Signal Hill has long been a communications point on the Southern California landscape. In an earlier era, Native Americans signaled their brethren with fire and smoke, from Santa Catalina Island to the foothills of the Coastal Range bordering what is now L.A.

Today the signals are electronic, connecting us--at the click of a mouse--to vast, new worldwide networks.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Beautiful Objects To Make Beautiful Music

John Monteleone,  "Grand Triport
Model,"  Archtop Guitar, 1999
The Metropolitan Museum of New York just wrapped up an exhibit that
thrilled guitarists and art lovers, alike.  To see this wonderful show, click on Guitar Heroes: Legendary Craftsmen from Italy to New York.

My nephew and niece just returned a few days ago from a visit to the East Coast and the Met, and brought me a copy of the exhibit's catalogue.  I'm enthralled.

We've all heard about Antonio Stradivari violins from Italy, known for their magical tone and sensual beauty.  Less known is the lineage of equally-talented, fine Italian-American acoustic archtop guitar makers--luthiers--from the New York area, that blossomed in the jazz age and continues today.

James D'Aquisto, "Blue Centura Deluxe"
Archtop Guitar, 1994
The acoustic archtop guitar, like the violin, is crafted by carving the top of the instrument, requiring more skill and craftsmanship from its builder than for the more common flattop guitar.  The edges of the top are thicker than the middle, achieving the resonance--with strength--required for a rich, balanced acoustic sound.

The iconic Gibson L-5 was the original archtop, built in the early 1920s, and provided a big, "punchy" sound for the rhythm sections of big jazz bands of the era.  Jazz guitarists like Charlie Christian and Eddy Lang made the instrument a mainstay of the jazz tradition.  It also sold at a higher price than flattops, giving the transplanted Italian luthiers an opportunity to apply their consummate skills, by first copying the L-5, then improving upon it.

John D'Agelico, "Excel"
Archtop Guitar, 1951

The Met show featured three master luthiers--John D'Angelico (1905-1964); his protege, James D'Aquisto (1935-1995) and John Monteleone (b. 1947)--who crafted these commissioned works of art for the likes of Pete Townshend, Grant Green, Chet Atkins, George Benson, Anthony Wilson, Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, guitarists for Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Nat "King" Cole, and many more.

Click on this link to learn more, and to see and hear some of these beauties.

Gibson K-5 Archtop Guitar, 1928

No comments:

Post a Comment