1950s Friedrich Pfaff Carved Archtop Electric Guitar

Okay, folks, let's be straight -- this guitar looks killer. It's also made from quality materials in a quality way -- it has a carved spruce top and carved maple back, and features a beautiful "recurve" around the edges in that very-Germanic fashion.

There's precious little information about Pfaff archtops on the English-speaking web, but according to Guitarz, the fellow apparently worked for a bigger firm called Migma (whose label is in the body's back) in the late '40s and early '50s. Per its features, that makes complete sense.

A friend of mine brought this in to get it up and running and it took quite a bit to get it there. The body has (and still has, though they're now stable) sprung-out seams on the lower-bout area due to uneven contraction/expansion of the wood over time. This instrument also must've seen a lot of moisture at some point because some of the metal components had a ton of corrosion damage.

The truly wonderful things about this instrument include a high-class feel to the neck, bolt-on neck construction for easy back-angle adjustment, a cantilevered fretboard extension, and fully-carved construction with to-die-for f-hole cuts and oodles of bling-tastic binding. It also sounds incredibly good in a '50s "clean/bright" jazzbox sound profile when it's plugged-in. The main issue with the guitar is that it sounds pretty depressing acoustically. The tone is decent but it has very little carrying-power. That's made all the more shocking because the instrument is actually built very light and feels like it should be responsive, loud, and gutsy. At least it's enough sound to pick along with a buddy, though.

My guess is that the steep carve to the top just doesn't leave enough real estate for the top to vibrate effectively. While it looks stunning, that carve means that it just doesn't cut the mustard. As a plugged-in guitar, though, that lightweight build and top design does mean it's stable and transmits the clean vibe of the guitar right into the rather-microphonic pickup in a very transparent way. To me, that's a good thing. It keeps it lively and interesting.

Work included: a fret level/dress, rebuttoning two damaged tuners, seam repairs, bridge fitting, compensation of the bridge, minor crack repairs, and new wiring and a jack for the pickup. It plays with bang-on 1/16" overall action at the 12th fret, strung with 50w-11 strings (with wound G), and has a straight neck.

Scale length: 25 1/8"
Nut width: 1 5/8"
String spacing at nut: 1 3/8"
String spacing at bridge: 2"
Body length: 19 3/4"
Lower bout width: 15 5/8"
Waist width: 9 5/8"
Upper bout width: 12"
Side depth at endpin: 3 1/4" +top/back depth
Top wood: solid spruce, carved
Back/sides wood: solid maple, carved back
Neck wood: multi-piece maple
Bracing type: two-tonebar
Fretboard: rosewood, zero fret+plastic nut
Bridge: rosewood, adjustable
Neck feel: medium C w/fat shoulders, ~10" board radius

Condition notes: seam issues (repaired, but a little off) mentioned above, average usewear throughout the body, but glorious looks! It's all-original, too.

A zero fret and multi-ply plastic nut round-out its Germanic features.

The Hofner-esque fretboard markers look superb.

The owner really lucked-out with this pickup still functioning -- and with a lot of output, too! The pickup's casing and wire was (and is) really, really corroded and the celluloid top has gone out of shape, so I wasn't expecting anything good from it. I tested it on the quick, however, and was super-happy to find it working, so I installed a longer wire and fit it to a new, standard 1/4" jack near the endpin.

While the fretboard is rosewood, the bridge is brown-stained maple in typical German fashion. I love the celluloid inlay on the base.

Gorgeous bound f-holes mix with the engraved tailpiece for an even more luxurious display...

The carved, flamed-maple back is something else.

Inside, this guitar looks like a violin and has a small endblock and no kerfing.

The square-ended bolt for the neck is original to the instrument and would've been recessed into the heel in a small metal cup. Because I wanted to be able to get tools on it, I stuck a ferrule inside said cup to get the bolt's end beyond the surface of the heel. That ferrule can be removed when a standard screwdriver-use bolt can be found to replace this odd one.



[Schlaggitarre, literally 'beat guitar', is the German word for archtop guitars. This website in German contains lots of info. I just translated the basics.]

Friedrich Pfaff was born on 28.05.1898 in Schöneck. In 1926 he completed his masters degree as a luthier. He lived in Siebenbrunn and had his workshop there. He died at the age of 58 on 21.12.1955. Friedrich Pfaff was a member of MIGMA (Musical Instruments Artisans of Markneukirchen, the DDR-company in that luthier town) from 1947 to 1955. Otwin was the brand of the Otto Windisch company in the same town, a much bigger company, active from 1903 to 1973.
Jake Wildwood said…
You're the best, thank you!