Luthier Maegen Wells recalls the moment she fell in love with the archtop and how it changed her world.
The archtop guitar is one of the greatest loves of my life, and over time it’s become clear that our tale is perhaps an unlikely one. I showed up late to the archtop party, and it took a while to realize our pairing was atypical. I had no idea that I had fallen head-over-heels in love with everything about what’s commonly perceived as a “jazz guitar.” No clue whatsoever. And, to be honest, I kind of miss those days. But one can only hear the question, “Why do you want to build jazz guitars if you don’t play jazz?” so many times before starting to wonder what the hell everyone’s talking about.
Contrary to popular belief, archtop guitars have the potential to be some of the most versatile on the planet. Yet a huge corner of the music world insists on keeping them in a straitjacket. What’s up with that? Even as a little-girl player, I always felt archtops were the most beautiful guitars of them all. So beautiful that they were untouchable. I didn’t need someone to tell me I didn’t play the “right kind of music” to feel unworthy of them. But the word on the street was that archtops were meant for a very particular and sophisticated style of music.
This is not the guitar for you. I believed it. I could feel it. I am not worthy. Instead, I picked up an OM and headed down a very different musical path in life. Tying down the restraints not only on the archtop, but myself. Does this sound familiar?
This is not what music and guitars should do to us. So, who put this straitjacket on? Did I put it on myself? Did I put the archtop guitar in one? Are there others?! Help! How did this happen? I spent the next 11 years walking around in a singer/songwriter straitjacket. It wasn’t until I showed up at the Galloup School of Guitar Building and Repair that I was able to bust out of that thing with some chisels and gouges. It was there that I got my first glimpse at the archtop party.
The first private moment I had with my completed archtop, I was stunned to silence. My soul shifted, and there a song was found hiding—my very first instrumental fingerstyle piece.
My intentions were to be a flattop builder, but I was changed forever when my archtop construction began. Enthralled by the versatility of skills the process demanded, the woodworker in me was ignited. The experience of building a variety of guitars was why I wanted to take the Galloup Masters Program. With that came the experience of playing a variety of guitars that I normally would not play,which was equally educational and life changing—something that has now become essential to my musical inspiration.
The first private moment I had with my completed archtop, I was stunned to silence. My soul shifted, and there a song was found hiding—my very first instrumental fingerstyle piece. I was so hypnotized by the voice of this guitar that it launched me in a completely different musical direction. I did not sing another note for almost 7 years; this instrument’s voice was the only one I wanted to hear. It was everything I’ve ever wanted: acoustic, electric, sensitive, powerful, delicate, strong. Our love was effortless, and it found music living inside of me that I had no idea existed. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
I share this dusty story with you today because I know I’m not alone. There are others out there who have allowed the restraints to come between them and these remarkable instruments. Because at some point along the way, they were told they’re not supposed to do that with an archtop. I hear this all of the time. Whatever happened to just picking up a guitar, closing your eyes, and letting it pull something out of you? I’m not at all denying the fact that certain instruments excel with certain genres and styles of playing, but we can’t let that prevent us from exploring the things we’re curious about.You could be missing out on one of the great loves of your life.
I almost missed out on the archtop party, but thankfully I came in through the woodshop window. And I have good news: The others at this party are on a similar mission to free the archtop from its straitjacket. Not to mention, the music at this party is off the hook. Is there jazz? YES! But that’s not all—we have fingerstyle, honky-tonk, funk, blues, rock, weird space music, and everything else you’re not supposed to do on an archtop. With today’s premier archtop builders such as Danny Koentopp, Tim Frick, Wyatt Wilkie, LHT, Otto D’Ambrosio, or Retrograde, just to name a few, there is undoubtedly something for everyone to be inspired by.
This is your official invitation to the archtop party. Leave your straitjacket at the door and join us, ’cause an archtop party don’t stop.
A modern take on Fullerton shapes and a blend of Fender and Gibson attributes strikes a sweet middle ground.
A stylish alternative to classic Fender profiles that delivers sonic versatility. Great playability.
Split-coil sounds are a little on the thin side. Be sure to place it on the stand carefully!
Fender Player Plus Meteora HH
After many decades of sticking with flagship body shapes, Fender spent the last several years getting more playful via their Parallel Universe collection. The Meteora, however, is one of the more significant departures from those vintage profiles. The offset, more-angular profile was created by Fender designer Josh Hurst and first saw light of day as part of the Parallel Universe Collection in 2018. Since then, it has headed in both upscale and affordable directions within the Fender lineup—reaching the heights of master-built Custom Shop quality in the hands of Ron Thorn, and now in this much more egalitarian guise as the Player Plus Meteora HH.
Body profile and humbuckers aside, the Meteora is very much a Fender, with a bolt-on neck, 25.5" scale length, and that iconic headstock profile with spaghetti logo. Even closer examination reveals an impressive array of features that make it an extra-impressive instrument for the price, and a cool alternative to traditional Fender offerings.
The Mexico-built Player Plus Meteora HH comes in three finishes—cosmic jade, Belair blue, or silverburst (as seen on our review sample)—all of which help the guitar cut a dashing figure on stage.The body is made from solid alder, a go-to Fender tonewood since the late ’50s. Lightweight stocks of this timber have been getting harder to come by in bulk, and perhaps as a result the review guitar tips a little toward the heavy side at around 8.4 pounds. Then again, the Meteora’s body is bigger than, say, a Stratocaster, which adds a bit to the weight. Forearm and ribcage contours enhance playing comfort significantly, and the guitar balances surprisingly well on the lap (almost certainly one of Hurst’s design mandates). The sharply sloped lower bout, however, makes it tricky to lean against an amp safely. Keep that in mind before you turn your back on it.
The neck is fashioned from a single piece of maple and 22 medium-jumbo frets are arrayed across the 12" radius fretboard, which measures 1.685" at the synthetic-bone nut (Belair blue and cosmic jade versions feature a pau ferro fretboard). The neck is carved in Fender’s popular “Modern C” profile, which feels great in hand, and the overall ergonomics are aided by a nicely rolled fretboard edge. The single-action truss rod can be adjusted at the headstock, which is home to Fender’s deluxe sealed locking tuners and a modern roller string tree for the first and second strings—all of which means you can use the two-post synchronized tremolo with a little more peace of mind. The return-to-pitch capabilities are impressive.
Though the fresh body profile may be the initial draw for many, the electronics—and the possibilities they enable—will probably seal the deal for a lot of prospective customers. They certainly make the guitar a lot of fun to explore. The relatively new Fireball humbuckers look a lot like smaller Fender Wide Range pickups. Under the covers, though, they are pretty standard PAF-style humbuckers, with adjustable pole pieces in all six positions of each coil, though half of these are inaccessible with the cover on.
This pickup recipe makes the Meteora a world’s-your-oyster kind of performer.
And while the name implies that the Fireballs are hot, the specs are similar to medium-wind alnico humbuckers, with the neck reading around 7.24k ohms DC resistance and 4.0 henries inductance, and the bridge measuring 7.68k ohms and 4.5 henries. The pickups are wired through a 3-way toggle switch on the upper horn, with a master volume and dedicated tone controls for each pickup below. The volume knob also functions as a push-button switch to split the coils of both pickups.
Tested through a Friedman Dirty Shirley Mini and 2x12, a tweed Deluxe-style 1x12 combo, and a Neural DSP Quad Cortex into the studio monitors, the Player Plus Meteora HH reveals a fairly traditional and even vintage-leaning sonic range that contrasts with its moon-shot looks. The not-too-hot humbuckers sound clear and open and generate relatively little amp breakup at modest volumes, which I’d say is a good thing, as it enables a wider range of touch sensitivity than high-gain humbuckers usually allow.
This pickup recipe makes the Meteora a world’s-your-oyster kind of performer. With a cranked amp, lead channel, or overdrive (in this case a Tsakalis Six and Wampler Tumnus Deluxe), the Meteora produces sizzling power-chord and rhythm sounds and singing lead tones with ease, with rich, articulate cleans at the ready when I backed the guitar volume down. It’s hard to gauge how much effect the maple neck and alder body have on the humbucker voicings. But expect the Meteora to sound better balanced and crisper compared with the average PAF-equipped instrument. There’s very little mud and the coil-split tones are nice and jangly—although, as with many split humbuckers, they’re a little on the thin side without a booster or compressor engaged. Still, they do the trick, and add another useful arrow to the Meteora HH’s already packed quiver.
Players in love with unconventional looks who enjoy a twist on traditional PAF-style sounds will find a lot to like in the Player Plus Meteora HH. The guitar packs a wide range of clean-to-mean tones, offers easy playability, and is made super versatile by tone controls and coil-splitting options that dramatically expand its tone palette. Dual humbuckers mated to a 25.5" scale is always a cool proposition, and the Meteora’s marriage of Fender and Gibson attributes is a great way to split the difference.
Fender Player Plus Meteora HH Demo | First Look
Equipped with noise reduction and noise gate modes, the Integrated Gate has a signal monitoring function that constantly monitors the input signal.
In order to solve the unnaturalness at the time of sound interruption, which was a problem of conventional noise gates, it is equipped with a signal monitoring function that constantly monitors the input signal, such as peaking and attenuation of the input signal, by using a CPU. The optimum output level is controlled while monitoring the waveform. Even with the Integrated Gate connected, the sound quality does not change, and in order to convey the original sound of the guitar or bass to a device connected after this unit, the circuit through which the audio signal passes is completely analog. Free The Tone took extra time to study the sound quality and complete the design. You can feel the fundamental difference from the sound quality of conventional noise reduction and noise gates.
- Equipped with Noise Reduction and Noise Gate modes. You can select the operation to suit your purpose.
- Equipped with input impedance select switch (Hi-Z/Lo-Z).
- Control by MIDI signal (Control Change Number) is possible (effect on/off only).
- Equipped with Free The Tone’s original HTS (Holistic Tonal Solution) circuit.
Integrated Gate carries a suggested retail price of $228.00, and is available now through our North American dealers listed at: www.freethetone.com.