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6 Ways to Stop Archtop Feedback thumbnail v2.png
Nearly a decade ago I purchased my first professional jazz guitar - a fantastic Eastman AR810 archtop. It's a large (17" lower bout) solid wood instrument with a floating humbucking pickup and volume and tone controls  which are mounted to the pickguard. Basically, it's an acoustic instrument with a magnetic pickup. This guitar in particular was a prototype for Eastman, and was one of the very first guitars they ever made with a violin varnish instead of the more common nitrocellulose or polyurethane finish that you would typically find on a guitar. I write all of this to say that while it is an incredible guitar with a brilliant acoustic tone, it is a nightmare for feedback. Eastman archtops have notoriously thin tops - so between that, the solid wood construction, the large body in a violin varnish, and the top not having the normal weight of a pickup mounted to it, the AR810 that I own needs some dampening when I need to play it plugged in.
I've tried many different ways of fighting the feedback on this guitar over the years and this guide is dedicated to sharing those techniques for others. I've also condensed all of this information into a .pdf for you to download and print out if you'd like something tangible to keep on hand - click here for the pdf download. Lastly, there is an accompanying YouTube video that goes more in depth on each topic (embedded below):

Although this is not something you can change if you already own an archtop, it is 100% the most important factor influencing how quickly your jazz guitar begins to feedback. I think it's necessary to understand why your hollow body guitar may be having these problems. From the type of material used (a solid wood vs. a laminate for example), to the size of the body (depth and width), and even the finish type, all of these play into the tendency for a particular guitar to ring acoustically. The easier it resonates, the faster it will pick up sympathetic vibrations from a nearby source (such as an amp) and create a feedback loop. The Eastman Guitars website has a fantastic page dedicated to going over various construction styles of archtop guitars - click here to head to their archtop education page.

Here are a few points to keep in mind:

   — Laminate construction: less acoustic tone, more resistant to feedback
   — Solid wood w/ carved top: acoustically live, more prone to feedback
   — Dimensions of the body: thicker sides and larger top, more prone to feedback
   — Finish type: Polyurethane and nitrocellulose are thicker & more resistant than varnish

1 - Guitar Construction

Gibson ES-175.png

The method that the pickups and electronics are connected to your guitar also greatly affects the tendency to feedback. You'll notice that the next couple points on this guide relate to adding weight to the top of your instrument and that's also what is making the big difference here. Guitars with pickups that are mounted directly to the top of the guitar (such as the Gibson ES-175, Super 400, or many other models) are adding considerable weight to the instrument and will keep it from ringing so easily. Guitars with mounted pickups also typically have electronics like volume and tone controls mounted to the top as well. A floating pickup archtop (such as the Gibson Johnny Smith) will usually have the pickup attached to either the neck or pickguard in order to prevent it from weighing down the top. I like to think of these instruments more like an acoustic guitar with a magnetic pickup and the mounted pickup style instruments behaving more like an electric guitar.

Remember these three points:
   — Set / Mounted pickups: pickups add weight to the top, more resistant to feedback
   — Floating pickups: usually mounted to the neck or pickguard, will not dampen the top
   — Number of pickups: archtops with a bridge pickup add even more weight on the top.

Gibson Johnny Smith.png

Gibson ES-175

Gibson Johnny Smith

(mounted pickup archtop)

(floating pickup archtop)

2 - Pickup Mounting Style

Covering the F holes of your archtop will prevent the air from moving in and out freely, just like a rubber feedback buster on a steel string flat top guitar would work. With archtops, the F hole dimensions are far less uniform though and I'm not aware of any commercially available products designed to just easily drop in like the feedback buster does. Here's a list of three common ways guitarists have been plugging the soundholes to help eliminate feedback.

    — “Doug’s Plugs” or similar: a few years ago you used to be able to order custom foam plugs to fit your archtop, which would fit into your guitar similar to a circular feedback buster on an acoustic. Unlike a Martin or other flat top acoustic there is no universal dimension for F holes on an archtop, so you will have to get these custom cut. Doug has retired and I’m not aware of anyone making a similar product. Basically, his product was made out of foam and he just cut the material to fit your guitar. The plugs add a bit of weight to the top, but mostly the feedback resistance was provided by blocking air from moving in and out of the top of the guitar. Get a pair of dollar store sandals and a razor blade and try it out.

   — Tape: be very careful here as depending on what you use, it may leave residue on your guitar or even damage the finish. A polyurethane or nitrocellulose finish will probably hold up fine but if your guitar has a varnish, I would not use tape at all. I’ve seen clear packing tape used as it is not so obvious from the audience’s perspective. My recommendation would be painter’s tape since it is very easy to remove and probably the least likely to damage your guitar’s finish. Try to find tape that is not overly adhesive as you’ll probably want to remove it at some point (always take great care here) and it doesn’t need to be airtight to be effective. Electrical tape could also be effective and non-damaging.

   — Clear vinyl: I have been told that some players are using this vinyl sheeting to cover the F holes of their instrument. It’s naturally adhesive, but again take great care when removing. I would test a small piece before committing to using this.

3 - Cover The Soundholes

This next point deals with intentionally adding weight to your instrument in order to dampen the acoustic resonance and fight feedback from creeping up. The obvious downside is that you lose acoustic volume.

    — I’ve wedged a wad of paper in between my floating pickup and the top of the guitar and another in between the pickguard and the top. I used a tightly folded piece of paper and then wrapped it in gaff tape until it was large enough to maintain a bit of pressure in between the pickup, pickguard, and the top of the guitar. 

    — Stuffing the body of the guitar. Some players have been known to stuff their guitar with cotton balls (you will need a lot) or something similar. This works well, but is a pain to remove. I believe George Benson famously did this for years. This method will add considerable weight to your guitar, especially if the body is packed tightly.

    — Dashboard sunglasses holder: this is a thin rubber or silicon sheet that is self adhesive, designed to stick to a car’s dashboard. Like tape, it will probably be fine on your polyurethane or nitrocellulose finish, but I would not use it on a thin varnish. Take care and remove it slowly when you’re done. Don’t leave it on for a very long time or in the sun. You could also custom cut this material to cover the F holes, kind of a 2-in-one solution. Again, test this in a small area before committing fully so as not to damage your guitar's finish.

4 - Additional Top Dampening

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Sonicake Tone Group.png

Some amps, like my Henriksen Blu 10, have a comprehensive EQ section that allow you to make changes in the specific frequency that is giving you feedback. Most amps with a simple 2 or 3-band EQ however won't help you too much when it comes to feedback. Any change drastic enough to help reduce the feedback will probably affect your tone in an unsatisfactory way. I think a great way to make changes to your EQ to eliminate feedback without greatly altering your tone is to do so with either a parametric or graphic EQ pedal.

   — A pedal like the Empress Parametric EQ is your best bet as you are able to precisely locate the frequency that is giving you trouble and eliminate it without affecting surround frequencies.
   — The MXR 10-band EQ is going to be slightly easier to use and considerably more affordable than the Empress as it has preset controls for 10 different frequencies.
   — On the budget, the Sonicake Tone Group is a great option. I demo'd this pedal on my channel years ago and the company gave me a discount code for 10% off - just use the code "AlexPrice" at checkout.

5 - Equalization

6 - Amp Proximity

By and large, the best way I have found to fight feedback is to adjust the position of the amp relative to the guitar’s body. I always try to position the amp just off to the left of me (I am a right handed player, so the amp is on the opposite side of the body of the guitar) and angled in a way so that the speaker is not pointing directly at the instrument. Most times, this is enough to fix my feedback issues. In certain stage setups however, this is not always an option so having some options on hand that I've mentioned earlier in this post is a great idea.

Here are a few of my favorite amps that I've used with my archtop:

For more ideas:  I'm going to link to an old thread on I remember reading this when I purchased the AR810 back in Summer of 2016 and I came across it again as I was researching for this article. It's filled with advice and experience from all sorts of players and I highly recommend reading though it -

You might also enjoy some of my free resources on drop 2 and drop 3 jazz chord voicings, as well as 7th chord arpeggio shapes that I consider to be essential knowledge for the jazz guitarist. I will link them below. I've created these booklets over the last few years spent teaching at Duquesne University and online through Skype. If you'd like to get in contact with me to arrange a lesson or two, you can reach out on this page.

Good luck!!

Essential Drop 2 chord voicings.jpg
Essential Drop 3 chord voicings.jpg
Major & Minor Triad Arpeggios.jpg
7th Chord Arpeggios.jpg
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