By Dave Hunter

Archtop is shorthand for the big, hollowbody guitars, both acoustic and electric, with f-shaped soundholes that proliferated before solidbody guitars. (Some solid and semisolid electrics, such as the Gibson Les Paul and ES-335 respectively, also had arched tops, but the term used on its own usually refers to fully hollow guitars.)

The solidbody electric guitar came about to answer several of guitarists’ very real needs, as a clever refinement of the majority of earlier electric guitars, which were essentially acoustic guitars with add-on pickups.

Although they succeeded, in the general sense, in helping to make the guitar as loud as the loudest instruments in the band, and therefore to get guitarists heard, they had several shortcomings that needed to be addressed for the guitar to reach its full potential as an amplified instrument.

Following are several benefits realized by solidbody electric guitars when compared to earlier fully acoustic electrics:

  • Resistance to feedback: The large, hollow bodies of early archtop electrics were extremely prone to feedback at high volumes. One of Leo Fender’s stated goals in developing his solidbody electric in 1949 (released 1950) was the elimination of this nuisance, which had until then restricted how practical electric guitars were at high volume.

  • Improved sustain: The fully acoustic-electric guitar dissipates a lot of vibrational energy into resonance within the body. Solid wood, with solid string anchors in the form of a firmly fixed bridge, avoids the same amount of dissipation and brings a lot more sustain to the instrument.

  • A bright, cutting sound: A good acoustic archtop electric guitar can sound great, undoubtedly, but it can also be somewhat boomy (with an overemphasis of low frequencies) and occasionally dull or muted, too. The solidbody electric introduced a sharper, more clearly defined tone with a firm low end and biting highs, all of which helped it cut through the band on a loud stage or in a cluttered recording.

  • Durability: Bump it, drop it, or accidently swing it into a tenor saxophone, and a solidbody guitar is less likely to crack and splinter than a fully acoustic electric.

The majority of solidbody electric guitars have these several characteristics in common, but many different types are out there, which sound and perform quite differently.