Archtop guitars are steel string instruments, which feature a violin-inspired f-hole design in which the top (and often the back) of the instrument are carved in a curved rather than a flat shape. If you look across the top of the guitar, you’ll notice the wood arches in the middle and dips down where it meets the sides of the guitar. Not all archtop guitars have f-holes. Some, especially early Gibsons, have round or oval soundholes. The arch of the fine archtop guitar is carved from a thick plank, an expensive procedure that requires quite a lot of skilled handwork to do correctly. Guitars of lesser price and quality have laminated or plywood arched tops and backs, which are pressed into shape.
Lloyd Loar of the Gibson Guitar Corporation invented this variation of guitar after designing a style of mandolin of the same type. The typical archtop is a hollowbody guitar whose form is much like that of a mandolin or violin family instrument and may be acoustic or electric. Some solidbody electric guitars are also considered archtop guitars, the most notable being the Gibson Les Paul. However, “archtop guitar” usually refers to the hollow body form. Archtop guitars were immediately adopted by jazz and country musicians and have remained particularly popular in jazz music, usually using thicker strings (higher gauged round wound and flat wound) than acoustic guitars. Archtops are often louder than a typical dreadnought acoustic guitar. The traditional archtop acoustic guitar is known for its mellow tone, smoothness through all ranges, relative lack of “sustain” and tremendous “cutting power” when played hard. Along with drums, the archtop guitar was half of the rhythm section in the “big band” era.