Friday 5/27/2005 ~ Should we
buy a Martin archtop?
We get email every day from folks
who want to sell their guitar. Most of them are easy yes-or-no
decisions. There's one from earlier this week, though, that has
me on the fence. A lady sent pictures of her 1934 Martin R-18...
a spruce top, mahogany sides-and-back, archtop, f-hole guitar...
Stepping back in time briefly,
to those fun-filled, yet noticeably quieter, pre-electric days:
Guitar manufacturers tried for years to make their guitars louder.
Orville Gibson, in a effort to get a little more projection,
made some round-hole arch topped guitars as early as the late
1890s. In 1916 C.F. Martin designed what was at the time world's
largest commercially manufactured guitar and, as a tribute to
its size, named it the "Dreadnought" after the world's
largest battleship. (Now, of course, this is the most common
sized guitar.) The dreadnought shape added more bass to the sound.
But as we entered the 1920s and
the "Big band" era, guitarists found themselves at
a disadvantage. I don't know if you've ever been in the same
room with a trumpet player, but those guys are loud! With a handful
of horns blasting away, even a dreadnought guitar will get lost
in the mix. To cut through the swingin' sound of a gaggle of
brass players Gibsons ace R&D man Lloyd Loar developed the
L-5, which was introduced in 1923. This model not only had an
arched top, it also mimicked the design of a violin or cello
with "f-holes." The bright, loud, piercing sound of
an L-5 cut through the horns and helped justify the guitar player's
existence in a big band.
And, of course, when an idea
catches on, other companies jump on the bandwagon. The aforementioned
R-18 was one of Martin's f-hole guitars.
But here's the rub: If you're
NOT playing with a bunch of other, louder instruments... but
just sitting there strumming your guitar, an f-hole guitar doesn't
have nearly the rich bass resonance of a round-hole flat-top.
Archtop guitars certainly have their place, especially from an
historical perspective, but they are not widely desired for solo
So.... getting back to our original
issue... this lady has a old Martin. She's asking $1250 for it.
On the one hand: if it was a 1934 flat-top it would be worth
thousands. But on the other hand: it's an archtop. But on hand
one: it's still a 71 year old vintage guitar. But on hand two:
$1250 is a lot of money. But hand one: we have 25 guitars here
in the store now that sell for more than that. Hand two: there's
not any demand for vintage Martin archtops. One: if you tried
to have that guitar made today it would cost three times that
much. Two: what would I ever do with it? The basic question:
don't you think that for what it is: an old, quality-made, famous-manufacturer,
nearly three-quarters-of-a-century-old, works-as-well-today-as-the-day-it-was-made,
musical instrument, it should be worth a mere $1250? Answer:
OK, well, thanks for letting
me ramble and talk it out. Now that I've said all of this I guess
I'll pass on it...
(Although I'm going to regret
it if some famous musical star starts using an old archtop next
week and the market skyrockets... Lemme check Billboard.... Hmmmmmm
#1 Mariah Carey, #2 Gwen Stefani, #3 Ciaro with Ludacris, #4
50 Cent... OK, I guess we're safe...)
In case you have an archtop that
you'd like to electrify, this week's special is Bill Lawrence
See You Soon,
PS: Congratulations to Mark here
at the store! Last week his band, Jill West and Blues Attack, won first place
in the Western
Pennsylvania Blues Society Challenge. They'll be heading
to Memphis early next year for the International Blues Challenge.
PPS: Thanks to all of you who
wrote about last week's mathematical riddle. If you recall, Eric,
Jack and Ginger started with $30. They each paid $9 for the room,
for a total of $27. They also gave the motel desk clerk a $2
tip. $27 and $2 equals $29. What happened to the other dollar?
The solution: The $27 that they paid was $25 for the room and
$2 for the tip. So the tip has already been counted. The calculations
in the riddle add the tip twice. The real question is: They paid
$27, what happened to the other three dollars? ($30 - $27) And
the answer is in their pockets. They each got a dollar back in
The funniest reply came from Joyce who wrote:
"The proper question should be 'What happened to the $30?'
The answer would be that the hotel got $25, each musician got
$1, the drummer got $1 and the desk clerk got $2, for a total
PPPS: Customer Web Site:
Jill West and Blues Attack