Sunday, October 4, 2015

D'Angelico Guitars

37 Kenmare Street

It is a well known fact that some of the finest archtop guitars ever built in the 20th Century came out of a small guitar shop on Kenmare Street in New York City. These were the guitars built by John D’Angelico.

If you run across a copy of Acquired by the Angels by Paul William Schmidt ,do yourself a favor and buy it. It is a fascinating read complete with pictures of many of D’Angelico’s instruments.

John D’Angelico was born to an Italian-American family in 1905. At only 9 years of age he was apprenticed to his great-uncle, Raphael Ciani, who made mostly violins and mandolins. Signor Ciani also made some flat top guitars. Young John eventually came to supervise Ciani’s shop.

1935 D'Angelico
When Signor Ciani died in 1932, D’Angelico became his successor. This is when he began making instruments of his own designs. Within five years, D’Angelico concentrated mainly on building guitars of his own design; guitars that were based the violins design techniques that he had learned throughout the years. These marvelous guitars had a carved arched top and back and f-shaped sound holes.

Though his production was robust in the 1930’s,  his shop was only producing around 35 instruments each year. And this included guitars and mandolins .Much of his day to day work involved repairs of guitars, mandolins and violins.

Style A
By the latter part of the 1930's John D'Angelico had settled on building only four styles of guitars. They were all based on the popular Gibson L-5. These guitars included the Style A, which much like the Gibson L-5 had a 17 inch body and his first original style head stock.

D'Angelico Style B
The Style B which also had a 17 inch body, although some examples measure it as 16 3/8th's inches. This model was the first to have a finial grace the unique head stock shape that became a symbol of a D'Angelico guitar.. Some early examples also came with the stair step tailpiece that came to be another trademark of D'Angelico guitars.

1934 Excel
The Style B was phased out in the 1940’s and replaced by the Excel, which also had a 17 inch body. Although there were some Excel guitars produced as early as 1934. This was perhaps his most popular model.

D’Angelico made the decision to produce a larger instrument and called it the New Yorker. Perhaps this was in response to the Strombergs building a similar sized guitar. The New Yorker guitar had an 18 inch body. Only around 300 New Yorkers were built. They were all gorgeous instruments. These bore the other D'Angelico touches, such as the Empire State Building truss rod cover and his uniquely shaped pickguards.

The early D’Angelico instruments came with a steel rod to reinforce the neck, however it was not adjustable. This feature would come on instruments produced in the late 1940’s.

1952 Excel
By the late 1940's D’Angelico had settled on only building the Excel and the New Yorker guitars. All of these are lovely instruments that feature exquisite pearl inlays on the head stock and the bound fret boards as well as quadruple binding around the body. Each D'Angelico guitar was built by hand and took several months to build.

1953 New Yorker
His records show that he only produced a total of 1164 instruments, which included a few round hole guitars and some mandolins.

Johnny Smith with D'Angelico
D’Angelico also produced some customized guitars, which included an Excel sized guitar (17”) with New Yorker features for Johnny Smith, some D’Angelico necks fitted onto bodies that customer’s owned.

He also built an unusual tear-dropped shape guitar at the request of Peter Giraldi, who played in a group called The Teardrops. In 1957 he asked D'Angelico to make a unique instrument, "something different, that would stand out." What resulted was the D'Angelico Teardrop guitar.

This unique instrument has all the features of an Excel, but with a prominent fin on the lower bottom bout. John D'Angelico sold this guitar to Giraldi for $500.

Martin Taylor with Teardrop - Scott Chinery - Steve Howe

In 1993 wealthy guitar collector Scott Chinery acquired the D'Angelico Teardrop guitar from the Mandolin Brothers music store paying $150,000.  He then challenged Jimmy D'Aquisto to build a similar guitar. D'Aquisto's version had all the features of his Solo model, along with the fin.

1957 D'Angelico Teardrop - 1993 D'Aquisto Teardrop - 2008 Monteleone Teardrop

In 2007 luthier extraordinaire John Monteleone begqn his version and even added extra flairs, but making a scroll design on the upper bout that is similar to the design on a Gibson F-5 mandolin. Monteleone included 4 unusual sound holes on the instruments top and an additional one on the guitars upper side. This sound port could be opened or closed. Its purpose was to allow the player to better hear the guitar. The Monteleone instrument was 18 inches across to lower bout, which was a full inch larger than the versions that D'Angelico or D'Aquisto produced.

'52 Excel - '46 New Yorker - '40 Excel
D’Angelico guitars contain a serial number inside the bass f-hole and range from 1001 to 2164.

John D’Angelico became very ill in 1959 and suffered a series of heart attacks in subsequent years. During a particularly cold winter of 1964 D’Angelico contracted pneumonia, but like most self-employed entrepreneurs he continued to work.

'59 Excel Cutaway
His apprentice, Jimmy D’Aquisto came to work one morning and found D’Angelico dead from pneumonia and a heart attack.

At the time John D’Angelico was only 59 years old.

Unique 4 string Tenor '37
His former employees went on to be in-demand craftsmen. Jimmy D’Aquisto was successor to D’Angelico. He started working for Mr. D’Angelico in 1952 when Jimmy was just a kid of 17. He began by sweeping floors and running errands earning $35 a week.

#2041 '58 and 2091 '59
In 1959 D’Aquisto purchased the shop and designs from his mentor’s family. But in acquiring D’Angelico’s premises and guitar designs, D’Aquisto never actually owned the brand name, which remained in the hands of a lawyer who had provided loans to keep the business going. James D’Aquisto, quickly built a find reputation for his own name.

1960 D'Angelico New Yorker
D’Aquisto went on for a few years building guitars in the style of his D’Angelico. He continued for the rest of his life to produce archtop guitars, but in his own design. Sadly D’Aquisto died unexpectedly in 1995 at age 59.

D'Angelico, J. Smith & D'Aquisto
Both D’Angelico and D’Aquisto are still regarded as the greatest builders of archtop guitars ever.

R. Patt's 8 string
Vincent Jimmy DiSerio worked for D’Angelico from 1932 to 1959 before going into business for himself. In 1965 he modified a Gibson ES-150 for guitarist Ralph Patt. Patt requested a wider neck to accommodate 8 strings. Patt developed an unusual tuning that went from low E to high E in major thirds tuning for the lower 7 strings. The highest string was tuned to high A♭.

Jimmy D'Aquisto went on and was very much in demand as a guitar builder and luthier until his death in 1995.

One guitar that D’Aquisto had created during his last years was Called the Blue Centura Deluxe. It was built for wealthy guitar collector Scott Chinery, who had an appreciation of fine instruments, especially those built by D’Angelico and D’Aquisto.

To pay tribute to Jimmy D’Aquisto and the Blue Centura, Chinery commissioned well known luthiers to build The Blue Guitar Collection. The event culminated with a huge party that featured a variety of guitars, including Scotty Moore, Tal Farlow, Johnny Winter, Jack Wilkins, G.E. Smith, Jimmy Vivino, Steve Howe, Lou Pallo and others, who all played the Blue guitars that were designed by the likes of Bob Benedetto and 21 other prominent luthiers.

In 2011, works by D'Angelico and D'Aquisto were included in the 'Guitar Heroes' exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

D'Angelico - D'Aquisto work shop
The exhibit titled Guitar Heroes; Legendary Craftsmen, From Italy to New York, fueled a renewed interest in the D’Angelico brand.

This event caught the attention and lead investors John Ferolito, Jr., Brenden Cohen, and Steve Pisani to purchase and resurrect the D’Angelico brand name, and build a new showroom in New York City.

New D'Angelico Guitars and Basses - from Forbes online

Most of the modern D’Angelico guitars are crafted in Korea, but there is a limited run of USA Masterbuilt D’Angelico reissues being made by Gene Baker at the Premier Builder’s Guild workshop in California. The Korean versions are selling in the range of $1000 to the $1500 range. However the Masterbuilt series sell in the $11,000 to $12,000 range.

The company stresses that the Korean models are built with careful oversight from the USA and “strict adherence to many elements of John D’Angelico’s original designs. One of the Korean produced models was featured in the Grateful Dead’s final series of concerts and was autographed by the surviving memebers.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Guitars With Leather Covering

Elvis admitted he knew 3 chords on the guitar. For him the guitar was a stage prop; something to hold on to and make him look cool. And what could make the guitar look cooler? A hand-tooled leather cover with Elvis' name embossed on!

So from the late 1950’s on there have been guitarists that have covered their instruments in leather. It was all about stage presence and show.

Elvis had several guitars wrapped in leather. His first was a 1955 Martin D-28 that he purchased at O.K. Houck Piano Company in Memphis Tennessee in April of 1956.

The leather tooled covering was made by Marcus Van Story, who worked for the O.K. Houck Piano Company as a repairman.

Presley got the idea because he admired a similar guitar cover used by Hank Snow and decided he needed one. I do not know where Hank Snow got his, but it was elaborate and had his name engraved across its top.

Snow got the idea for this when he came to the attenion of Country artist, Ernest Tubb. Tubb had the word “Thanks” written on the back of his guitars. It was written upside-down, so when the audience applauded, he turned the guitar over as a way to show appreciation.

Other Country artists had their names inlaid in mother-of-pearl on their guitars fret boards. However the leather guitar cover was a real eye-catcher, despite the fact that it probably muffled the sound.

In October of 1956, Presley purchased a brand new Gibson J-200 from the same music store.

This was covered with a tooled leather cover made by Charles Underwood in 1957. It was first seen on the Ed Sullivan Show that same year.

Rick Turner with Holly's guitar
Buddy Holly first saw Elvis at Fair Park Coliseum in Lubbock, Texas in 1955. Holly took a shine to Elvis’ fancy leather guitar cover and had one made by Rick Turner, who was working at Westwood Music in Los Angeles.

Years later Gary Busey, who starred in The Buddy Holly Story purchased Buddy’s Gibson J-45, with the leather cover for $270,000. Rick Turner has also made beautiful replicas of this same leather guitar cover.

Conway Twitty was born Harold Lloyd Jenkins. When he decided to go into music he did not think his real name did not have star qualities. He looked through a map and found two cities that appealed to him, Conway Arkansas and Twitty Texas to come up with his stage name.

Twitty already owned and played electric guitar which was a 1957 Gretsch 6130 Roundup solid body electric guitar. This guitar came from the factory with leather binding on the instruments sides that were embossed with medallions that looked like sheriff badges.

But Twitty decided to have a hand-tooled leather guitar cover custom made for his Gretsch guitar. His name is embossed in cursive script on the upper bouts.

On the back of the guitar is a characture of his wife, Maxine, who he called “Mick. She is embossed on the covers back and is shown wearing chaps and a cowboy hat.

Another popular artists of those day was Ricky Nelson. If you grew up in the 1950’s, you probably watched the television show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Ricks father, Ozzie led an orchestra in the 1940’s and was the bands singer. His mother, Harriet was the bands female vocalist.

So it was not surprising that Ricky developed a beautiful singing voice. I discover that while he was at a recording session he heard a session guitarist that was about his same age named James Burton. Burton was recording in another studio.

Rick liked his style and invited him to be not just a regular in his band, but also appear on the TV show.

At the time Rick owned a Rickenbacker acoustic guitar that was about the same size as a Gibson jumbo guitar.

He had a beautiful leather guitar cover for this guitar and of course it had his name engraved in the leather.

As Nelson became more famous, he purchased a Gibson J-200 and had a leather cover made for it.

Later in his career Ricky purchased a Martin guitar and he had a custom leather cover with his name made for this instrument. Judging be the rosewood neck, it is a Martin D-18.

He also received a red, white and blue guitar as a gift from Buck Owens.

Buck thoughtfully included a leather cover.

The leather cover fad seemed to have fallen out of fashion until a clean-cut Waylon Jennings, took his Fender Broadcaster to a leather-smith and had a black and white hand-tooled leather cover made for the instrument. This guitar became Jennings trademark.

Shortly afterward he purchased two Fender Telecasters and gave them the same treatment. It is said that Jennings owned at least 7 Fender Telecasters with leather coverings, although one was actually an Esquire.

Jennings gave away the Broadcaster to a friend. Seven years after his death, this guitar showed up in an auction in 2009 at Christies and was purchased for $98,500.

Fender Musical Instruments made a Waylon Jennings Telecaster Tribute guitar during his lifetime. They had his stylized “W” logo at the 12th fret on their maple necks. Jennings owned several of these guitars.

His son, Shooter Jennings, plays his fathers Telecaster with his own band.

During the late 1980’s Chris Isaak’s became popular. He was a singer and songwriter, but before this he earned a living as a male fashion model.

Isaak's song Suspicion of Love appeared in the film, Married to the Mob. In 1990 his song Wicked Game was featured in the David Lynch film, Wild at Heart. A VH1 music video featured Isaak and supermodel Helen Christensen in a sensual beach encounter.

In 2001 Isaak starred in his own television variety show. During his stage act, Isaak wore flashy suit jackets with medallions on the lapels.

And though his first stage guitar was a black Silvertone 1446 model, he is best known for his Gretsch Country Gentleman with the leather hand-tooled cover, that he played during the height of his popularity.

In later years he acquired a Gibson Chet Atkins Country Gentleman and enclosed that instrument in a leather cover.

There are a number of artisans throughout the United States that will provide  leather guitar covers.

Guitars N' Things in Nashville, Tennessee offers reasonable prices on hand-tooled leather covers.

Mosby Guitars and Custom Inlay is located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and does custom leather hand-tooling work.

For those who are adventurous, I've found this site with step-by step instructions.

Here are a few examples of folks that have done their own work with great results.

This is a leather guitar cover made for a Martin Eric Clapton model.

And this beautiful example if a Gibson ES-345 covered in leather.

Ozzie and Harriet Show - Ricky Nelson & James Burton

Waylon Jennings Telecaster Reissue

Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show 1956