberg Master 400|
Charles and Elmer Stromberg of Boston built fine archtop guitars that were prized by Big Band players due to their loud sound.
|'50's Harmony Patrician |
and '40's Kay K-42
Harmony and Kay guitars of Chicago made inexpensive version of the Gibson archtop, which generally had pressed tops and backs instead of carved backs and tops.
|1940 Gretsch |
The Gretsch Company came out with the Synchromatic archtop acoustic.
|'51 Epiphone |
The Epiphone Company created some wonderful archtop instruments. Many had a unique device that the company called The Frequensator Tailpiece.
In Europe, German based Framus and Höfner came out with some exquisite archtop guitars. While in Sweden Hagström took up the banner.
|'52 Hofner 457|
In Europe, the Höfner company, founded in 1887, had a rich and interesting history. The company was located in West Germany, but in 1948 began working on a new factory in Bubenreuth. This facility was opened in 1950. Prior to this Höfner was selling both acoustic archtop guitars, with and without pickups throughout Europe.
|1930 Framus Capri|
|Jimmy D'Aquisto and |
37 Kenmare Street
One of the more famous archtop guitar builders was John D’Angelico of New York City. He started as an apprentice to his uncle who made violins, mandolins, and flat top guitars. Within a few years D’Angelico took over as the shops supervisor. Upon his uncle’s death, John took over the shop.
|Vintage D'Angelico Style B|
|1952 Stromberg G-5|
Charles and Elmer Stromberg, a father and son, built archtop guitars in the style of the Gibson Super 400. These were exquisite instruments that are known for their impressive volume level. Well known jazz guitarists sought these out so they could be heard over the drums and horns.
In 1936 Gibson introduced the ES-150 which was proclaimed as the world’s first electric Spanish-style electric guitar. This was a boon for Jazz bands of the day. Guitarists could be heard above the horns and could play single line runs instead of just chopping away as a rhythm instrument. Other companies followed suit with their versions.
|'54 Epiphone Devon with DeArmond pickup|
The Rowe-DeArmond company came out with individual pickups designed to be added to archtop guitars, without defacing the wooden top. These became very popular with Jazz players.
|1949 Gibson ES-175|
By 1949 Gibson followed up with another popular model; their model ES-175. Two years after that Gibson electrified the L-5 with the introduction of the L5CES. Shortly after that the Gibson Super 400CES was introduced.
|1935 Harmony Cremona|
|1947 Harmony Broadway|
Other Harmony archtop guitars included the Patrician and the Archtone, the Catalina, the Monteray, the Montclair, and the Broadway. Depending on the year of origin, some of these guitars had carved tops, but most had pressed tops or heat pressed lamination. This was a processed developed by European luthiers.
|1940's Kay Archtop|
Another maker the produced less expensive archtop guitars was the Kay Guitar Company. Some of these were produced under the Kamico brand, while others were sold under the Gold K line. And of course Kay made some archtops under their own name. Both Harmony and Kay were going for the budget minded guitarist. Much of their products were outsourced to retailers such as Sears, J.C. Penny's and Montgomery Wards.
|Joe Maphis with Gibson |
modified by Mosrite
There were jazz players that favored archtops, but these were generally electric instruments or acoustic archtops topped with a DeArmond add-on pickups.
By the 1970's the archtop market was greatly diminished. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the best instruments were essentially handmade and very expensive.
|James (Jimmy) D'Aquisto|
At first he continued the D'Angelico brand, but then put his own name on his creations. Most of these guitars were archtops and today they are worth up to a half a million dollars. He took D'Angelico's designs and updated them, making them his own signature designs. Jimmy subsequently influenced future archtop builders. Sadly D'Aquisto died at age 60 in 1995.
|1978 Benedetto Cremona|
But the biggest resurgence of acoustic archtop guitars did not happen until the 1990's. Builders such as Robert Benedetto, John Monteleone, Robert Collings, and Linda Manzer.
|Ken Parker Archtop|
Even Ken Parker (who gave us the original Parker Fly guitar), all make wonderful contemporary archtop guitars that are functional works of art.
|Godin 5th Avenue|