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The allure of archtops is a powerful thing. They’re romantic guitars—even an old, cheap Harmony has an air of sophistication. And though the archtop’s visibility in popular music comes and goes, they have an enduring visual appeal and unique voice that makes them perpetual objects of desire for guitarists.
When Canada's Godin Guitars introduced the first acoustic 5th Avenue archtop in 2008, the company surprised many by making a high quality, supremely playable archtop that was also priced within reach of gigging musicians. The 5th Avenue’s rootsy vibe made it a success, and since its introduction the model has evolved into several electrified incarnations. The latest is the Uptown GT, a dual humbucker model with Bigsby vibrato and several clever design decisions that give it an impressive modern feel and a wider array of sounds than you’ll find elsewhere in the 5th Avenue line.
Hollow Be Thy Name
The Uptown GT looks as handsome and classy as an archtop should. Our review model came dressed up in a finely applied, piano-black gloss finish. The back and sides of the 16"-wide body have a matte finish, as does the back of the neck, which results in a silky low-friction feel. The finish work on the guitar is excellent, and from the binding edges to the inner walls of the f-holes, it was nearly flawless. Most pressed laminate guitars use 3-ply construction, yet for the Uptown’s Canadian wild-cherry top and back, Godin uses 5-ply laminate, claiming this results in added sustain. The Uptown is also available in transparent red with a flame maple top.
The Godin humbuckers sit in mounting rings that rest on the guitar top, which helps alleviate feedback created by additional body cavities. Godin’s patented Graph Tech TUSQ bridge is another cool innovation—it’s pinned to the guitar top, so intonation adjustments are made exclusively through the Tune-o-matic-style saddles. These saddles also feature low-friction rolling inserts that help minimize tuning issues common to Bigsby vibrato systems. More traditional archtop design elements include a floating fretboard and vintage-sized frets and vintage-looking, Kluson-style tuners.
For its size, the Uptown is light and comfortable, and with its medium-thick U neck profile and flattish 16" fretboard radius, the guitar offers an acoustic-like feel. The fretwork is excellent and though the review model arrived with low action, I experienced no buzzing anywhere on the ’board—just smooth slides and easy bends.
One of the joys of any hollowbody is that you can get a feel for the guitar’s most basic tone before you ever plug it in. With the Godin, the first few unamplified strums rang out with an unexpected low-end girth. Densely voiced chords were still bright and airy with good note separation, if not all of the woody harmonic complexity you’d hear from an archtop unencumbered by the extra mass of a Bigsby and pickups.
The body’s thickness, which is a little less girthy than, say, a Gibson ES-175, seems to translate to a little less thump, though the bass notes had great natural warmth and sustain. In general, the Godin’s acoustic voice has the midrange bark you’d expect from an archtop, but with a little extra bass warmth and slightly less bite and body in the unwound strings. Keep in mind this is an electric instrument strung with a .010 set, so in its stock configuration it won’t keep up in terms of volume or tonal balance with acoustic archtops strung with heavier wire. But for the solidbody or semi-hollow player especially, the Uptown’s volume and resonance create an immensely satisfying experience.
Running through a Dean Markley CD60 set up for clean tones, the Uptown GT’s neck pickup sounded smooth. It didn’t take much adjusting to find an archetypal fat jazz solo tone. Chords had an almost hi-fi-like clarity, and the pickup provided a good balance between wound and unwound strings with excellent touch sensitivity and articulation.
When playing walking bass lines, I found the Godin’s amplified response wasn’t the big-bottomed hollow sound you’d expect from a jazz box equipped with a traditional floating rosewood bridge. Instead, the Uptown maintains an authority and sustain more akin to a Gibson ES-335 without totally sacrificing a traditional archtop’s bass presence. And though the Uptown may lack the exquisite complexity of, say, Joe Diorio’s ES-175 sound, it has more potential in stylistically diverse settings. Further up the fretboard, chords sounded liquid and airy through the neck pickup, and with the right pick attack, individual notes were distinct and punchy.
The guitar’s simple controls (a 3-way pickup selector, plus one volume and one tone knob) make it easy to dial up the treble you need to crawl out of the jazz basement. The tone knob has a precise, steady taper that makes it usable through almost its entire range, and the Uptown’s clean bridge sound is warmer and smoother than you’d expect. Engaging both pickups gives the Godin a twanging voice that’s totally usable for country picking, though it’s more Gibson than Gretsch. It might not be the guitar’s best sound, but it’s a sweet tone—especially with a little Bigsby shake added in.
The Uptown’s big surprise is its raunchy distorted sounds. Even with mild amp breakup, the guitar could sound huge and effortlessly vicious. Notes rumbled and bloomed from within the body, and coaxing musical, controlled feedback was a breeze. This is a sweet axe for everything from Brian Setzer and Reverend Horton Heat’s high-octane rockabilly to Alvin Lee’s megawatt heavy blues.
Capable of covering Joe Pass and George Thorogood moods, this latest 5th Avenue is a versatile player’s guitar that oozes vintage class and dirty, bluesy attitude. Thanks to its super playability and wide range of tones, the Uptown makes an excellent choice for taking your first archtop plunge—especially if you don’t want to deal with excessive feedback or floating bridges that can be hard to intonate. The Uptown is also a blast to play unplugged, and its pleasant unamplified voice and smooth feel are great for practicing or songwriting while you kick back on the couch. And given the impressive craftsmanship, this Godin represents a great value and an investment you’re unlikely to regret.