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How do you view installing a pickup?

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How do you view installing a pickup?

Postby Brian Evans » Mon Oct 16, 2017 10:10 am

Archtop makers, how do you reconcile the effort and time required to carve a great acoustic archtop with installing a hard-mounted, through the top pickup (or two). Do you, if you know that's what you are doing, carve a nice outside arch and kind of throw away the inside? I've seen hand made, carved spruce top archtops with the top a half inch thick where the pickups mount, and it just seems odd to me that people do that. My own feeling is that electric archtops are different instruments than acoustic archtops, share only the visual aspect, and a laminated top and back, along with a solid block or post under the bridge, makes for a far better electric guitar at the end of the day. I am reminded of the electric archtop that D'Angelico custom made for Chet Atkins, it had a solid mounted pickups and a block under the bridge.

To be clear, I am aware of and have used floating pickups - that's not what I am talking about. More thinking of the hand carved Benedetto guitars like this random choice from their web page: http://benedettoguitars.com/boutique/black-americana/

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Re: How do you view installing a pickup?

Postby Bill Raymond » Tue Oct 17, 2017 12:18 am

Chet's D'Angelico was not made as an electric, but was made to be electified. It had soundposts, not a block beneath the bridge and Chet mounted a Bigsby pickup near the fretboard and a P-90 near the bridge himself. One of the Gretsches he had made featured a fully carved (outside) maple top that was left very thick, no soundholes and one prototype Ray Butts split filtertron and a prototype filtertron--there were separate outputs for treble and bass strings. It seems Chet was accustomed to the large archtop bodys and preferred them even though they were electrified. I see no problem electrifying an acoustic archtop however you may want to do it. It's largely a matter of taste and what you'd like.
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Re: How do you view installing a pickup?

Postby Randolph Rhett » Tue Oct 17, 2017 12:37 pm

Archtops became electric guitars very early in their development. Most archtop players don’t worry about or even want an acoustic tone. Sound posts, plywood, and heavy pickups mounted through the top and screwed on with three large screws are all just fine for them. A solid carved top is a marketing add on that brings nothing sonically to the table for most prospective buyers.

If, on the other hand, you are building an acoustic instrument for yourself of for the very few people interested in the acoustic sound of a pre-war Epiphone or D’Angelico then I believe an inset pickup (like a sound post or a laminate top) is antithetical to what you are trying to achieve.
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Re: How do you view installing a pickup?

Postby Paul Breen » Tue Oct 17, 2017 12:48 pm

I see no down sides to cutting a pick up hole in an archtop, IF, it is designed for one. As an afterthought, probably not. I run across this from time to time doing repair work, the pictures say it all with this unfortunate 50's L7C Gibson.
L7C pick up cut out.jpg

L7C pick up cut out 2.jpg

L7C pick up cut out 3.jpg


Yes, the braces have been cut.
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Re: How do you view installing a pickup?

Postby Brian Evans » Tue Oct 17, 2017 2:37 pm

What I was really wondering is - if you are building a guitar that is going to have a routed in pickup, do you carve and voice the top as perfectly as you would for an acoustic guitar, or do you not bother really tuning it and just make it look pretty? Same with the back - I take hours to tune the back of my guitars, but would you do that if it was getting a pickup? Personally, I would not, if it was getting the full electric treatment I wouldn't bother trying to properly tune the box at all. But what do other people do?
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Re: How do you view installing a pickup?

Postby Randolph Rhett » Tue Oct 17, 2017 8:30 pm

If I was building an electric masquerading as an acoustic I don’t think I would bother with carved plates, let alone try to voice them. I would get the most insane figured veneers and build a laminated guitar. Any “voicing” you do will be instantly altered when you mount two heavy metal and plastic bricks to the top. But it all depends on your market. If “voicing” a carved spruce top on an electric guitar is what your market is looking for, then by all means.
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Re: How do you view installing a pickup?

Postby Barry Daniels » Tue Oct 17, 2017 9:09 pm

I don't disagree with what has already been said, however, I don't think it is all black and white but more shades of gray.

For example, I made a thinline archtop 10 years ago with two inset humbuckers and a carved solid spruce top. The guitar had a laminated back and sides and a solid block between the top and back that ran down just below the bridge. Even though there was little regard for acoustics in the design and building, the guitar ended up with a very nice, resonate tone and reasonable volume even when it wasn't plugged in. Plugged in was very good too with a nice woody and open sound. I have to attribute a lot of the nice tone to the spruce top. I don't know what else it could be.
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Re: How do you view installing a pickup?

Postby Arnt Rian » Wed Oct 18, 2017 6:50 am

Brian Evans wrote:My own feeling is that electric archtops are different instruments than acoustic archtops, share only the visual aspect, and a laminated top and back, along with a solid block or post under the bridge, makes for a far better electric guitar at the end of the day.

One of the things that I find interesting about electric archtops, is that even small variations in the constructions will give noticeable difference in the response of the instrument. There is a big difference between solid block under the bridge vs. a soundpost, which you mention. As an example, in the world of solidbody electrics, there are big discussions about the merrits / disadvantages between various types of chambering. Some hate the concept, others love it, but most seem to agree that it contributes something substantial to the tone of the instruments. The difference between them should be quite insignificant compared to the difference between the a block and a soundpost.

I made a fully carved archtop with a Gretsch inspired "trestle bracing" and Filterton humbuckers in one of the MIMF "challenges" some years back, the unamplified sound of the instrument is not very interesting, but certainly louder and more live than eg. a ES-335. One more way to "skin the cat". As for what makes the best electric guitar, I guess that depends on the use, but there certainly seems to be a lot more electric archotps of various types, than acoustic archops.
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Re: How do you view installing a pickup?

Postby Freeman Keller » Wed Oct 18, 2017 1:15 pm

I had kind of the reverse of all of this - a customer asked me to make him "an acoustic that looks like an ES-175". We both agreed that this was a crap shoot and I couldn't predict what it would sound like, but here it is

Image

The top is simple Lutz plate with as much of an arch as I could put into it, but is not carved. X braced, at the very last minute while the box was open I put a bridge plate transducer in it - I figured if it sounded terrible as an acoustic it might be better plugged in

Image

He had a few other requests which you would understand if you met the guy. Guess what, when it was all done it doesn't sound that bad, sorta like an archtop....
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Re: How do you view installing a pickup?

Postby Alan Carruth » Thu Oct 19, 2017 1:16 pm

Some years ago I tried building a small bodied archtop to be primarily played amplified. There's a picture of Wolf Muthspiel holding it in the July '90 'Guitar Player' (as I said, some years ago...). It was small and narrow, with a very shallow box and double cutaway, but a fully carved spruce top and maple back. The idea was to preserve the complexity of an acoustic but cut down on feedback. In the end it left something to be desired. It seems that making it sound 'interesting' and 'full' acoustically (although not loud) gave it a sound that was not very appealing when amplified. It was almost as if all the 'good' sound was taken out of the strings by the top, and what was left for the pickups to hear was the stuff nobody wanted to listen to.

My second attempt was a similarly sized box, also shallow, but with a single cutaway. I used curly maple for both the top and back of that one, carved and 'tuned' as usual, but a bit on the thick side so that all the modes were high pitched. It had a single F-hole on the bass side to reduce feedback issues. It also had a heavy beam of wood that joined the neck and tail blocks, but did not touch either the top or back. I mounted a standard humbucker to the beam which came up through a hole in the top, but didn't touch the top. This succeeded pretty well. The acoustic sound was 'thin', lacking in bass, but interesting, and the plugged in sound was full with plenty of tone color. Sadly, UPS modified it rather extensively when it was being hipped home from the NAMM festival, and refused to pay off, even though it was insured. The neck, which was a full pocket mortise like a violin neck, and glued to the end button of the back in the same way, broke off, breaking the back at the button. I eventually 'repaired' it by screwing the neck into the block and sold it cheaply to a student when I moved.

It's always fun, and often instructive, to explore a different part of the continuum between 'fully acoustic' and 'fully electric'.
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Re: How do you view installing a pickup?

Postby Brian Evans » Fri Oct 20, 2017 10:05 am

Alan, the George Barnes Guild "Acousti-lectric" archtop had a similar solution to mounting pickups. It had a fully carved spruce top, a beam of wood between the neck and tail blocks, the two pickups were mounted to the beam and the only holes in the top were the holes surrounding the pickups. Apparently it worked pretty well. The lore is that they were hand made by Guild's top luthier. I find that guitar fascinating for some reason. I am in the throes of starting a new "traditional" archtop, I am just drawing a venetian cutaway for it, which I have never done before, so now I have to consider doing an "Acousti-lectric" homage... :) http://guitarsnjazz.com/product/guild-g ... inal-copy/
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