By Dave Eichenberger
The name The Loar conjures up many images for those who have studied the history and birth of iconic archtop instruments in America. Lloyd Loar was responsible for the design of the F5 mandolins and L5 archtops of the early 20th century and the name lives on in The Loar, a company dedicated to making beautiful small-bodied acoustics, mandolins and archtops in the modern age, with attention to detail that harkens back to an age gone by. While those archtops, mandolins, and acoustics from the early part of last century fetch second-mortgage-inducing prices these days, The Loar proves that you don’t have to walk with a top hat and monocle to be able to afford instruments designed with the look and sound of early blues and jazz. The Loar’s instruments were among my favorites at the last few NAMM shows I have attended, and really set themselves apart by providing wonderful, tuneful instruments for a great price. This article is about The Loar guitar company, and will explore a few models that use our Seymour Duncan pickups. I will also talk with Ashley Atz, who is The Loar’s Director of Marketing.
The Loar LH-1280 Archtop
The Loar’s LH-1280 is an archtop crafted overseas and wired in the USA combining a classic archtop single cutaway shape with a maple body and set mahogany neck. The 24.75” scale jazzbox features Grover tuners, rosewood fingerboard and bone nut. The 3.75” depth body allows you to get the classic archtop tone when unplugged and the Tonepros bridge makes sure the intonation is perfect on all 19 frets. It is available in black and features an upgraded electronics package assuring you that you won’t have to hunt for replacements, ever.
The pickups in the LH-1280 are USA-made Seymour Duncan Seth Lover pickups, which are usually a go-to upgrade for those looking for traditional PAF tone. Seymour Duncan (the man) was a friend of Seth Lover (the man), and they collaborated on a pickup design and sound using traditional materials that sounded like the ultimate PAF pickup. The humbucking pickup wouldn’t have appeared in classic archtops (and solidbodies) of the 50s and 60s without Seth Lover, and Seth and Seymour came up with a pickup set like they used to be made. They are the ultimate warm jazz-to-classic rock pickup, with complex mids and beautiful overtones. They have a two-conductor wire, and no wax potting, just the way Seth initially designed. Check out Seymour’s interview with Seth Lover here.
The Loar Model 33 Archtop
The Model 33 is the sort of guitar you’d see being played in a dusty old bar in 1939. Made up of hand-selected, and USA-assembled woods, the Model 33’s hand-carved spruce top sits on a highly figured maple body, and is connected to a highly figured maple neck. This deep-bodied, non-cutaway archtop also has an ebony fretboard, and beautiful sunburst finish. Perfect for Grant Green-style swinging, as well as modern Americana, the upgraded electronics feature a Seymour Duncan Custom Shop Charlie Christian pickup.
Charlie Christian was the first real soloist with the then-new electric guitar, way back in the mid-1930s. Copying horn players at the time, the early pickups were essential to that specific sound. The Charlie Christian design finally let guitarists overtake banjo players as the rhythm instrument in jazz bands, and even let their single notes cut through a loud band. The Charlie Christian pickup in the Model 33 is perfect for nailing the sound of guitar’s emerging prominence in jazz.
The Lore of The Loar
I recently spoke with The Loar’s Marketing Director Ashley Atz who provided some insight on a modern guitar company that makes timeless designs available to a wider audience.
What is the general philosophy of The Loar guitars?
The Loar pays homage to instruments from the 1920s and 30s, an age of outstanding craftsmanship and innovative design. We continue this historic tradition to bring you some of the best-sounding, most beautifully crafted instruments available today.
Guitars and mandolins by The Loar combine expert craftsmanship and classic designs inspired by the pioneering ones of the Golden Age with upgraded features to appeal to today’s players. From premium hand-carved tonewoods to original inlay detailing, each instrument we build is made for the best sound, playability and timeless beauty.
It’s our goal to build great-sounding historically-inspired instruments for folks who might, for whatever reason, not have a vintage instrument within their reach.
What is so appealing about focusing on archtops, acoustics, and mandolins?
The designs are timeless, and have resulted in some of the world’s most stunning-sounding instruments. Because of the intimate nature of archtops, mandolins and small body acoustics, we really get the chance to build an instrument that often can speak to the player individually, and that has songs in it just for them. Since each acoustic instrument can be so variable depending on the specific pieces of wood used, we see players really get inspired by having an instrument they vibe with in their hands. Of course, pairing these elements with the right pickup can put that sonic and emotional connection into overdrive.
Tell us about the design of the USA-wired LH-1280C and the Model 33.
We love electric guitars, too, and have been really into that expansive, natural fully hollowbody sound for awhile. When we experimented with the snappy reflective nature of the laminate maple top and back, we wanted to make some guitars that used that sound – totally different from the handcarved solid tops, for instance. The LH-1280-C came from wanting to do a limited run of hollowbodies with all top-shelf componentry. This is the most professional, stage-realized version of our production hollowbody electrics. The Seth Lover pickup set really is a perfect match too; the more airy quality of the unpotted pickups is so complementary with this type of guitar. And no feedback problems, how do you guys do it?! Love this guitar.
The Model 33 on the other hand, truly is a one-off labor of love. As you’d guess from our usual “era of inspiration” that a Charlie Christian-style guitar is in some ways our Holy Grail. Our goal was to build an instrument that was beautiful and embodies the spirit of Charlie Christian guitars from years past. The Model 33 is a unique one, in that it really is one of our best sounding acoustic archtops we’ve ever built. The graduation of the top and back are like no other production model we’ve made, we let the wood itself guide our finger planes. The reason we’d say it is so unique is that it is a great sounding acoustic instrument, but then to add on the Custom Shop Charlie Christian pickup makes it world class. Not only does the pickup look right with its hand bound bobbin and three-point mounting system, the tone is spot on. We rounded out the look of the piece with a hand-made bound pickguard, Waverly tuners and Ivoroid appointments. As a nod to the past, we integrated a cup style jack ferrule into the tailpiece much like the Charlie Christian models from the 30s and 40s.
You chose Seymour Duncan pickups for your high-end archtop models. What do they bring to the characteristic The Loar sound?
We think a pickup makes a guitar sound its best when it combines the natural tonal attributes of the wood with the tone generated by the pickup. For these guitars, the Seymour Duncan pickups we use have been carefully selected to bring out the most important (and we believe, useful) characteristics of these instruments. The Seth Lover pickups, for example, are some of the best-sounding PAF pickups out there. The match of this set with the fully hollow body, like we were saying, really is magical. With the Charlie Christian, that pickup sounds like the old recordings, only in super high definition when you’re hearing it live and in a modern context! There truly is not a single other pickup on the market that would have sounded as great and as ‘correct’ for the Model 33.
Check Them All Out
The Loar produces a full line of thin-bodied archtops as well as many different mandolins and small-bodied acoustic guitars using many of the same techniques as the historic guitars they are modeled after. These instruments give modern players the chance to experience the sounds of the early part of last century at a musician-friendly price.
Have you ever played smaller acoustic guitars? Who is your favorite jazz player?