From my days in high school playing the Byrds, Beatles, Yardbirds, Kinks, Paul Revere,
The Rolling Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Ventures playing a Les Paul thru a Fender Tremolux to… fast forward to 2002 when I traded my remarkable 63’ Gibson Es-175 in minty condition, a 63’ Gibson J-45, a Martin 50’s all mahogany small body guitar, and $2000 for a “Benedetto/Guild Artist Award”. Granted, it was one of the first from Rhode Island before they closed the Guild plant down and moved the operation to the Fender Custom Shop in California and was made when Benedetto was still tutoring the boys and how to build a great archtop. I played it against a Benedetto Fratello and was convinced that they were both the same. I forgot to check the scale length and later realized that the Guild was 25 5/8” while the Fratello was 25” It was the difference that was to give me fits. ( the Guild really measured 25 3/4” !!).. The deal took place at Guitar Showcase in San Jose after I played the new gal for a couple hours through an old Fender Tweed and came to the conclusion that she was worth dumping three guitars that had gotten me through my entire life from age 20 to 54. I was in love with this guitar and with a fair amount of adjustment in my technique and mojo, I was able to get some nice sounds from it. So, this is how the mind works (looking for something new and better when in reality you already have it.…. My old Gibson 175 had this beautiful fat humbucker sound that was impressive especially through a blackface vibrolux reverb or a brown vibroverb… but when I would play with my friends who had the same sound with their es-335’s, Ibanez george bensons, or even L-5’s it sounded basically the same, there was very little distinction … the “monotone guitar duet”. So, my mind convinced me to look for something different. I had been playing a Santa Cruz flat top and really loved the freedom from amps and the righteous tone it provided. So began the quest for an Archtop Guitar that could do both. Namely, an archtop that was both an acoustic and an electric… meaning that it had to have a real spruce top (not plywood like the es-175), real solid maple back and sides, a floating pickup… and an acoustic live sound. I knew what this sounded like since I once had a Gibson L-12 from the thirties..
The point of all this is to describe my search for guitar strings that would mitigate the stiff action of the Guild Archtop and make it easier to play and, at the same time bring out the acoustic tone of this supposedly great instrument with its European Spruce and Maple woods. You would think that this would be simple… not.! The guitar came with Thomastic BeBop lights with an unwound third string.. The sound was good plugged in, dead acoustically. Then I tried a succession of strings…. Zebras, a bizarre twist of nickel and bronze made to sound like an acoustic string and work with a magnetic pickup. Best of both worlds?…. no, worst of both worlds. Thin unacceptable electric sound, and thin unacceptable acoustic sound. I used mediums hoping for some volume acoustically. The action was so stiff it was completely unplayable. This, from a $7000 guitar that had been set up by a great luthier. So then I went to D’Addario Chrome flatwounds (12-52)
They were way easier to play but really choked the sound down acoustically. I went with this setup for quite awhile… settling for electric playability… never mind the acoustic voice or lack thereof. A couple of times I put Martin SP mediums and/or Thomastick medium spectrums on it and was treated to a great sound acoustically, a surprisingly decent electric sound and a really stiff and difficult action due to the long string length and
some type of stiffness to the instrument that I just couldn’t put my finger on. The point of this story is that I had a beautiful, exquisitely made guitar that didn’t cut it no matter what I did with setup and string selection. I played it for three years in our trio playing some pretty demanding arrangements, and was usually toasted by the end of the gigs. My old Gibson 175 was such a breeze to play and I never experimented with strings… basically put Chromes on it and that was the end of it. Eventually I became less and less interested in playing this guitar and started playing my Goodall Flatop in the group which was much much easier to play and added a real contrast to Brian’s humbucker sound (guitar duet with Standup Bass format). One day I just put the Guild/Benedetto on Ebay and a nice gentleman from Mountain View bought it…. I was glad to see it go. Guess what, Mr. Benedetto and Guild… all you needed to do was make the scale length like a Gibson L-5… 25 3/8” would have done it and 25” would have been even better… 25 3/4”? What were you guys thinking? I miss my old 175, that’s for sure.
The story has a happy ending. I came across a used Steve Andersen Streamline Archtop ( John G. Stewart Fine Guitars), put some Thomastik 12-54’s on it and never looked back. It plays effortlessly, has a great acoustic sound unplugged, and sounds rich and fat plugged in. The Andersen is built lightly and therefore is very resonate… very, very nice acoustic sound. The neck and fretwork are as good as any guitar out there and it doesn’t matter what amp you use… Schertler, Trace Acoustic, Fender Vibrolux, Boogie Mark I… the Andersen Archtop just sounds incredible through any of them. The point of all this is sometimes you just need to move on. If you’ve tried one different set of strings after another and are still wondering what’s wrong, just maybe it might be the guitar…..!
Click on the small photo of the Andersen Streamline to see it full screen.