John D'Angelico is regarded by many as the greatest archtop guitar maker of all time. Prized for their smooth, mellow tone and excellent sustain, it's said that only around 1,200 instruments were made during his career in the Lower East Side of New York. This year, the first D'Angelico reissues have been selling faster than they can be made. Fueled by this success, the iconic brand is being relaunched with a new very limited edition USA Masterbuilt version of the 1942 D'Angelico Excel and three standard models.
John D'Angelico was born in Little Italy, NY in 1905. A young D'Angelico worked with his great uncle and luthier Raphael Clani in his shop on Kenmare Street, and rumor has it that he later also studied violin-making with Mario Frosali. In 1932, D'Angelico opened up his own workshop a few doors down from the shop of his now-deceased great uncle, and he soon started making a name for himself crafting high-quality Gibson-esque archtops.
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His instruments were all hand-made in limited quantities using traditional methods, but included the latest features and technology. Early guitars were not named, but by 1934 four distinct models were offered – A, B, Excel and the New Yorker. When production was at its peak, D'Angelico and his small group of workers turned out about 35 instruments per year.
In 1952, he took a young James D'Aquisto under his wing as an apprentice. By the time D'Angelico died in 1964 at the age of 59, D'Aquisto was his sole assistant and responsible for much of the work on the instruments. He subsequently bought the shop from the family and went on to become a top luthier in his own right. Spookily, D'Aquisto also died at the age of 59.
A master craftsman during his lifetime, D'Angelico has since become regarded as the king of archtop luthiery and to this day, original D'Angelico guitars continue to be prized by collectors and players the world over. Some of his archtops, including the mighty Excel, were featured in an exhibition at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art last year.
The iconic D'Angelico brand was recently bought by guitar collector and successful businessman John M. Ferolito, Sr., who kicked off the production of a small number of reissues.
"We've operated under the radar until now, working very hard to develop a successful line of reissues that delivers D'Angelico magic for an accessible price," said Brenden Cohen, D'Angelico Guitars CEO. "Having built that foundation, we believe that 2013 is the right time to begin to expand the brand. Older players already know about D'Angelico and want to hold one in their hands again, younger players want to know what all the fuss is about."
Ferolito, Sr. has now recruited the skilled hands of luthier Gene Baker and his team at the PBG Workshop in Arroyo Grande, California to start a limited run D'Angelico USA Masterbuilt Series. The first of the 2013 Masterbuilt models is a modern take on the classic 1942 D'Angelico Excel, constructed with the help of MRI scans of an original guitar.
It features flame maple back and sides, spruce top, an ebony fretboard, a multi-bound ABS tortoise pickguard, modern gold hardware (including Grover Imperial tuners) and a D'Angelico trapeze tailpiece and signature headstock. This special build will be available in both acoustic and electric options, the latter featuring Johnny Smith Lollar pickup with one volume pot mounted in the pickguard.
Three new standard models will join the Masterbuilt Excel reissue at the "Reborn" launch in January at NAMM 2013, all featuring a spruce top, maple back, a stairstep pickguard and tailpiece, and enhanced hardware.
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