Luthier Maegen Wells Loves Archtop Acoustic Guitars


The archtop guitar is one of the greatest loves of my life, and over time it has become clear that our story may be unlikely. I showed up late to the archtop party, and it took me a while to realize that our couple was atypical. I had no idea that I had fallen head over heels in love with anything commonly perceived as a “jazz guitar”. No idea. And, to be honest, I kinda 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 you start wondering what the hell everyone is talking about.

Contrary to popular belief, archtop guitars have the potential to be some of the most versatile on the planet. Yet much of the music world is keen to keep them in a straitjacket. What’s up with that? Even as a little player, I always thought archtops were the most beautiful guitars of all. So beautiful that they were untouchable. I didn’t need anyone to tell me I wasn’t playing “the right kind of music” to feel unworthy of them. But it was rumored that archtops were intended for a very particular and sophisticated style of music.

This is not the guitar for you. I believed him. I could feel it. I am not worthy. Instead, I took an OM and headed down a very different musical path in life. Attach the constraints not only on the archtop, but on myself. Sound familiar?

That’s not what music and guitars should do to us. So who put on that straitjacket? Did I put it on myself? Did I put the archtop guitar in it? Are there any others?! To help! How did it 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 get by with chisels and gouges. This is where I got my first taste of the archtop party.

The first private moment I had with my archtop over, I was stunned by the silence. My soul changed and there a song was found hidden – my very first instrumental fingerstyle piece.

My intentions were to be a flattop builder, but I was forever changed when my archtop building started. Fascinated by the versatility of skill the process required, the carpenter in me caught fire. The experience of building a variety of guitars was the reason I wanted to take the Galloup Masters program. With that came the experience of playing a variety of guitars that I wouldn’t normally play,which was equally educational and life-changing – something that has now become central to my musical inspiration.

The first private moment I had with my archtop over, I was stunned by the silence. My soul changed and there a song was found hidden – my very first instrumental fingerstyle piece. I was so mesmerized by the voice of this guitar that it launched me in a completely different musical direction. I haven’t sung another note for almost 7 years; the voice of this instrument was the only one I wanted to hear. It was everything I ever wanted: acoustic, electric, sensitive, powerful, delicate, strong. Our love was effortless and he found a living music in 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 am not alone. There are others who have allowed constraints to come between them and these remarkable instruments. ‘Cause at some point along the way they were told they weren’t supposed to do this with an archtop. I hear that all the time. What happened to just picking up a guitar, closing your eyes, and letting it pull something at you? I’m not in any way denying that certain instruments excel in certain genres and playing styles, but we can’t let that stop us from exploring the things that interest us. You could miss one of the great loves of your life.

I almost missed the archtop party, but luckily I walked in through the carpentry shop window. And I have good news: the other participants in this party have a similar mission to free the archtop from his straitjacket. Not to mention that the music for this party is off the hook. Is there jazz? YES! But that’s not all – we’ve got fingerstyle, honky-tonk, funk, blues, rock, weird space music and everything you’re not supposed to do on an archtop. With today’s top archtop builders such as Danny Koentopp, Tim Frick, Wyatt Wilkie, LHT, Otto D’Ambrosio, or Retrograde, to name a few, there’s no doubt what inspire everyone.

This is your official invitation to the archtop party. Leave your straitjacket at the door and join us, because an archtop party doesn’t stop.

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