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GUEST,highlandman at work Tech: Retro Archtop Setup (14) Tech: Retro Archtop Setup 02 May 12

Hey y'all-

I recently acquired a ca. 1954 Hofner Model 463 archtop. It was given to me by the estate of my late aunt, whose late husband was one of my favorite uncles, who taught me to play guitar o so many moons ago. Nice sentimental connection there.

My questions relate to setup.

This was originally an acoustic instrument with an added clamp-on pickup (not of Hofner manufacture). It has pretty heavy flatwound nickel strings on it (which make the acoustic sound rather poor). The bridge adjusted all the way down gives me about .125 inch action at the 12th fret, which makes it play like a truck grille. The neck is straight though, (not truss-rod adjustable) with about .015 relief.

It's in fairly nice shape, other than widespread light finish checking and I'd like to get it playing. If anybody has comments on the following plans, please chime in.

1. Strings. I'm thinking to stay with flatwound nickel, as I have a nice Gibson acoustic and would use this mainly plugged in. I have used flat/round hybrids on my bass guitar with good effect -- should I consider that to brighten up the tone a bit? As far as gauge, it has radio mast guy wires on it now, .014 or so 1st string with a wound third. I know with such low neck relief I can't go too light on the strings, but I'm thinking I may be able to go down to .011 or .012 for playability and still keep the retro sound.

2. Bridge. I'll keep the factory original (which doesn't sit neatly on the body, quite, and is too high) in a specimen jar somewhere and replace it with new. I'm hoping I can get the action down to .080 or so by shaving the bottom of the new bridge. My bridge options are a two-piece one with compensation for a wound 3rd string, or an individually adjustable one. I'm kind of OCD about intonation, so I'd lean toward the individual model, but I'm a little concerned about killing the sound. I hear archtops are finicky about anything interfering with the vibrations of the top. Would a mechanically complex bridge interfere too much with the transmission of vibration down into the body?

So I won't be doing anything irreversible to the instrument, but if anyone with experience has suggestions (or dire warnings) I'd appreciate hearing them before I start spending scarce pennies on the thing.


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