Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 25 of 37

Thread: Flattop vs. archtop

  1. #1
    Registered User Oggy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    207

    Default Flattop vs. archtop

    How would you describe the tonal difference between a flattop and an archtop mandolin or mandola?

    Well, I understand that there's many other important factors, like bracing and choice of woods, but what is the fundamental difference between flat and arched tops soundwise?

    And why doesn't more professional pickers play flattops as their main instrument? Is archtops that much better?

  2. #2
    Registered User Narayan Kersak's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Location
    Asheville, NC
    Posts
    548
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Maybe you are focusing on bluegrass players? A lot of classical and irish and brazillian etc, play flattops. I personally like the sound better. It's more resonant, open and ringing. Where as arch tops are nice I find them more piercing. Flattops ring, arch tops plunk. However, in jam situations where volume is necessary I prefer an archtop. But I can really drive my flattop when I need to. So if I got another arch top it would probably be because I like the aesthetics (sp?) of the curves? But when it comes down to purity and sweetness of tone, flat comes out on top. Then again, keep in mind, I'm not a speed demon and prefer to hear the sweetness of the notes, which a flat top really brings out. It also depends on the quality of the instrument you are playing. I'm sure there are arguments either way. Maybe I'll post some clips of comparisons of instruments in similar price ranges of the flattop and arch top variety later in the week.
    Asheville Celtic Mandolin Blog and Tablature Resource.
    www.AshevilleMandolin.com
    Book: The Asheville Celtic Mandolin Collection - Tablature, Standard Notation & Chords to 50 Celtic/Irish Tunes.

  3. #3
    Registered User Oggy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    207

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Yes please Ryan, I'd sure appreciate those sound clips! And thanks for your input so far.

  4. #4
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Venice (LA), CA
    Posts
    4,576

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Flattops can be very loud and have great sustain but their sound generally isn't very refined. Flattops also tend to have a big open sound where a carved top mando is more focused. Kinda like a shotgun vs. a rifle.

    There's a link to my YouTube page in my sig. line. On it you can find a couple of videos of a Flatiron 3MB mandolin (those were the first vids I did, please forgive the quality!), vids of a Kimble carved top A4, and a vid of a newer Pomeroy flattop. The Pomeroy is rosewood and Engelman and that sucker is LOUD! You will be heard in a jam with it. But it's a little brash sounding next to the Kimble.

    Why don't mroe pros use them? In bluegrass you need a carved top for projection. Classical I don't know much about. Other than those two genres, I think the number of "professional" mandolin players is pretty darn small. A lot of people use flattops in Irish music but how many "professional" Irish mandolin players use a flattop? Surely a couple but I have no idea who they might be....

  5. #5
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Outer Spiral Arm, of Galaxy
    Posts
    12,521

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Classical music on the bent/flat top bowl backs, isn't played by professionals?

    where did that money to get in the door go...?
    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

  6. #6
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Venice (LA), CA
    Posts
    4,576

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Bowlbacks have a flat top but they're a different beast all together. By flattop I'm assuming the OP meant mandolins like the Flatiron pancake models, the Weber Aspen, the new Arches FT-Oval, and I guess the old Martin bent/cant tops would qualify as well.

  7. #7
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    scenic Oakland, CA or forgotten East Galway, take your pick.
    Posts
    2,095

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Shaun's description of flat tops sounding more "brash" took the words out of my mouth - I recently traded a Weber Aspen #2 flat top for a Weber Gallatin F oval for precisely that reason. The Aspen was an awesome mandolin, lovely to play and great sounding, and great volume too, but just not quite as complex to my ears, as a carved top instrument.

    Cheers,
    Jill

  8. #8
    Mandolicious fishtownmike's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    Philadelphia
    Posts
    664

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    I have a flat top and i find its sound rich and full. I prefer this type for Irish type music. I'm starting to prefer this instrument over my carved top A style for Irish music. It fits it much better.

  9. #9
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    scenic Oakland, CA or forgotten East Galway, take your pick.
    Posts
    2,095

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Quote Originally Posted by fishtownmike View Post
    I have a flat top and i find its sound rich and full. I prefer this type for Irish type music. I'm starting to prefer this instrument over my carved top A style for Irish music. It fits it much better.
    It's all in the ear of the beholder I guess - I play trad and prefer a carved top...for now....there's no saying I won't come across an awesome flat top that will turn my head somewhere down the line again though...

    Cheers,
    Jill

  10. #10
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Pacific Northwest, USA
    Posts
    2,765

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Quote Originally Posted by sgarrity View Post
    Why don't mroe pros use them? In bluegrass you need a carved top for projection. Classical I don't know much about. Other than those two genres, I think the number of "professional" mandolin players is pretty darn small. A lot of people use flattops in Irish music but how many "professional" Irish mandolin players use a flattop? Surely a couple but I have no idea who they might be....
    Professional Irish mandolin players would be a pretty small category. I don't know all the names out there, but I've seen video clips of Andy Irvine playing a flattop (waldzither) in the 70's and a Gibson archtop A in the 80's. Simon Mayor is a prominent modern Irish mandolin player, and he uses a Vanden F-hole A archtop, last I heard. Dan Beimborn seems to favor archtops of all kinds. I think Michael Kerry uses a Gibson A, at least it's on the cover of his "Rocky Road" album.

    That limited sample shows a preference for archtops, but it's at odds with what you hear many people here on the Cafe say about oval hole flattops being better for Celtic music. That may be a "playing at home and looking for sweet tone" thing, vs. playing in a band and needing projection and volume.

    Personally, I like F-hole archtops for Irish music, both for the tone and the ability to be heard against other instruments. But I can see the appeal of the flattop for some things.

  11. #11
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Location
    Halifax, UK
    Posts
    781

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Both Barney McKenna and John Sheehan of the Irish band The Dubliners have used flat top ' Fylde ' mandolins for a number of years.

    Dave H
    2001 Paul Shippey oval hole
    1917 Gibson A pumpkin top
    1914 Vega Whyte Laydie style R tenor banjo
    Eastman 615 mandolin
    Eastman 615 mandola
    2011 Weber Bitteroot A5
    2012 Weber Bitteroot F5
    Eastmam MD 915V

  12. #12
    Registered User Narayan Kersak's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Location
    Asheville, NC
    Posts
    548
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    I imagine that if you think flattops sound "brash" you might not have been playing a good one. Although I've also found that flattops require a different sort of touch than an arch top.
    Asheville Celtic Mandolin Blog and Tablature Resource.
    www.AshevilleMandolin.com
    Book: The Asheville Celtic Mandolin Collection - Tablature, Standard Notation & Chords to 50 Celtic/Irish Tunes.

  13. #13
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Venice (LA), CA
    Posts
    4,576

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree then.

  14. #14
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    scenic Oakland, CA or forgotten East Galway, take your pick.
    Posts
    2,095

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Quote Originally Posted by Narayan Kersak View Post
    I imagine that if you think flattops sound "brash" you might not have been playing a good one. Although I've also found that flattops require a different sort of touch than an arch top.
    While obviously not a Foley, the Weber Aspen #2 is certainly not a plank. This isn't a black and white discussion - it's all up to the individual tastes of the player - perception exists in our head, and what I hear is never going to be the same as what anyone else hears, we all perceive things differently. I prefer the sound of a carved top instrument, but that doesn't mean that I'm implying that if you don't prefer one too then you obviously haven't played a "good" one. Choice of instrument is a personal thing and I'm not going to diss anyone for the style or monetary value of their mandolin, nor imply that their opinion isn't valid because it isn't in line with my own.

    In Ireland we tend to play anything we can get our hands on - flat top, carved top, bowl back, oval holes, f-holes, cheap, pricey - it's all good. You'll hear trad music back home played on all of the above mentioned variations. We don't spend too much time agonizing over which type is "best suited' to playing our music - if it's wire and wood it's all good....

    Cheers,
    Jill

  15. #15
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    1,769

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Quote Originally Posted by Narayan Kersak View Post
    I imagine that if you think flattops sound "brash" you might not have been playing a good one. Although I've also found that flattops require a different sort of touch than an arch top.

    I think this is a key point. Not all flat tops are created equal and I think a lighter touch yields a better result. You could never describe a Martin bent top as brash sounding but this description fits the Gypsys and some Mid Mos that I've played. Parsons flat tops and the Flatiron pancakes are a bit tighter and the Arches FT-Os with the induced arch combine the best of both worlds in my opinion. A wide range with focus, a lot of sustain and low end without being "tubby".

    When I first unpacked my FT-O, I was a bit dismayed by how shallow the body was. Then I started playing it. I think the mandolins with the bigger soundboxes accentuate the brash qualities a bit more.

    I'm certainly not implying that Gypsy and Mid Mo mandolins aren't good. I have a Mid Mo M2 and like it a lot and the Gypsys are well made from what I have seen , though I didn't particularly care for the tone.

    A lot of these choices are matters of taste and style.

    .
    Steve

  16. #16
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Location
    Raleigh, NC
    Posts
    70

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Just a quick note, since we're on the subject of Irish trad. The new National RM-1 is an excellent choice for this. It's very loud, but very full, sweet and "woody". You WILL be heard in a session, but the sound is not the obnoxious din you might expect from a resonator instrument. Consider it as the "third alternative" to flat top and arched top!

  17. #17
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    1,769

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Walt from the Gypsy mandolin company contacted me and was somewhat unhappy with some of my remarks. I would like to make clear that, while the couple of his instruments I played were not my cup of tea, I was not trying to disparage his instruments or insult his workmanship. He feels the word "brash" to be a completely pejorative term. I think this is debatable...qualities of "coming on strong, assertiveness, etc are things one can like or not. But that's not the crux of the issue; I can see and appreciate his point of view.

    He also informed me, since I referenced the induced arch on my Arches mandolin, that he employs them on his instruments too, which I clearly did not know.

    I did think the instruments I tried were well made (and said so), and it's clear to everyone that logs in here regularly that he has lots of very happy customers and seems to go the extra mile to keep them that way. I know he's in a tough business and it was never my intention to make things more difficult for him.
    Steve

  18. #18
    Ben Beran Dfyngravity's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    Richmond, VA
    Posts
    1,452

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Think about a flattop guitar vs. an archtop guitar. It's the same thing. Most guitarist want a flattop because they tend to be loud, lots of sustain, and fill the air. And in a band, such as a bluegrass band, that's exactly what the guitarist wants. Sometimes it is hard to hear the guitar individually, but if you were to take away the flattop guitar you would definitely notice its absence. Now an archtop guitar is like the archtop mandolin. The sound is more directionally focused, less sustain, and doesn't fill the air nearly as much (just as sgarrity said, think of a shotgun vs. a rifle). That is why a jazz guitarist that plays mainly lead tends to prefer the archtop guitar.

    So for a professional mandolinist to use a flattop, he or she would need to be in a band or situation that actually calls for a flattop mandolin. I would think if it was just the mandolin and a fiddle, or maybe banjo, a flattop would work just great and really be good for backing up with some nice rhythm.

    But if you are in a bluegrass band, a mandolinist needs an instrument that will simply cut through everything else during a break or fills, and have a nice solid chop to drive the band....something a flattop mandolin just isn't all that great for.

  19. #19
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Upstate New York and Washington DC area
    Posts
    16,579
    Blog Entries
    26

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Quote Originally Posted by Jill McAuley View Post
    . I recently traded a Weber Aspen #2 flat top for a Weber Gallatin F oval for precisely that reason. The Aspen was an awesome mandolin, lovely to play and great sounding, and great volume too, but just not quite as complex to my ears, as a carved top instrument.
    .
    Ah well....

    Its an individual thing.

    I love the Aspen II for its distinct, and clearly unGibson sound. I am not sure what I would mean by less complex, but a nice clear note.

    The Gallatin F oval is a great instrument too, but I think it competes with a number of other instruments, while to my nothing really does what the Aspen does.
    As much as I post, I pick a whole lot more. Just sayin'
    We cannot put off living until we are ready. -- Jose Ortega Y Gasset

    The entire staff
    funny....

  20. #20
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    scenic Oakland, CA or forgotten East Galway, take your pick.
    Posts
    2,095

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    Ah well....

    Its an individual thing.

    I love the Aspen II for its distinct, and clearly unGibson sound. I am not sure what I would mean by less complex, but a nice clear note.

    The Gallatin F oval is a great instrument too, but I think it competes with a number of other instruments, while to my nothing really does what the Aspen does.
    Trust me, in an ideal world, I'd have kept the Aspen, but alas my finances don't equate an ideal world just yet!

    I do know what you mean by the Gallatin competing with a number of other instruments - again kinda another reason why I got it, because while it's mahogany back and sides give it a different voice to my Pomeroy's maple back and sides, it's still nearer, tonally, to my Pomeroy, than the Aspen was, and I'm really needing the Gallatin as a back up to the Pom.

    Cheers,
    Jill

  21. #21

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    They sound different, that's for sure. I find that how they interact with the sound-hole and body depth also plays a part. I have a flat-top bouzouki that sounds pretty good and I have capoed it up high in the past to get an oval-hole mandolin-like sound, without any of the tubbiness that one might get from an arch-top with a oval hole. Played open or lower it has more of a guitar-like sound, and I would have to say somewhat less complex than my F-5. I find the sound of a fine arch-top mandolin with F-holes to be so unique in it's sound that comparing it to anything else is difficult. The combination of a flat-top and deeper sides, combined with an oval-hole seems to sound better to me when used in larger instruments than when the same combination is used on a conventional mandolin-sized instrument.
    But Amsterdam was always good for grieving
    And London never fails to leave me blue
    Paris never was my kinda town
    So I walked around with the Ft. Worth Blues

  22. #22
    Registered User Narayan Kersak's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Location
    Asheville, NC
    Posts
    548
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Here are recordings of two arch tops and one flat top.

    Arch Tops Include

    Eastman 604
    Gibson Master Model A5G

    Flat Top

    Mowry Two Point

    I have not listed them in order, I'd like to see who can match the sound to the instrument??! Sound like fun?

    Both files play a selection on one instrument, then the same selection on the second and then the same selection on the third.

    The instruments are in the same order on both files.

    I just took my mando down to the music shop, comandeered (sp?) two other mandos and lined them up in a line and went through playing the same thing on each.

    This was recorded on a Zoom h2 using a proplec heavy pick. The distance from the recorder was the same on all instruments.

    The weather was rainy, and 50 degrees. No sun shone this day. My truck did not hydroplane either on the way to Black Mountain, nor on the way back.

    PS- I'll post the order in which the mandos were played on Friday...until then!
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Last edited by Narayan Kersak; Oct-27-2009 at 4:58pm. Reason: Just to add a note.
    Asheville Celtic Mandolin Blog and Tablature Resource.
    www.AshevilleMandolin.com
    Book: The Asheville Celtic Mandolin Collection - Tablature, Standard Notation & Chords to 50 Celtic/Irish Tunes.

  23. #23
    Registered User raulb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    So. Calif.
    Posts
    283

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    I have both flat and archtop mandolins. I can hear the difference in them, but they don't necessarily (to my ear) adhere to all of the comments above.

    I find my Martin, which is sort of a flat top (it has a bend in it) is louder than my Ibanez F-5. The sound from the F-5, however, is richer and more complex. My Martin is a little easier to play (and has a shorter scale) than the Ibanez. Nevertheless, I would not hesitate to play either in any type of music. I have a contact pick-up and both sound equally great (but a little different) thru an amplifier.

    Mostly I choose one over the other because it is what I grab, but then I don't perform, only jam.

    I think that "most" performers play arch topped mandos because they look better. Forgive me Flatiron and Kentucky (and other) owners, but I just think that most flat top mandos are on the whole, plain and unattractive. They may sound good, as my (plain and unattractive) flat top mandola does, but an archtop is just that much better looking.
    raulb

    c. '37 Dobro mandolin
    '53 Martin Style A
    '78 Ibanez 524 F-style
    '98 Graham McDonald guitar body bouzouki
    '08 Trinity College TM-275 Mandola

    "It may not be smart or correct, but it's one of the things that make us what we are. --Red Green, "The New Red Green Show"

  24. #24
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Venice (LA), CA
    Posts
    4,576

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    Quote Originally Posted by Narayan Kersak View Post
    I have not listed them in order, I'd like to see who can match the sound to the instrument??! Sound like fun?
    Hhmmm......my guess is:

    Eastman 604
    Mowry Flattop
    Gibby A5G

    In order of what I thought of the tone:

    2
    3
    1

    These excercises are always kinda fun. But one thing to keep in mind is that something is always lost in recordings. Someone did this over on the Martin forum and included a '39 D-18 and a D-18GE. I had played both of those instruments right next to each other and there was a big difference yet on the recording they were darn close. In person the '39 just had this presence taht the GE didn't. But anyway, thanks for going through the effort to put this together!!

  25. #25
    Ben Beran Dfyngravity's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    Richmond, VA
    Posts
    1,452

    Default Re: Flattop vs. archtop

    I would have to disagree that "most" performers use an archtop because they merely look better. If that were the case and flattops sounded just as good as an archtops, many more people here would have flattops. I use to own a Davis flattop which is a pretty "high" end flattop and it was definitely a great mandolin, but it was just not in the same league as my Red Diamond F5 that I owned at the time.

    To me the sound that comes from a flattop is closer to that of the sound when you pick an archtop close to the bridge. Like many have said, it's a bit more "brash" where an archtop had a bit more sweeter and defined tone.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •