||JOHN D'ANGELICO (1905-1964) built arch-top guitars and mandolins and is universally regarded
as the finest archtop guitar pioneer that ever lived.
D'Angelico, born in New York City, began his learning at the age of nine in the workshop of his uncle, Signor Ciani
who was known for his fine, traditional-style Italian mandolins and flat-top guitars. D'Angelico also studied violin making,
which later influenced his arch-top guitar designs. After his uncle died, D'Angelico ran the workshop for his aunt
and managed approx. 15 employees until 1932, when he set up his own shop.
D'Angelico's shop was located at 40 Kenmare Street in New York City. In 1959 the shop moved across the street. D'Angelico
instruments were strictly hand made, in limited quantities. In the late 1930s, when production was at its peak, D'Angelico
was able to make approximately 35 instruments per year with the help of two or three workers. In late 1952, Jimmy D'Aquisto
began to work as an apprentice, and he was D'Angelico's only assistant from 1959 until D'Angelico's death. Production
during this period was limited to approximately 15 instruments per year and an increasing amount of work was done by D'Aquisto
under D'Angelico's guidance, until the instruments made just prior to D'Angelico's death were finished almost entirely
During 32 years of production and innovation a total of 1,164 guitars were produced. Although these superb hand-crafted
instruments originally sold for prices similar to those of factory-built models, today they are highly collectible,
and are regularly included in museum and gallery shows as the guitar representative of the high art and design of
the Art Deco style.
D'Angelico adapted techniques that had been used for centuries, and then improved these delicate manual processes
in order to build the modern instruments demanded by his musician clients. Many of D'Angelico's customers and musician
friends were interested in guitar design. No less a person than Johnny Smith said about him: While I was living in New York
I spend a lot of time in the workshop of my dear friend John D'Angelico. He made the finest guitar I had ever played
and really headed me in the direction of achieving the sound and playability I was looking for. Like Johnny Smith, many
other guitar player contributed to the evolution of D'Angelico's products by offering suggestions and ordering instruments
with special custom features. These guitarists often requested special size and structural difference as f.e. body depth,
scale length or neck width and that additional features and stylish embellishments are incorporated in the finished
Therefore, D'Angelico guitars are found with considerable variations. Some had classical-width fretboards, while others
had extremely narrow necks. In the late '50s and early '60s, for example, D'Angelico made many guitars primarily for
recording use, and these were generally shallower than the guitars he made earlier. As D'Angelico instruments possess
an exceptionally smooth, mellow tone, excellent sustain and such balance that each note on the fretboard is nearly
equal in volume, it makes them extraordinarily fine for studio recording and for stage use with a pickup.
The marvelous reputation of "Angelico-built" guitars quickly spread throughout the musical community,
and soon John D'Angelico's small New York workshop was attracting professional musicians from all over the
John D'Angelico's foremost guitar designs included features in the geometric Art Deco style that was enormously
popular in New York at the time, and was widely used for architectural and industrial applications. The signature
ziggurat inlay, which appeared on the first New Yorker model headstock, became D'Angelico's iconic trademark.
This "stair-step" motif is actually an Art Deco rendering of the famous New Yorker Hotel. D'Angelico
named another of his early models, the Excel, from the New York State slogan "Excelsior"
In 1988 Mr. Jerry Barberine, President of D'Angelico, signed an agreement with Mr. Hidesato Shiino from the Vestax Corporation
to revive the D'Angelico New Yorker. This agreement lasted until 2004. From 2005 D'Angelico guitars have been produced in Japan
(New Yorker archtop models) and South Korea (Excel series and New Yorker solid body models) without Vestax co-operation.
1955 New Yorker
his friend Johnny Smith
1955 New Yorkers
1942 Scroll Mandolin
1957 D'Angelico Teardrop