Evolution of Archtop Guitars Part One: History

fine archtops archtop guitarsArchtop guitars have a long and interesting history. They’ve been a popular instrument for more than 100 years, and they are incredibly versatile. While most people think of them as a jazz instrument, archtop guitars can be used for just about any style of music. We thought we would give our readers a brief overview of this lovely instrument: from its humble beginnings all the way through today.


  • 1856: Orville Gibson is born. Gibson is credited with revolutionizing the art of making a guitar. He adapted violin-making techniques that were popular in Europe at the time and made them compatible with the construction of guitars and mandolins. He used arched tops, rims and backs carved from solid pieces of unstressed tone woods rather than the flat sheets and bent strips of tone wood that were popular at the time. He is best known for the Style O archtop.
  • 1894: Orville Gibson opens his shop: O.H. Gibson, Manufacturer, Musical Instruments in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He not only made archtop guitars; he also experimented with other instruments like the mandolin. He was known for combining instruments to make lyre-mandolins, harp-zithers and more.
  • 1898: Gibson patents an archtop mandolin.
  • 1902: Gibson, along with five local businessmen, established the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Company, Limited. The new company was allowed to use Gibson’s name (for a price), and he transferred his original 1894 patent for the archtop mandolin to the new business. He also undertook a two-year tutor program. The company expanded on Gibson’s guitar making inventions and skills.
  • 1919: The Style O continues to be the best type of archtop guitar that Gibson makes. Lloyd Loar, a composer, acoustical engineer and string player is hired to head the Gibson design team. He did very well at this job and his work led to the development of the well-known Mastertone instruments that included the Mastertone banjo series, the F-5 mandolin, the H-5 mandola and the K-5 mando-cello.
  • 1924: The L-5 was created, which was America’s first f-hole archtop guitar. This guitar combined all of Loar’s fretted-string instrument breakthroughs into one guitar. It had an elevated fingerboard, floating tailpiece, elevated pick guard and height-adjustable bridge.

This is only the first part in a three-part series about archtop guitars. Stay tuned for parts two and three!

Would you like more information about getting a customized jazz archtop guitar? Call Fine Archtops at 612-366-7120 or you can Contact Us.