If you’re interested in learning more about archtop vs flat top guitars, you’ve come to the right post!
I’m not necessarily a guitar expert, but I have played since 2003 and know a thing or two about this instrument.
So what’s the difference between archtop guitars and flatops?
I’ll unpack this in the following sections.
What Are Archtop Guitars?
When talking about so-called archtop guitars, most are referring to electric guitars with hollow bodies and standard pickups (single-coils or humbuckers).
And the name really says it all. These instruments come with an arched top. However, they can also have an arched back as well. And, most importantly, this is where the lines between acoustic and electric guitars get blurred.
In fact, we also have arched top acoustic guitars. They’re not that common. But they still have their use. They’re mainly for jazz music, just like the electric ones.
However, it’s not uncommon to have an archtop acoustic guitar that also comes with one or more magnetic pickups. If it comes with a piezo, it’s like a standard acoustic guitar.
Additionally, archtop guitars come with F-shaped soundholes. In some cases, you’ll have other shapes, but there are usually two soundholes. They’re located on both bass and treble sides of the body.
So archtop guitar is generally an umbrella term for both acoustic and electric guitars with such construction. And both of these have roughly the same use. This is why you’ll also find the term semiacoustic used for the same group of instruments.
Archtop Guitars in a Wider Sense
There are also plenty of solid-body electric guitars with arched tops. Most Gibson Les Paul models are like this. Sure, their tops are technically arched. But we refer to these as carved tops.
Then we also have semi-hollow-body electric guitars with arched tops. One such example is Gibson’s ES-335. However, you shouldn’t confuse these with archtops as described above.
So when we’re mentioning archtops, it’s about large jazz-oriented acoustic or acoustic-electric guitars. Semi-hollows are not like that.
What Are Flat Top Guitars?
Plenty of guitars around have flat tops, right? So what are actually flat top guitars?
For the most part, the term flat-top guitar refers to your standard acoustic guitars These are any of your average guitars seen in a music store. We also know them as Western-style steel-string guitars.
And of course they are used in countless contexts. In fact, you see the same flat-top model in plenty of genres. And they are useful as both lead and backing guitars.
The flat-top wooden soundboard is usually spruce. And it almost always comes with a regular round soundhole in the center. A lot of effort is put towards proper bracing on the inside, the backside of the soundboard.
There’s a specific dynamic with flat top guitars. Steel strings are pulling the top towards the neck, while the body pulls the strings the other way. The bracing helps its construction as well as the tone.
On average, the tone of flat tops is very resonant. You get that shimmering bright sound with a noticeable attack. Be it strumming or picking or fingerpicking, you have that crisp tone. Of course, it differs depending on the body material. But it’s the overall character of flat tops.
Archtop Guitar Vs Flat Top Guitar in a Wider Sense
Now let’s distinguish between some of the following categories:
- Archtop hollow-body electric guitars
- Archtop solid-body electric guitars
- Flat top solid-body electric guitars
- Flat top hollow-body electric guitars
- Archtop acoustic guitars (pretty rare)
- Flat top acoustic guitars
In a wider sense, the term archtop is a bit vague. In most cases, it’s about hollow-body jazz guitars. But you can also find solid-body electric guitars with arched tops. And, although rare, there are some archtop acoustics.
And we can say the same about flat top guitars. It’s mostly a term people use to refer to standard acoustic guitars. But, as you already know, plenty of electric guitars have flat tops. And there are also hollow-body flat top electric guitars.
With that said, the main comparison here is between archtop acoustic guitars and flat-top acoustic guitars.
Archtop jazz guitars have a very narrow use. Aside from jazz and blues, you can find them in some classic rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly bands.
As for flat top solid-body electric guitars, they’re all over the place. And there’s not much practical sonic distinction (if any) between them and arched top solid-body guitars. For instance, Gibson Les Paul Standard can find the same exact use as a Gibson Les Paul Special or an SG.
Archtop Guitar Vs Flat Top Guitars: What You Need to Know
The question is mainly asked about acoustic and semiacoustic guitars. There’s one main difference that, ultimately, impacts the tone and performance.
I mentioned the flat-top acoustic guitar dynamic: the body and the neck pulling against each other. With archtops, it’s a bit different. The construction resembles violins, which means that strings are kind of pushing down on the body top.
The overall tone of flat top guitars is crispier and shimmering. In a way, the instrument shines and even has a bit of a percussive feel to it. Compared to archtops, you can definitely call them brighter-sounding.
Meanwhile, an archtop has a smoother and rounder tone. I would personally call it dull in a way, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just more specific for jazz or blues music.
Archtops aren’t exactly guitars for your cowboy chords. The tone is more evened out all over the spectrum. The smooth and sometimes dark tone helps with smaller chords, playing no more than 3 or 4 notes at the same time. Some say these instruments are designed for three-note chords.
Although players report different experiences, archtop guitars bring more volume. However, flat tops will have more sustain. What’s also interesting is that archtops project more in front of the player.
From the perspective of the performer, the volume seems the same. However, archtops do outperform flat tops here.
In the end, most archtops are used as electric guitars. You plug them into an amp and get the tone going with its magnetic pickup.
Here’s the interesting comparison, with the archtop D’Angelico played acoustically:
Archtop Guitar Vs Flat Top Guitar: Conclusion
I hope this article has clarified some of the differences between these different versions of the guitar.
And if you want to read more about different types of guitars, check out the following posts:
Lastly, if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic, feel free to let me know in the comments!