The Banjo Glossary Project 2019  
Tuesday, January 22, 2019

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Archtop Instruments  noun \ˈärch ˈtäp ˈint-strə-mənts\  Change text size for readability...  Print This Page
01:58An archtop instrument is a stringed instrument with the top plate bearing a visible arch. Archtop instruments are found primarily in the violin, mandolin (or lute) and guitar families.

Within the guitar family the term "archtop" is often associated with the classic "f-hole" jazz guitar, which is a guitar, usually with "f-holes," a moveable bridge and tailpiece, and used mostly with jazz music. As the term implies, these instruments have an arched top, as opposed to a flat top found in folk, classical and other guitar designs.

The arch of a fine archtop guitar is carved from a thick solid wood plank, an expensive process which requires a skilled and experienced luthier to do correctly. Mass-produced guitars of lesser price and quality have laminated, or plywood, arched tops and backs that are pressed into shape in a mold under heat and pressure.

The traditional archtop acoustic guitar is known for its mellow tone, smoothness through all ranges, relative lack of sustain and tremendous cutting power when played hard. Along with drums, the archtop guitar was half of the rhythm section in the Big Band era.

All violin family, and most mandolin family instruments have arched tops and backs, with better quality instruments' top and back plates being carved from solid blocks of wood. Mass-produced and inexpensive instruments of the violin or mandolin family will often be made of laminated (plywood) tops and backs.

Many solid-body electric guitars also include subtle arches in their design, giving them a classic stylish and timeless appearance.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The term "archtop" is also used to describe a specific type of banjo, as well as a variety of musical instrument cases. There is no relationship between these different "archtops.")

Also See: ArchTop Banjo
LAST UPDATED 04-25-2016 00:21