An Archtop Guitar also known, as the cello guitar is a steel stringed acoustic or semi acoustic guitar with a full body and a uniquely arched belly. Its sound is associated more with jazz and blues music. It came into existence in the 1890s, invented by Orville Gibson the founder of the Gibson Guitar Corporation.
An Archtop guitar has the following characteristics:
Two F-holes similar to members of the violin family.
A single cutaway, which allows access to the upper frets
The top or the belly of the Archtop guitar is carved out of a block wood or heat pressed by using laminations. The lower parts of the two F-holes are partly covered by a scratch plate raised above the belly to prevent damping its vibration. They have thicker strings such as higher gauged round wound and flat wound, different from the conventional acoustic guitars specially suited for blues and jazz players. An Archtop guitar has an extra strength to allow and support thick strings.
Most Archtop guitars have a rich tone unamplified, and they have some microphone or pick up system inbuilt to it and are intended primarily to tone the sound. This is the same with semi-acoustic guitars. The pickups of a modern archtop are placed in the bridge and or at the neck positions.
Archtop guitars also have tremolo arm system and Bigsby the type of vibrato device used in Electric guitar. This device allows musicians to bend the pitch of notes or the entire chords with pick hand to create different effects. Most tremolo systems cannot be fitted to an archtop guitar as to install it you need to cut large holes in the belly to accommodate the system. But Bigsby and long tailpiece versions of the Gibson Vibrola can be both easily fitted to it.
Archtop guitars, be it acoustic or electric can look very similar the only distinguishing feature is that the latter has an electromagnetic pickup. Electric ones use thick steel strings, which adds tone and creates a unique resonance. Although archtop guitars are usually referred to the hallow body form, some solid body electric guitars are also considered as archtop guitars based strictly on the body and shape of the electric guitar. They have a distinct sound compared to the other electric guitars.
The only problem with the hollow bodied guitar is that when played amplified they tend to generate feedback. This is the main reason on why semi-archtop guitar is developed. The renewed interest in rockability (a form of popular music combination of rock n roll and bluegrass) music has led to the introduction of a rockability model electric archtop guitar with humbucking pickups.
Though factory production of acoustic archtop has died out but the L-7C acoustic archtop is still available from the Gibson custom shop. The existence of the Archtop guitars are likely to remain in the production in some form as long as the interest in jazz guitars and rock n roll music persist.