Archive for the 'Handbuilt' Category

Hommage à Di Mauro

December 5, 2009

Nicolai Foss

Here is a website dedicated to Di Mauro guitars (and here are a bunch of Di Mauros, all sold, unfortunately). Di Mauros are often mentioned alongside classical original “gypsy guitars” like Selmer, Busato and Favino, but usually ranked a little below these (which is reflected in their considerably more accessible prices).

Many contemporary manouche players have played Di Mauro guitars, for example, Moreno Winterstein. And they were a favorite of French pop singers from the 1950s and until rather recently (e.g., Sascha Distel, Henri Salvador). These guitars — and their three builders: brothers Joseph and Antoine Di Mauro and Antoine’s son Joseph–certainly deserve a site. This one has been put together by (the younger) Joseph’s daugther, Dorothy.

My favorite Di Mauro is the delicious Special Chorus, probably Di Mauro’s best known design, and imitated in recent time by Dell’ Arte with their Swing 42. Pat Metheny is the proud owner of one of these (or at least he was in 1982). offers this beauty, which is identical to the 1942 Special Chorus in the “museum” section of the site (and apparently built by Antoine Di Mauro).

UPDATE: Have you ever speculated about the nature of Sacha Distel’s “premiere guitare“? Turns out it was a Di Mauro.

“Kilgore Trout” Putting Me Straight

February 22, 2009

Nicolai Foss

A gentleman (who has clearly read too much Kurt Vonnegut) mails an extended and very interesting comment on my earlier mocking of a Clifford Essex archtop being offered at 15,500 USD at ebay. The comment is reproduced here in its entirety:

Just an FYI re: Clifford Essex Paragon guitar article from May 2, 2008. I’ve owned a spectacular Clifford Essex ‘Special Order’ for many years that is tiger maple and spruce and made sometime in the 1950’s by Marco Roccia. I was interested about your reference to a ‘James Bond Guitar, errr Almost’ that was on Ebay with a ‘buy it now’ price of $15,500 to which you made the comment, albeit by acronym, “(GMaB) Give Me a Break?”. I took my chances and lug mine to the NAMM show several years ago in Anaheim to get some feedback. Each time I opened the case a crowd formed with lots of Ooohs and Ahhhs. One gentleman who asked to buy it referred me to an older gentleman sitting not far from George Lowden’s display. He said he was a retired luthier from France and when I asked him if he could help me get an insurance appraisal for my guitar, he took it in hand, gave it a look and a strum and said “Priceless”. He said that he almost certainly knew the man who made it, one Marco Roccia, with whom he had worked with at Selmer in France. I showed him the piece of paper that was in the guitar besides the Clifford Essex Music label, which simply said ‘Special Order M.R.’ He said that was certainly his friend Marco Roccia, and that I would likely find the same initials inside on the back of the top of the guitar, which was how he signed his instruments. When I pressed him to put a value on paper for me he said the instrument was one of very few ever made (well under 100 total) and couldn’t be replaced. He said it was easily as valuable as an early Super 400 (which I have one of) and I told him that I had an old appraisal from a former-Gibson luthier for $20,000, and he said, ‘that won’t touch it, because you’ll never find another like it, especially with the woods, workmanship and the headstock inlays.” So, is $15,500 really off the wall? The link to that Ebay sale no longer exists, so there is no way to see the instrument, so maybe it was a roach, but still, they are quite rare and it least mine is very well made and is quite a sound cannon. I hope this is helpful.

Jacobacci Archtop

March 23, 2008

Nicolai Foss

Here is the beautiful “Super De Luxe.” I think I have seen pics of the great French player Marcel Bianchi with one of these. Here is a very comprehensive French site on Jacobacci guitars. And here is a YouTube clip with Sacha Distel and Louis Armstrong, Sacha playing what may seem to be a Gibson L4 with a CC pickup, but which is more likely a Jacobacci copy.

Fender Hand Carved Bleg

March 16, 2008

Nicolai Foss

Fender is not usually associated with archtop guitars. However, many will know about the very pretty Fender D’Aquistos of about two decades ago. Before those guitars there was the Montego, which seems relatively rare, but is occassionally traded (e.g., here).

But there was also the Hand Carved, here shown in a pic from the 1972 Fender catalogue. IMHO it is not a particularly beautiful guitar, and really rather odd with its very long f-holes, over-dimensioned pickguard, unusual humbuckers, and almost Maccaferri-like cutaway (and what happened to the right side of the bridge?). Nothing in this guitar says “Fender.”

Do any O&M readers have details on the Hand Carved? When was it introduced? Discontinued? How many were produced? What was the price of the guitar? Any notable players who played it?

I have never seen it offered for sale, so I reckon it must be quite rare, but I really don’t know.

A Weird One

March 15, 2008

Nicolai Foss

Here. Seems to be a French builder (“Vestale”?) who imitated the more crazy German archtops of the 1950s and 60s, surpassing them in the process. I loved this line: “Elle est trés volumineuse plus que la gibson l5”. Yeah, right!

Most Bizarre Archtop I Saw Today

February 26, 2008

Nicolai Foss


UPDATE: OK, this guy is also pretty strange.

Ibanez Lawsuit Archtops

January 5, 2008

Nicolai Foss

Ibanez’ mid- to end of the 1970s copies of mainly Gibson archtops have an excellent reputation. This is reflected in the amount of praise that the seller,, of this Ibanez FA-510 is able to mobilize, advertising it as an “Ibanez L5CN,” indeed, “the most faithful L-5 clone anyone’s going to build, as long as Gibson has lawyers.”

Oh well. I bought my FA-510 in 1984 as new at (then) appr. 1,200 USD. I regretted the purchase, but was only able to sell it it about three years ago (at the same price that I paid twenty years earlier :-(). Acoustically, this was the most dead archtop I have ever played. Only slightly better than a solidbody guitar. Part of the explanation was that the tonewood — at least on the specimen I owned — was extremely thick and the guitar was therefore very heavy and non-responsive. But it was pretty (though nothing unusual on today’s standards), and plugged into an amp it certainly sounded allright.

However, the experience gave me a distinct distate for Ibanez lawsuit archtops, and my distrust in them has largely been confirmed by the other specimens I have occasion to try out. IMHO Ibanez only really got its archtop act together with the GB-10 and, particularly, the lovely GB-20. And the Joe Pass model was excellent value, but that is a different story.

Levin Archtops

October 20, 2007

Nicolai Foss

The Levin Guitar Company was Swedish and founded by HC Levin in the beginning of the 20th century (some say 1900). HC Levin had served as an apprentice with Martin in the US, and, ironically, Levin was acquired by Martin in the beginning of the 1970s.

Levin produced a series of very pretty archtops that are seldom offered for sale. Stockholm-based Vintage Guitars features what is arguably the largest number of Levin archtops currently offered for sale anywhere in the World. The 18½ inch Levin De Luxe is particularly impressive and may have been intended as the Levin counterpart to the Gibson 400 or the Epi Emperor (I have seen it advertised elsewhere as “Levin De Luxe 400”). The 30,000 Swedish Kroner price tag seems very reasonable for this fine instrument.

First Wooden Tailpiece Ever?

October 11, 2007

Nicolai Foss

Perhaps. On this 1960s Albanus.

Mystery Archtop

September 27, 2007

Nicolai Foss

Ever heard of a Rolz (or Rölz) archtop? Me neither. But here is one. Very pretty. Like the Epi Emperor in the body shape (but smaller) and nice flamed back. Tailpiece, pickguard and tuners may be later additions.