8 Best Strings For The Archtop Guitar

8 Best Strings For Archtop Guitar

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Eddie Van Halen owes a bigger debt of gratitude to the humble archtop guitar than he probably realizes.

The very idea of a guitar hero, of a guitar solo, of “shredding”, can be traced back to the jazz box, and to understand this lineage, some music history knowledge is useful.

In the first decades of the 20th century, what we would now call “folk” music was very popular, and the guitar gained its place as an affordable and accessible instrument.

In the 1920s and 1930s, jazz burst into the limelight, Early jazz (what we often refer to as Charleston-style or Dixieland today) often used tuba and banjo in the rhythm section, but as time wore on, the upright bass and guitar took their place.

The guitar was getting lost among the commotion of brass instruments and drums, and the attempts to make the acoustic guitar louder led to the original archtop.

Archtop guitars were then played by legendary Jazz players, and it helped them produce that classic jazz tone.

If you own an Archtop guitar chances are you’re looking to establish your own tone. However, your skills and this phenomenal instrument won’t be enough, and you also need the right strings.

I’m here to talk more about the Archtop, the kind of strings that will achieve that Jazzy vibe you’re going for, and a neat selection of strings. But if you want to skip ahead you can see which ones made it on the list here:

Best Overall
D’Addario ECG24
9.9
  • The warm and mellow sound these strings produce is perfect for Jazz, blues, and rockabilly players.
  • These flat wound and polished strings are extra-smooth to the touch and comfortable to play.
Best For Warm Tone
DR Pure Blues Strings
9.8
  • These strings will produce the warm tone of pure nickel the moment you put them on.
  • These light strings are smooth, and comfortable under the fingers and they quickly respond to your touch.
Best On A Budget
Fender Original
9.7
  • These strings produce a rich warm tone that will make your Archtop guitar sing the blues and make a Jazz noise.
  • Each string is color-coded to make stringing your guitar a stress-free process.

The Invention of the Archtop Guitar

We know that the need for a stronger sound transformed the mandolin and the acoustic guitar, and in the search for this holy grail, many guitar makers with Orville Gibson of Kalamazoo, Michigan (if you think you recognize that name, you are right) leading the way made a creative discovery.

He reverse-engineered the construction of violins and designed an acoustic guitar based on those principles.

Thus, the archtop was born, an acoustic guitar with an arched front and rear face (hence the name), f-holes, sides carved from a single block of wood, and a completely hollow body.

Electrification

But it was the year 1936 that brought the big innovation.

The Gibson ES-150 is considered the world’s first successful electrified guitar. With the addition of a pickup and amplifier, the guitar rocketed to the forefront.

Now guitarists could play the world’s first lead guitar solos, and finally, the sound carried over increasingly large jazz orchestras and swing bands.

Further innovations led to “slimline” thinner archtop guitars, with hollow (and then semi-hollow) bodies, and of course, before long, solid-body electric guitars were introduced.

Country and jazz begat rock and roll, and the rest of the guitar’s history can be inferred by listening to oldies stations.

“Archtop” Today

The term “Archtop” today is somewhat ambiguous. Technically, most hollowbody and semi-hollowbody electric guitars are archtops, but they are rarely referred to as such.

Ans while archtop acoustics are still produced, they are relatively rare. The term “archtop” now usually refers to a full-depth hollowbody electric guitar, much like the original guitars used in swing bands.

Otherwise known as a “jazz box” these guitars enjoy enduring popularity with jazz, blues, rockabilly, and psychobilly bands like The Lucky Devils.

How To Choose The Right Guitar Strings For The Archtop?

Since archtop guitars essentially exist in their own insulated universe, so too does string choice.

A different set of standards is used when buying new strings, compared to other guitar types. Of course, you can fit any strings you like, but read on for a guide oriented towards archtop string choice.

When buying guitar strings, you face a lot of decisions. This can make the process feel slightly overwhelming, but it’s not hard to get a handle on it.

String Gauge

String gauge is probably the most immediate difference. This refers to the thickness of the strings and is usually denoted in the shorthand by the width of the high E string (for example, a pack of medium gauge strings might be called “0.010s”.)

String gauge mostly affects the feeling of playing the guitar, and therefore the way you express yourself on it.

Heavier strings are harder to bend and require more muscle to play on for long periods, but they usually have a deeper and fuller tone, and the heavy playing style required to perform with them is sometimes desirable.

Alternately, light strings are easy to bend, have a thinner tone, and are more prone to breaking.

I usually recommend starting with medium-gauge strings and going up or down depending on your feeling. However, archtop players tend to prefer strings that range from heavy to very heavy.

This goes back to early attempts to increase volume, pre-amplification. And though that’s technically not necessary these days, the tradition persists.

Heavy strings lend themselves well to jazz, blues, and rockabilly playing styles, both lead and rhythm. And they amplify the rich mid-heavy guitar tones popular in these genres.

You simply can’t beat the tone of thick strings on a jazz box through a tube amp.

String Material

String material is the next big choice you’ll face.

Old-school guitar strings were made of pure nickel. The default today is nickel wrapped around a steel core. Pure steel strings are also available, as well as newer composites such as cobalt.

Archtop players usually do best with pure nickel, or with nickel-wrapped steel strings.

Nickel-wrapped strings are the default electric strings across genres, with a relatively balanced and adaptable tone.

Pure nickels have a lower output and a warm, round tone that is often associated with vintage genres. Pure steel strings are bright, snappy, and crunchy- which is not usually what archtop players are seeking.

String Construction

String construction is probably the last major consideration.

The default (and by far the most common type of string) is round-wound. Run your finger down the length of an electric guitar string and you feel the bumps of the winding.

This construction is so common that most string makers don’t bother to label their strings as round-wound.

Alternately, archtop players often prefer flat-wound strings, which are smooth all the way down and they have a smoother, punchier tone.

While you may notice that in all aspects of string choice, archtop players tend to head for the “smooth, round, warm” option, half-wound strings are also available, which split the difference between round-wound and flat-wound strings in terms of feel and tone.

Our Best Strings For The Archtop Guitar

As you can see there are a few things you need to keep in mind when looking for strings that can bring out the best in your Archtop guitar.

But when it comes to the actual research things can get confusing and messy so let me show you what I consider the top choice for such a unique guitar.

Best Overall: D’Addario ECG24 Chromes Guitar Strings

Best Overall
D’Addario ECG24 Chromes Guitar Strings
  • The warm and mellow sound these strings produce is perfect for Jazz, blues, and rockabilly players.
  • These flat wound and polished strings are extra-smooth to the touch and comfortable to play.

D’Addario is a standard-bearer for guitar strings, they are large, established, and respected.

The company’s history stretches back to an Italian family that has made strings for centuries, before emigrating to New York and founding the modern company.

As such, it’s not surprising that D’Addario’s ECG24 Chromes are excellent default strings for archtops.

Chrome can be described as a warm-sounding metal that gives you a retro kind of vibe as you stroke each string.

For most Artchop players these strings are manufactured with old jazz standards in mind and so they effortlessly achieve an incredible warm/mellow tone.

You also have to admire their dedication in referring to 0.011s, usually known as “heavy” strings, as “jazz light.”

The Chromes strings are flat-wound, and the flat surface gives you a smooth feel and limited finger noise.

When you look at the price you can tell it’s not as friendly, but you’re basically paying for a high-quality product that will compliment a very unique guitar.

If you also want to know why almost every Jass guitarist loves the D’Addario Chromes then you can read more and check today’s price on Amazon.

 

Best On A Budget: Fender Original 150 Electric Guitar Strings

Best On A Budget
Fender Original 150 Electric Guitar Strings
  • These strings produce a rich warm tone that will make your Archtop guitar sing the blues and make a Jazz noise.
  • Each string is color-coded to make stringing your guitar a stress-free process.

Fender is certainly a name to trust for all matters guitar. After all, the company is responsible for some of the most iconic guitars and amps of all time.

So it’s sensible to assume that they know what they are doing in terms of strings too. After all, they wouldn’t put their name on it unless they could assure the quality.

If you think that Fender strings are only meant for Fender guitars like the Stratocaster then you’re missing out. In fact, the Fender’s Original 150 Line of pure nickel strings could be a great choice for archtop players.

They are available in a range of gauges, I’d recommend the 0.011s at the very lightest.

Another great thing that distinguishes Fender Original 150 from many strings from other strings, apart from other quality, of course, it’s that they are fabulously inexpensive.

This makes them a wonderful option for new Archtop guitarists that are still trying to figure themselves out, but they might lack a bit of character for a well-established player.

But even if you’re a seasoned Jazz musician Fender 150 strings are still worth checking out and you can also look at today’s price on Amazon.

 

Best For A Vintage Sound: D’Addario EPN22 Half Rounds XL Pure Nickel

Best For A Vintage Sound
D'Addario EPN22 Half Rounds XL Pure Nickel
  • The pure nickel wrap wire, steel core, and semi-flat surface give these strings a smooth vintage tone, balance, and playability.
  • With the medium and light gauge, these strings will bend well and really sustain smoothly.

For those of you who are seeking that warm old-timey sound then the D’Addario EPN22 Pure Nickel line can plunge you and your Artchop into the glorious 50s and 60s.

Even if you simply you want to test your limits in the unlimited world of Jazz, Blues, and Rock & Roll, these strings can give you that rich, warm timbre sound.

If you’re careful enough you can even do some fingerpicking or hybrid picking which was a common practice among Jazz guitarists.

But I also understand that not everyone wants to experiment and some of you may be after that vintage vibe, in that case, the  D’Addario EPN22 strings are also an obvious choice.

These are definitely on the budget-friendly side which makes them an easy pick for novice guitarists.

You can travel back in time with your Archtop and these strings, but before you do that make sure to read the 1,600+ reviews and check today’s price on Amazon!

 

Best For Warm Tone: DR Pure Blues Strings

Best For Warm Tone
DR Pure Blues Strings
  • These strings will produce the warm tone of pure nickel the moment you put them on.
  • These light strings are smooth, and comfortable under the fingers and they quickly respond to your touch.

Another popular choice for archtop players is DR’s Pure Blues strings.

These strings are pure nickel and flat-wound, but they offer a unique feature. While most electric guitar strings have hexagonal cores, these strings have a round core.

As a result, your Archtop guitar with these strings can achieve that very distinctive warm, and balanced sound with rich overtones and a vintage vibe.

The default gauge is 0.010, which is quite light for jazz, but blues and rockabilly players might appreciate this gauge for flamboyant bending.

More trad players should try the 0.011s, which I must say is still light as jazz strings go, but aside from the mellow tone, you might also appreciate the punch and sustain these strings offer.

The DR Pure Blues are reasonably priced and you can learn more about them on Amazon by you can learn more about them on Amazon by clicking here.

 

Best For Bending: GHS BNR-M Burnished Nickel Rockers Strings

Best For Bending
GHS BNR-M Burnished Nickel Rockers Strings
  • The high-quality steel core wire that's wrapped in a pure nickel cover makes bending effortless.
  • Strings are individually sealed to prevent corrosion and prolong their life.

GHS is another well-established American string brand, in the business since the ‘60s.

Their offerings include several strings ideal for archtop guitars, such as the Burnished Nickel Rockers.

The burnished finish is unique and I must say the physical texture is not for everyone, but many of us can confidently praise the unique tone.

As you can imagine, the pure nickel will give your sound some warmth and clarity that many of us would describe as vintage.

The round wound and lightly covered nickel will let your fingers glide smoothly over the fretboard.

All in all, they are just great strings for bending and they make it so easy that you might get confused and think they are a little lighter than what their size says.

With the GHS Burnished Nickel, you can fearlessly involve yourself in lead or solo sections.

If that’s what your Jazzy soul wants then don’t forget to read the reviews and check today’s price on Amazon.

 

Best For Reducing Finger Noise: D’Addario EHR350 XL Half Rounds Guitar Strings

Best For Reducing Finger Noise
D'Addario EHR350 XL Half Rounds Guitar Strings
  • The tone is warm yet crisp, and the construction of these strings keeps the sound clean with minimal finger noise.
  • These strings don't take too long to settle after equipping your Archtop.

For those of you who haven’t felt comfortable playing on round or flat wound strings respectively, you should definitely try the D’Addario EHR350 half rounds for more sizzle.

Right off the bat, you’ll notice a difference in how they feel and sound.

Unlike the round wound strings, these have a much smoother texture and a fuller tone than the flat wound ones.

Another reason why you’ll have reduced finger noise on your Archtop is that the high carbon steel core and stainless steel wrap wire are finished with a precision grinding process that leaves them semi-flat.

When it comes to tone you can expect some brightness and bite, but not as bright as a round wound string.

Most importantly you can expect consistency during your Jazz sessions.

But these strings are not limited to one genre and you can try your musical skills in classic rock and blues.

Since these strings are uncoated you can expect that they will lose their spark much quicker than a coated pair, but the price is still quite reasonable for what you’re getting.

If you want to give them a try then go ahead and check today’s price on Amazon.

 

Best For Balanced Tone: GHS 900 Precision Flats Strings

Best For Balanced Tone
GHS 900 Precision Flats Strings
  • The highly magnetic stainless steel flat wrap offers high volume, longer durability, and a smooth satin finish, in other words, a balanced sound.
  • The heavy tension works great for Jazz sets, especially on an Archtop guitar.

If you’re not someone who enjoys the warmth that pure nickel strings produce then the GHS Precision Flatwounds are a great alternative.

The stainless steel core in these strings creates a bit of a brighter sound.

More so, since the gauge of the low E is 0.050 while 0.054 is more common, these strings feel overall more balanced as a result.

Since these are flat wound strings they are both satisfactory to play amplified or unamplified.

One thing that I need to point out is the fact that they feel sticky when they are fresh out of the pack and they have a slight texture, that will most likely rub if your fingering technique is on the lazy side

The price is also on the costly side when it comes to strings, but if you’re looking for a balanced tone when you play on your Archtop then GHS Precision Flats are most definitely worth it.

As always you can look at the reviews and check today’s price on Amazon.

 

Best For Louder Output And Stronger Sound: Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Cobalt Strings

Best For Louder Output And Stronger Sound
Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Cobalt Strings
  • The cobalt alloy these strings are made with guarantees a twice as long life span.
  • These strings offer sharp clear highs, and increased lows, and this dynamic range is an opportunity to test your personal music boundaries.

Last but definitely not least, is the relative newcomer, Ernie Ball.

This brand has quickly established itself as an extremely respectable musician-friendly name. (I personally play on them. I couldn’t exactly explain why. It probably comes down to brand loyalty.)

Ernie Ball is honestly more of a modern/rock-oriented string maker. They don’t even manufacture any pure nickel or flat-wound electric guitar strings.

However, I can’t help but recommend their new Cobalt Strings as a fascinating alternative.

These are the first cobalt strings on the market, and it’s not the first time I’ve mentioned them.

If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while now and you have a Fender Telecaster then you know what I’m talking about.

When I first heard about these strings I got so inspired that I bought a couple of packs and re-strung my own electrics. And I have to tell you, I’m so blown away that I never miss a chance to recommend them.

As I mentioned, these strings are not a typical recommendation for archtops. They are not nickel, they are not flat-wound. But the cobalt boosts the mid-range tone far beyond other materials, resulting in an unbelievably rich sound.

You can try their heavier gauges, like “Beefy” “Power” or “Not Even” on your Archtop. This could be particularly good for more modern styles, like rockabilly, psychobilly, or contemporary blues and jazz.

You can read more about these Cobalt Ernie Ball strings and check today’s price on Amazon.

Conclusion

String choice is one of the most subjective decisions you can make, so don’t be afraid to keep trying until it really “clicks.”

There’s truly no right or wrong answer- if it sounds good, it is good!

Now that you’ve got your jazz box, you’ve got your strings, you can go forth and become the next Brian Setzer or Wes Montgomery!

And remember, keep working, and feel the joy of the music.