I'd like to ask those of you who posess an archtop or have experience with them - which of the commonly available archtop guitars are your favorite(s).
The ones I've played seem to have a thinner nut (say 1 1/2") than what I have come to love on the gypsy guitars I've experienced (1 7/8").
Also the tone I'm looking for is more of that 'thumpy' sound I heard on Jethro Burns' 'Playing It Straight', Dudley Hill's sound on the Pearl Django recordings, or even Frank Vignolo's Benedetto.
Any help out there would be appreciated.
My Broadway measures 1-11/16" at the nut, and a 1945 Gibson L-7 used to ran somewhat wider--maybe 1-3/4". Both had distinctly non-electric neck profiles, quite comfy for biggish hands.
What does 'non cut' mean?
It has a really nice cutting voice for rhythm - just tops. The Black Walnut Epis are a unique beast. It's not much of a solo guitar if you're a gypsy style player as the pick guard gets in the way of the rest stroke on the high e string and it doesn't speak as well as a gypsy style guitar on the top two strings - it's more of a balanced tone. The thing about archtops is that you need to use a brutally stiff pick and find the sweet spot. if you try going back toward the bridge - those stiff strings will just resist your pick too much and you'll feel like you're cranking on it and getting nothing out. If you're using a flimsy pick or even a soft thick pick (like a Wegen) you will have a hard time of it. But if you use a really stiff pick (bone/horn...) and move up toward the neck - you'll be lovin' it. On my Epi, the sweet spot is about 1.5 inches to 2.0 inches from the base of the neck. if you stroke it there - man it just opens up and speaks. I love the sound of it - over any other guitar I have.
However, again - it's not a gypsy guitar. So, you'll be in heaven if you're using it for rhythm. If you're trying to use it as a lead guitar, YMMV. If you've not played an archtop - spend some time with one (like... an hour or so) so that you get the feel. If you just pick one up and play a song on it... your reaction will be: "wow, that's a tough brute to play" keep playing, use the stiff pick... go up toward the neck... find the sweet spot. You'll know when you're there - trust me on that. IMVHO, Epiphone archtops are wonderful pre 1950 - medium bodied models I love include the Triumph, Broadway and Deluxe. Small bodied models I love include Spartan and Blackstone... and many early pro-model Epis (at one time - they were all 16" or smaller on the lower bout) Less expensive vintage archtops that are darned cool include Gretsch Synchromatics, Recoring King & several models of Kay (watch the necks on these though - they can be very clubby) Modern affordable archtops... well - there really is only one - the Eastman. For the money - those are GREAT boxes. I think Gryphon strings has an 810 on trade-in under $1700. I heard a guy play it a few months back and it was sweet - and what a steal.
Quality of built, tone and playability are outstanding. Much less than American counterparts.
Most of the hand-built modern archtops are very pricey, but your likely to find that most builders today are well-versed in the D'Angelico - D'Aquisto, Benedetto traditions and will take the time to carve and tune the guitar from the very best woods. If you can find a builder who isn't well-known yet, but makes excellent guitars, that may be your best bet. $2000 would probably be a rock bottom price, but it could be a real steal if you want a guitar to play and aren't worried about resale value and all that other stuff that has very little to do with making music.
I've played old Gibsons that just sounded like crap and others that really had "mojo." As with any factory-built guitar, the range of wood quality runs from pretty good to excellent with a few exceptional samples. Sometimes, the pieces of wood just never harmonize. Other times, you get a magic marriage. Usually, you get "pretty good" guitars. The pros and cons of factory building were evident in the 30's and 40's, but at least there were real people putting things together and some of them were fine luthiers.
Today, the CNC technology means that everything is cut to incredibly precise tolerances, but the instruments may be assembled by someone who was building circuit boards the week before. Modern factory builders often rely on the odds that good wood and a tight assembly will usually result in a guitar that's at least "pretty good." Still, if you look long and hard enough, you may find a really excellent CNC built guitar for under $1000. I see them on eBay all the time, and have heard great reviews of the Eastmans. I've got to say they've done a wonderful job with the Gitane Selmer copies in China so between the cheap labor and the CNC machines, there are some good things happening.
My advice is don't get too hung up on brand names. Play a lot of archtops and play them as acoustic guitars. (If you want to play electric, get an ES-175 with a plywood top and it'll sound great once you plug it in.) Get familiar with the variety of sounds they produce, and then, if you hear that sound in an old Harmony or something that wasn't made to be high-end, grab it.
Collectors have a lot of obstacles to oovercome because they're totally concerned about the condition and value of the guitar. If you find the ugly duckling that can really sing, you can focus on making music - which was what these things were intended for anyway.
Just my $.02