In the search of louder guitars, one of the development was the modern arch-top guitar and the increase of the body size. Around the turn of the 20th century the orchestras had begun to introduce the guitar to fatten up their rhythm sections. In those early days there was no amplification. The common flat top guitar of the day did not quite provide what was needed. It was light and responsive but when played loud, became boomy and therefore the centre of sound did not hold together well.
The first arch-top design introduced by Orville Gibson in 1897 had an oval hole and was constructed with much thicker timber than a conventional flat top of that time. The top and bottom were carved like a Violin and were more suitable for the appropriate percussive centred bright sound that was required. When played hard and loud, the sound did not break up like the flat top guitar and it was still able to achieve the well centred percussive sound at loud volumes, which was required for the guitar to cut over the top of the orchestra.
To accommodate the even louder volume of sound required from a guitar for the big bands, the arch-top soon grew from a 16" to around 18" and some arch-tops featured a very large bout of around 19”.
When electrification and amplification were introduced the arch-top began to shrink again to a size of around 16" for the modern electric arch-top of today.
The point of this historical information is to understand how the arch-top guitar at one time was admired for its tone and acoustic ability. Today however, it is no longer appreciated by many in quite the same way. Many modern arch-top guitars that look very traditionally attractive may sound very acceptable when plugged in, but acoustically some of these arch-top guitars often leave a lot to be desired as an acoustic traditional arch-top instrument. It could then be said that the acoustic sound of the arch-top has slowly taken second place to the electrified sound that we hear on most Jazz recordings today.
The traditional arch-top guitars were made with floating adjustable height bridges, so that when the guitarist needed to play louder, they could simply raise the height of the strings, with the use of the bridge height adjustment and avoid fret buzz. In so doing, if it was necessary to raise the strings quite substantially, this might affect the intonation and so then, the floating bridge could be moved slightly backward or forward to correct that problem.
There are few guitars as important to the history and development of Gibson as a major manufacturer of six-stringed instruments as the Super 400. It was first sold in 1934 and named for its $400 price (many Gibson guitars were named for the sticker price during that era of the company). The model first appeared as an arch-top acoustic with no cutaway, simply named the Super 400. As it was then – and still remains today in the Super 400-CES – the Super 400 was the largest guitar the company had ever produced, with an astounding body width of 18 inches. But as Gibson has evolved over the years to adapt to the industry’s ever-changing advancements, so have its Super 400s. The earliest Super 400 models were quite similar to Gibson’s other arch-top acoustic, the L-5, and featured a hand-engraved tailpiece and hand-engraved finger rest support, along with an “L-5 Super” truss rod cover. In 1939, the guitar underwent several changes that still remain with it today, including an enlarged upper bout, a new tailpiece similar to the one on the L-5, enlarged f-holes and a venetian cutaway option that is now a standard feature. Although the Super 400s were discontinued during the mid-1940s because of the supply shortages of WWII, Gibson reintroduced the model in 1949. And as Gibson strived to gain an upper hand in the electric guitar market in the early 1950s, the model continued to progress with the eventual introduction of the first electric version.
This Super 400 Gibson has been sent the 10/11/1935 to John Pariso, Gibson endorser, whose photo shows that 400 on page 24 of the AA catalog of 1939. It is indeed a 400 of 1935, but it has been completely reconditioned after the war, which was not totally unusual for Gibson at that time for high-end models. The body and neck are done in flamed maple with an ebony fingerboard. It now features a De Armond Rythm Chief 1000 pick-up.