Archtop Jazz Guitars

Take a look at the archtop jazz guitars that top cats use, great instruments to start your own quest of finding your jazzbox.

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Distinguished by its arched top, warm tones and elegant looks, the archtop or "jazzbox" continues to be a staple in Jazz music. As a testament to the efficiency of its design, archtops have stayed pretty much the same through the years, with only a few aesthetic and tonal variations. Gibson's iconic hollow body guitars continue to dominate in this market, thankfully there are now more alternative and affordable options from other manufacturers.

Since we've done all the legwork, all you have to do is sit back and relax, while we present you with the guitars that the jazz masters use, we've also provided some useful videos for reference as well as affordable alternatives.

Gibson L5

Wes Montgomery
Wes with his Gibson L5
Wes Montgomery L-5 CES
Gibson Wes Montgomery L-5 CES

Gibson L5 is the quintessential "jazzbox" and is certainly the most influential archtop jazz guitar. It was initially introduced as an acoustic archtop but was later modified to have a pair of P-90 pickups and was named L5 CES. The Gibson L5 CES then went on to be the standard on which jazz guitars are measured against. Since great guitars are nothing but expensive wood without the right artistic hands, Wes Montgomery came into the picture and ensured the L5's iconic status. He went on to play a major role in laying the foundation for jazz guitar soloing and jazz music in general. So if you are looking to get serious with traditional jazz, the L5 with its historically significance, is where you should start looking at.

Both vintage and remake Gibson L5s are now super expensive, with the custom remakes bearing a price tag of no less than ten grand - saying that it will be a big investment is an understatement. Thankfully, they have something for the more budget conscious jazz cats - the Epiphone Broadway Archtop Electric Guitar. It faithfully mimics many of the L5's characteristics at a more reasonable price of $800. Go to Amazon.com for more information and to read relevant user reviews.


D'Aquisto Avante Garde Acoustic Archtop

Eddie Lang
Eddie Lang

Before amplification was the norm, guitarists like jazz pioneer Eddie Lang used acoustic archtops to get their sound across. These louder guitars became a staple in jazz ensembles, improving the over all popularity of the guitar. Since the volume was still lacking, Charlie Christian and his pickup-equipped ES-150 eventually overshadowed the acoustic archtop era. If you are looking for that classic woody jazz tone, D'Aquisto will bring you back to the pre-amplifier era with the Avante Garde Acoustic Archtop. It features traditional design with experimental elements, resulting in a full-sounding and loud instrument that retains impressive definition. Since D'Aquisto has an outstanding reputation when it comes to hollow body guitars, you can expect no less than exemplary tone, aesthetics and playability.

The D'Aquisto Avante Garde Acoustic Archtop is an instrument that can double as a great looking art piece, so it is no surprise that it commands a premium price tag. Check it out at Amazon.com, where it currently retails for $4,400. If you are working with a limited budget, Godin has a great looking and affordable acoustic archtop in its stable, the 5th Avenue. It features great looking Canadian wild cherry tonewoods, crafted into a traditional shape, that oozes with vintage vibe. This beautiful instrument is currently available in three gorgeous finishes via online retail stores with a cheap price tag of more or less $500. Visit Amazon.com for the latest price and to read various user reviews.


Gibson ES-175

Joe Pass
Joe with his ES-175

The ES-175 is another popular archtop from Gibson, in fact it can even be argued that it may very well be the most well known jazzbox. It still follows the body template of the L5, but bearing its own distinctive florentine cutaway. It was considered as a very versatile guitar when it was first introduced, and up to this day with all the modern guitar designs, it still holds its own as one of the most versatile and practical instrument for jazz guitarists. Jazz guitar virtuoso Joe Pass is just one of the many artists and professionals that made this guitar their weapon of choice. If you are still not sure which jazz guitar to buy, then let us help you decide - by default you should pick the Gibson ES-175!

Vintage ES-175s are getting harder to acquire, thankfully the current production models retain period correct details while having improved quality and convincing tones. Visit Amazon.com for further details, they have a few stocks available for purchase priced at $3,500. A more affordable alternative would be the Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor II, a smaller jazzbox that bears the signature of the jazz guitar legend, featuring classic Alnico humbuckers and a great looking Tree of Life headstock inlay. The Joe Pass Emperor II is currently retailing for $600, head over to Amazon.com for more details.


Ibanez GB10

George Benson
George and the GB10

Ibanez is relatively new to the jazz guitar market, but they have been making major strides by teaming up with big name artists and covering a wide range of prices. The Ibanez GB10 George Benson Signature is a prime example of their successful jazz guitar branding, it is a combination of efficient building techniques, modern playability and traditional style. With the backing and approval of a tremendously talented artist - George Benson, the GB10 went on to be a popular instrument used by fans, professionals and hobbyists alike. The GB10 features unique floating pickups and follows Benson's vision of having a 14.75" width smaller acoustic body for both convenience and better feedback handling. If playability and modern tone is important in your book, then the Ibanez GB10 is your best bet.

The Ibanez GB10 George Benson signature guitar is currently retailing for around $3,200, and you can go to Amazon.com to purchase it online. If that is beyond your budget, don't fret because you can still "fret" on a variety of affordable archtops from Ibanez. Since we can't list them all here, we picked the coolest looking among the bunch, the Ibanez AFS75. This archtop comes with a custom vintage style tremolo and features a great looking Tobacco flat finish at a very modest price of $480. Go to Amazon.com for further details.


Peerless Martin Taylor Maestro

Joe Pass
Martin with his Maestro
Peerless Martin Taylor Maestro
Peerless Martin Taylor Maestro

No, Martin Guitars and Taylor Guitars did not collaborate to create a jazz instrument, rather this is a signature guitar created by Peerless guitars and co-designed by contemporary jazz virtuoso Martin Taylor. This exquisite looking archtop is an ideal example of how big name jazz guitarists prefer to have guitars built to their specifications. It features great looking all-solid tonewoods - blonde carved solid spruce top, antique sunburst carved solid maple back, and solid maple sides. The guitar's fingerboard, bridge and tailpiece are all crafted from ebony. The tone and playability is as exquisite as its looks, as proven by the many videos of Martin Taylor's live playing. If you are aiming for a more modern archtop that is built with the help of a real jazz musician, then start saving up for this one.

The Peerless Martin Taylor Maestro is currently being sold for around $3,250. If you are looking for the same modern elegance at a relatively more affordable price point, then you should check out the Godin Kingpin 5th Avenue Jazz. This instrument features elegant tonewoods at a more reasonable price. It features Canadian wild cherry top, back and sides and is built in Canada using modern guitar crafting techniques and materials. It is currently retailing for $1,895. Find out more about the 5th Avenuue Jazz guitar by visiting Amazon.com.

Related Article:
Martin Lewis Carbon Fiber Archtop

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Archtops

We have been one of the leading makers of arch tops since 2003 with the release of the Jim Hall model.
http://www.sadowsky.com/archtops/index.html

Archtop Luthiers

There are many independent luthiers who create custom archtop guitars, instead of the mass-produced versions mentioned in the post above. I feel luthiers Roger Sadowsky, Bob Benedetto, Jim Triggs, Stephen Marchione and many more should also have been mentioned.

This article was focused

This article was focused mainly on a few great players and the Archtops they used, but you are correct - there are some excellent boutique and independent luthiers our there who make some brilliant instruments.

If you would like to write a guest post for GuitarSite.com about some of the lesser known, but great Archtops, then please contact me via http://www.hitsquad.com/contact/Jason_Horton/

Cheers,
Jason - GuitarSite.com Editor.

Thanks for referencing

Thanks for referencing Benedetto in your response above. I have to agree with Roger Sadowsky. While your article is targeted, it's a little bit of a disservice to the reader to overlook some major names in the archtop world that truly focus on provide player uncompromising instruments at all price points. Benedetto has been building guitar for 45 years, and we currently provide instruments to perhaps the largest number of professional players on the scene. Ask guys like Martin and George, both of whom own our instruments. Or Howard Alden, Bucky Pizzarelli, Andreas Oberg, Chico Pinheiro, Dan Faehnle, etc. I'd love to see this expanded to include the builders/brands that have truly succeeded in providing todays greatest players with the modern jazz guitars that grace the concert halls, clubs and studios of the world. Thanks!

Wes Montgomery Heart Jazz Box

I own a Wes Montgomery Heart Jazz Guitar. Only 36 of these guitars were shipped in 1997. I have documentation from
Thom Fowle of the Gibson Custom Shop. I was a Gibson dealer for over 20 years and purchased this guitar from the Gibson Custom Shop in 1997. I would like to sell this beautiful collectors guitar. Please contact me Ralph Fava @ lockportmusic@verizon.net for pictures and more information. Serious inquiries only please.

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