A Step-By-Step Look At How An Archtop Guitar Is Crafted

In a recent installment, we explored some 16-inch acoustic archtops—strictly production models, most of them inexpensive. In a different direction, we’ll now check out the making of a luxurious custom archtop, from the raw wood to the gleaming, finished instrument.

The luthier Erich Solomon makes fewer than 10 archtops per year in his small shop, in Epping, New Hampshire, for a select group of players including Mark Goldenberg and Steely Dan’s Walter Becker. The majority of his guitars are 16-inchers. Solomon finds this size ideal. “Many players find the 16-inch body size more comfortable to play than the 17- or 18-inch. The smaller body seems more natural, and it really works for my Phidelity shape, which depends on placing the bridge in a more central portion of the lower bout—similar to 12-fret guitars, which in general, sound better than their 14-fret counterparts,” he says.

Due to the amount of handwork that goes into his creations, it takes Solomon about 200 hours to make a guitar, and this doesn’t include the 40 to 50 hours his fellow artist, Sandra Ricardo, spends on French-polishing each of his instruments. “French Polish is the only finish that I have ever used on my instruments, and because it acoustically superior, easily repairable, and the most beautiful of all the instrument finishes, I will probably never use anything else, he says. “The French polish breathes, lets the wood oxidize naturally; in a much shorter period of time than nitro, it develops a warm golden hue that no aging toner can ever match.”

Solomon’s most popular design is the Phidelity. This round-hole archtop takes its name from the concept of Phi—or the golden ratio, 1:1.618, found in nature throughout the universe and informing the proportions of the guitar’s components. Solomon has tended to build the Phidelity with the traditional maple back and sides, but this particular example is made from walnut. “Walnut has become my favorite back-and-side wood to use. It is dimensionally very stable, and it’s porous so it has more ‘air’ inside its structure and is slightly more flexible than maple. It’s lighter in weight and has a warm, rich look that I personally like better than fiddle-back maple,” he says.

Back Assembly

The project started off with the search for the perfect billet of claro walnut, which Solomon procured from a wood dealer in northern California. As seen in the first set of pictures, the walnut’s striking curly figuring is clear and consistent, even in the wood’s raw form. Solomon fashioned this special walnut into a book-matched back, glued the two pieces together, and cut out the guitar’s rough silhouette. He then drilled a bunch of quarter-inch holes, Swiss cheese–like, into the back, to make it easier to carve into its arched shape. Note that the darkened areas in some of the images are where Solomon applied a light coat of shellac, for a hint as to how the figure would pop when finished.

Soundboard Assembly

To make the soundboard, Solomon used a choice billet of Adirondack (a.k.a. red) spruce—the prized tonewood, known for its stiffness and loudness, used commonly on prewar acoustics but relatively infrequently on modern guitars due to supply issues. In the first image of this series, a quarter is shown on the unfinished board, giving the wood’s tight grain pattern a sense of scale. Solomon made a two-piece soundboard from the spruce, then rough-carved the outer side, celebrating with a Harpoon IPA or three before later cutting the elliptical soundhole. After that, he gave the Swiss-cheese treatment to the interior side before cutting, gluing, and refining the fan bracing.

Sides Assembly

From the same board of walnut as the back, Solomon cut and bent a pair of sides. After removing them from their molds he joined them with a mahogany neck block and tail block. Note that in the background of the second image is a magazine page depicting a pair of D’Angelico guitars. Happening upon this page in a grocery store in 1995 is what inspired Solomon to learn the art of making archtops in the first place.

Closing the Box

After the kerfing and lining are glued to the sides, things really start to come together as the body’s components are mated. In the fifth image, note that the top has yet to receive its final carve; meanwhile, the following shot captures the walnut’s spectacular coloring and figuring.


Solomon routes the body for binding. Instead of stock plastic binding, he fashions his own using the walnut, along with a definition line of pale wood that has been colored red. After the binding is glued in place and the soundboard has been cleaned up, Sandra Ricardo French-polishes the body, rubbing on many coats of a shellac-and-grain-alcohol mixture. Solomon then cuts a soundport—a supplemental soundhole engineered to direct the sound at the player’s ear—into the upper bass bout, which has been laminated in preparation.

Neck Assembly, Part 1

The neck starts off as a raw hunk of Mahogany Mama. This intensely figured log was also the source of the back and sides of Ken Parker’s Mira archtop. The rough neck, along with another that Solomon is working on, receives a custom Tatsuta beta-titanium truss rod and a pair of headstock ears. The ebony headstock face is then glued on and cut to shape. After that, the Brazilian rosewood fingerboard is glued on and fretted, and then the neck is hand-carved to an ergonomic C profile.

Neck Assembly, Part 2

The headstock is now ready for Solomon’s logo, the four interconnected arms of which represent the materials, the guitar maker, the musician, and the music played on the guitar. The headstock face is routed out in preparation to receive this brass detail. Note that the 4mm indication inside the truss-rod cavity is given so that the proper tool will be used when adjusting the neck. Solomon completes the neck with a walnut heel cap and bone nut, and then he installs the guitar’s gold Waverly tuners, their snakewood buttons complementing the dark-wood components.

The Finished Guitar

After Ricardo has given her treatment to both the body and neck, Solomon attaches them together with a bolt-on assembly that provides stability and ease of maintenance. He screws on his trademark butt-end-mounted tailpiece, made of brass and incorporating a quarter-inch endpin in the event that a pickup is later added. Finally he fits the floating Brazilian rosewood bridge, strings up the guitar, and strums a chord: a magic moment. “Angels wept with joy at the beautiful tone of the finished instrument, in whose profound and noble sound encompasses all of the creepy beauty and euphoric horror of life,” said Solomon.


FONTE: https://reverb.com/news/a-step-by-step-look-at-how-an-archtop-guitar-is-crafted