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KEN PARKER ARCHTOPS
RENEWING THE FORM

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Ken Talks About The Neck/Body Joint:

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I have been building, repairing, and modifying guitars since the early 1970's, and have always looked for ways to improve the guitars' performance in service to the player.  All of my new archtop guitars feature a unique neck joint design.

In 2003, when I began defining my design goals for the acoustic archtop, the neck attachment was one of my prime targets.  The normal neck/body intersection on the archtop guitar has some built-in problems that I was called upon to address many times as a guitar repairman.  I won't get too far into what these are, but they were problematic enough for me to try to develop a new and better solution for this important intersection.

I spent over a year testing and developing the techniques and tools that I now use to make this unique attachment/adjustment system. This system was wholly developed by me and I know of no other that approaches it in performance and versatility.

I feel the need to explain some of the details of this mechanism, as many of you have expressed curiosity about how it can work, and why I chose such a new path over the tried & true archtop heel / dovetail / glued foot design.

Here's a list of my original design goals, in rough order of their importance to me;

• Free the bridge from the burden of adjusting the action. The bridge is a crucial element in the sound path, and is spoiled, not improved by the inclusion of knurled adjusters riding on tiny pieces of threaded rod, or the now popular and odd looking "chopstick" action adjusting wedges.  This freedom allows me to optimize the bridge's ability to transfer the strings' complex vibratory energy to the top without the compromise of including an elevating mechanism. I remove lots of material from the underside of the bridge to reduce it's weight (typically less than 30 grams), so that the bridge resembles a tent structure.  This low mass bridge seems to improve the instrument's response at both the low and the high end of its' dynamic range.

• Construct and attach the neck in a way that solves the problems of slow but inevitable distortion ("creep" is the engineering term for this) in the neckblock area.  My new method substantially increases the stiffness of the neck joint, and improves the energy transfer by minimizing losses. Many of you have wondered if the connecting post is strong enough to do the job. The post is constructed of carbon fibers in a matrix of high performance aerospace epoxy, and cannot creep over time.  This carbon / epoxy reinforcement continues throughout the neck, and contributes substantially to the unprecedented evenness of response and lack of dead spots in these instruments.

• Allow the player to easily adjust the string action to balance comfort and output without the need to retune the instrument (see Sylvain Luc clip)

• Give complete access to the upper register by eliminating the entire heel structure

• Eliminate the bonding of the neck foot to the top, freeing the top and neck block to vibrate better

• Make the neck easily removable. This is nothing new.  "Bolt - on" necks have been used to ease the long distance transport of bass violins since the 1500s. Using a combination of wood, carbon fiber, and epoxy, I've been able to optimize this structure for the archtop guitar.         

Here are some of the real world benefits

1. The instrument's neck and body can be separated to travel in compact containers which fit in the overhead compartments of commercial aircraft, thereby 100% assuring the guitar's safe, on time arrival with its owner.

Below is a shot of Brownie, all packed up and ready to go to Belgium

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2. The neck can be removed for adjustment or repair of either the neck or body

3. Access to the upper register is hugely improved. For this clip, Doug Wamble and Bjorn Solli both agreed to play the melody and their solo parts at the 12th fret or above. The resulting tune, of Oleo, was captured on the first take

4. The player can lower the action for shredding or raise it for performance and output (or slide, check out Doug Wamble's clip...)

5. The tuning of the instrument is unaffected by adjusting action height, from low electric action to slide action

6. I can deliver an instrument with more than one neck and tailpiece, making it possible for the player to interchange, for example, a 25 1/2" scale 6 string guitar neck, and a 27" - 30" scale baritone neck. Other possibilities include 7 string, mando cello, etc. The player can easily learn to switch the parts, and have the flexibility of two or more instruments using one soundbox.

7. The neck design offers a rock-solid attachment point for the finger-rest, or pickguard. This is often a big problem on many archtops. Since the pickguard adjusts with the neck, it's always in the same relationship to the fingerboard. The pickguard never touches the body. If an electromagnetic pickup is fitted, the whole works can be secreted in the pickguard, including the output jack.

8. The design gives lots of room at the end of the neck, so that any style magnetic pickup can be fitted without (horrors) cutting a hole in the top.