Martine M. White, ASA, AAA
The guitar masters I’m referring to are not the virtuosos who play the guitar, rather the three men whose influential designs in guitar-building have attracted famed musicians not only to play their instruments, but to treasure them. Along with James D’Aquisto (1935-1995) and John Monteleone (b. 1947), John D’Angelico (1905-1964), was also part of the Italian American community that resided in and around New York in the early twentieth century. Direct descendents of Neapolitan craftsmen, these guitar makers primarily built mandolins due to their popularity at the time. But when musical tastes changed in the 1920s, the young D’Angelico applied his old-world craft to build a new type of instrument, the archtop guitar. Incorporating features of violin construction, including f-holes, arched sound board and a moveable bridge, this distinctly American instrument had a sound that cut through big band instrumentation. Soon the archtop guitar became the choice instrument by notable guitarists, including Chet Atkins, Bucky Pizzarelli and Johnny Smith. D’Angelico’s innovations in guitar building set the standard for generations to come and established him as the most revered guitar maker of the jazz age.
After D’Angelico’s death, his apprentice James D’Aquisto broke from the past and took the guitar to new aesthetic and acoustic directions attracting a new generation of guitarists, including George Benson, Eric Clapton and Steve Miller. As the acoustic guitar market declined in the 1970’s, John Monteleone forged his reputation by introducing new innovations in archtop guitars and mandolins that were played by many top performers, including David Grisman.
Besides being remarkable craftsmen, these three guitar builders honed their skills to create the most innovative jazz guitars. In a radical departure from the standard guitar form, they also created the ‘Teardrop’ guitar which had a serpentine shape extending to a fin at the lower right corner. The ‘Teardrop’ would soon become one of the most famous guitars ever made.
I recently had the pleasure of appraising a D’Angelico guitar which was played by my client’s late husband. Although it was not in good condition, and didn’t have all the decorative elements that collectors desire, it still maintained an auction value of $7,500.00. Early and rare guitars will always appreciate in value, especially if they are kept in good, original condition. Although guitars come with a protective case, they are still sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. That said, attic storage is definitely out of the question!
- C.F. Martin 19th Century Parlor Guitar. Value: $2,500.00
- D’Angelico Archtop Jazz Guitar
- D’Angelico New Yorker ‘Teardrop’ Guitar