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May 2014
more... Builder ProfileArchtopAugust 2011Ken Parker

Builder Profile: Ken Parker Archtops

Builder Profile: Ken Parker Archtops

This Brownie model features a red spruce top, curly mahogany (on
the back, sides, and neck), and a European spruce neck core.

The other significant development was Parker’s realization that he wasn’t going to be a player. “No matter how much I practiced, I was still struggling after two or three hours a night. So I said, ‘Well, maybe I’ll just try and make one of these things.’ That was in 1974.”

Parker’s Brief Archtop Primer
Being in the New York area was a boon for Parker and his aspiration, because it offered him many opportunities to get his hands on archtops. He quickly became an avid student.

“The archtop guitar is one of the very few instruments on our planet that was not the product of an intensive period of competition by competent builders. You can count on one hand the number of people who built archtop guitars by hand before 1975. And that’s just weird. The pianoforte came from these little carry-around-in-a-suitcase instruments, and it took 300 years to develop. The violin went through a huge period of development—we’re talking centuries. And even the classical guitar is still evolving. But the archtop was basically stillborn.”

By that, Parker means that many of the earliest archtops left a lot to be desired. “They weighed a ton—they were made like packing crates. Then all these marketing geniuses got together with all these German craftsmen in Kalamazoo, and they made some pretty cool stuff—mandolins, flattop guitars, archtop guitars in the model of [Orville] Gibson . . . but they made them better. And then, in 1922 they hired this genius [named] Lloyd Loar. He was only at the company for about 26 months, and in that time he invented and perfected the F5 mandolin, the Mastertone banjo, and the L5 guitar. He is my hero.”

The L5 did get some improvements after Loar left Gibson in 1924. “The examples that are most highly prized by people who listen were made in ‘27, ‘28, and ‘29,” Parker continues. “You could make an argument that no one seriously built an acoustic archtop since 1929 except for two people, D’Angelico and Stromberg, because in 1938 Charlie Christian came along. He was like an evangelist— ‘Get a pickup guys!’ And everybody did!”

After that, archtops were built heavier to avoid feedback—but that made them less responsive and rich sounding. “They were really electric guitars with air inside,” Parker says. “I don’t mean to say there weren’t some brilliant guitars made by these guys—and hats off, because when they came out great, they were great. But a lot of them were pretty clunky, quiet instruments.”

Mrs. Natural has a red spruce top, rift-cut Big Leaf maple (on the back, sides, and neck), a bronze
tailpiece, and snakewood veneers on the fretboard, headstock, strap buttons, and bridge.

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