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How many of you would love an archtop to have more sustain? How many of you love how archtops look but just can't get them to work for you and your music? How about more clarity or a broader, richer tonal palette to work with, compared to a traditional archtop?
THE STATE OF THE ARCHTOP
Recent years have seen a flourishing of archtop guitar making with many new makers pushing the design further and further to see what it is truly capable of. One maker who seems to be at the fore of this movement is English luthier Nigel Forster, of NK Forster guitars. Nigel has been around making top quality instruments since the late '80s when he began his apprenticeship with highly regarded luthier Stefan Sobell. In the last few years, he has turned his attention to archtop guitar design and has invented this new, revolutionary design.
A DRASTICALLY NEW DESIGN
What Nigel came up with is an entirely different way of building that really addresses what modern players want, yet has done so with a respectful nod to the past. This design really is a “modern classic,” a blend of the old and the new. It is an archtop that plays like an electric, that sustains like a solid body, yet has the resonance and clarity of a fine acoustic.
Sure, the materials are the best – the workmanship is superb, but the reason why this guitar works so well has everything to do with the design. This instrument works differently from a traditional arch top guitar. There is no traditional tailpiece. The neck goes the whole length from the tip of the head to just beyond the saddle. It's just a solid piece of timber--and that means sustain! ALL of the string tension is handled by the neck, not by the body, and inside the neck is a truss rod which travels the whole length, making for super accurate adjustment and for that low action that's so easy to play.
Next, the neck is set at a fixed distance above the soundboard. In between the neck and the soundboard goes the bridge, and it's higher than that fixed distance. But the neck is fixed – it doesn't move, so by squeezing that high bridge in the gap, the soundboard is placed under considerable down pressure, easily as much as a traditional archtop guitar. The whole “transmission system” works in a different fashion from a normal guitar. All the pressure is straight down, it pumps the top up, down and around, so the body simply amplifies the vibration of the neck. No longer does the body have to perform two jobs, handling string tension and amplifying vibrations - now it can just do the latter, and more efficiently so.
Clever huh? And it really works! It's super simple, really effective, and classic lateral thinking.
WHAT ARCHTOP PLAYERS WANT
One of the things Nigel is always keen to find out is what players really want from an instrument. He listens--listens to them play and listens to what they say. One of the things he has realised when talking to archtop players is that when they describe the qualities they want, those qualities are actually sometimes at odds with the instruments they play. They want a guitar with power, and sustain and clarity, but that often just isn't possible with a traditional jazz guitar--until now.
Nigel took his first prototype to several top jazz musicians who were very enthusiastic about the design, made a few helpful comments and paved the way for this current version. This guitar is called “Charlie,” and despite being a slim guitar, acoustically it performs very well. It comes with a handmade custom Kent Armstrong AlNiCo III pickup for a smooth warm amplifed sound and all the electrics are mounted under the pickguard instead of the soundboard.
The acoustic sound is full and very loud for such a slim guitar. Amplified?--When compared to a traditional archtop or semi it has so much more sustain, more balance, more clarity. It's just fuller, much fuller.
Now Nigel is a pretty unusual feller – his business is a one man show – he doesn't have or want an apprentice and in recent years he has taken to spending part his year in Asia. What this means for you is production is strictly limited. Most of his work is to order but the good news is that Destroy All Guitars is his exclusive US Archtop guitar dealer. This is the only place in the whole of North America where you can obtain one.
This is a special guitar, it's a special design, with superb workmanship, and an incredible sound. This N K Forster “Charlie” model may not be the cheapest instrument out there, but when you encounter this guitar you will realise it is a special price for what is the absolute cutting edge of modern archtop guitar making.
- Aged European spruce top
- American maple back and sides
- rosewood binding
- ebony fretboard and plates
- Hipshot tuners
- Kent Armstrong Humbucker
- Hiscox case
- neck shape - half round - C shape.
- short scale and equal tempered compensated zero fret and saddle