When we first pulled the Jazz Archtop from its padded gig bag, it seemed like an ideal guitar to pack for a road or air trip, thanks to its small body, 20-fret neck (plus a zero fret), and slightly compressed scale length of 25". The gently arched top sports an airfoil-shaped soundhole (a $280 option), and upon it resides a shapely fixed bridge and a cleverly designed inset tailpiece that is compensated to provide a longer string path for the bass strings in order to increase their tension. The top is edged in carefully applied black binding, and the only other cosmetic touches are a wenge overlay on the headstock and black chrome hardware (which adds $45 to the price).
The Duncan Jazz humbucker sits in a matching black bezel, and its lower front corner actually touches the binding on this pre-production model. [Veillette reports that the design has been altered slightly in production models to provide more distance between the pickup and the binding.] The only other things that could stand a bit of attention were some roughness on the bass-side fretboard edge, a loose nut (which could be nudged in its slot by bending the strings), and the knobs that were not quite centered in their routs.
Though the neck appears to be attached solely by the strap-button screw, in reality, it mates to the body via a large-headed, 14" machine screw (located under the strap button) that threads into a steel T-nut buried in the neck just below the trussrod. The neck feels absolutely solid, and this is partly due to the T-nut’s large 34" flange, which grips into the wood to create an extraordinarily strong joint.
Veillette says he studied the necks of several high-end jazz guitars in order to create the JA’s wide/thick stick—which has a gentle “C” shape and mild volute where it transitions into the headstock. The action is reasonably low, and the intonation is very accurate when comparing fretted notes and harmonics at the 12th fret. The JA plays very nicely, and it sounds tuneful when fingering chords in various positions. The medium frets are tightly seated and polished to a satiny gleam, and the upper reaches of the fretboard are easily accessible, thanks to the generous cutaway.
With its red cedar top and light poplar body, the Jazz Archtop produces a warm and resonant acoustic sound that makes it ideal for unplugged practicing. The voicing is burnished and woody, and the Duncan pickup adds its own tasty element as it translates the string vibrations into the amplified realm. Played though the clean channel of a Mesa/Boogie Lonestar Special—as well as through a Fender Twin Reverb—the JA sounded full and open, delivering ample bottom, an expressive midrange, and a sweet top-end. The tones had the requisite roundness and smoothness you’d expect from a hollowbody jazz guitar, and while the JA is certainly no L-5, it provides a good deal of the depth and midrange complexity you expect from a larger-bodied guitar—and it does so without any feedback issues.
One for the Road
While the Jazz Archtop might encourage a few snickers from the band when you pull it out for the first time, its performance requires no apologies. This is a solid, well-conceived instrument that sounds great, plays very well, and can be stashed in places that would never contain a standard archtop. If you’re thinking about downsizing your rig for summer travel, the Jazz Archtop is a great way to start.