When you sit an archtop guitar next to a normal flattop guitar, there are obvious visual differences. However, you might not know what these differences mean for the guitar in terms of sound and other features. The different parts of these guitars end up creating some different sounds and actions that help give its type its own guitar category. Here are a few of the differences between archtop guitars and flattops.
First, a bit of history. The term “flattop” guitar was not around before the dawn of the archtop. The invention of this arched top instrument made this descriptor necessary. The reason an archtop guitar is called an arch top is because the top of the body, which is called the soundboard, is more rounded than on its flattop counterpart. This combined with the hollow inside presents a different sound than a typical flattop guitar.
Another way the sound of an archtop guitar differs from a flattop is through its sound holes. On a traditional guitar, such as a flattop acoustic, the sound hole is located in the center of the body underneath the strings. On an archtop, these sound holes are actually called “f-holes,” and are borrowed from the same holes found on violins. These f-holes are located on either side of the guitar’s body.
Archtop guitar strings are also a bit different than the strings you’ll find on a flattop, such as an acoustic. The strings on an archtop are usually longer and more thick, which adds to the unique sound an archtop provides the guitar player. Archtops are capable of putting off a nice acoustic sound, but many of the models that are produced also have electrical pickups that allow the sound of the archtop to be amplified. These pickups are, more often than not, of the “humbucker” variety, which utilizes two reverse-polarity coils to reduce the interference and noise the archtop has when played as an electric.
These are some of the major differences between archtop guitars and the original flattop guitars that preceded them. The two guitar types have unique benefits, which is why you’ll find fans of both in the guitar community. By knowing why one has certain design features and the other takes a different approach, you can better determine which guitar is right for you, and start looking at different guitar manufacturers or luthiers to find the next guitar you want to add to your collection.