By Jacques-André Dupont and John Monteleone
Many things have been said and written about luthier extraordinaire, John Monteleone. Some have underlined his refined sense of aesthetics and the great artistry of his work. Others have focused on the fact that he is one of the last guitar makers of the golden era, one of the few who learned his craft alongside other greats like D’Angelico, D’Aquisto and Maccaferri. I have had the honour of meeting John a few times, thanks to the Montreal Guitar Show. He is a kind person, easy to approach and very passionate about his craft. I was so impressed by his guitars, and wish that I was more fluent in English to express the amazing feeling one gets by looking and playing them. They are definite masterpieces: a joy for the eye, the ear and the heart. This man is a true artist: always in the process of searching for new ways to express himself on instruments that become a canvas for the artist.
Click below to see image slide show of guitar creation
At the 2009 Montreal Guitar Show, John has decided to premier a very special instrument: The Monteleone Teardrop Guitar, based on the D’Angelico and D’Aquisto Teardrop Guitars. This is very exciting for those of us who are involved with the show. Even more exciting is the fact that John agreed to do this interview to tell us about it.
J.A.: Can you tell us about the original Teardrop guitars created by D’Angelico and D’Aquisto?
John: I have copies of the original black and white and colour photos that were taken in D’Angelico’s workshop in June of 1957. The owner of that first Teardrop guitar, Pete Girardi, is shown with John D’Angelico at the workbench as he was making the various parts of the guitar. John is seen carving the maple back and showing off the sides in the form. An oversized headstock, I presume to balance the body appendage on the lower right bout, can be seen being wrapped in binding tape. The guitar had some very nicely designed parts such as the stair-stepped bridge and the pickguard that accented the teardrop body lines.
Pete then had a band that was popular around the Atlantic City area and it was called the Teardrops. He had commissioned John to build a special guitar that would showcase the band and to carry the theme of the band as an easily recognizable badge for the group. I’m not sure how long the guitar was actually used for the many live performances that this band must have played. That guitar bears serial #2032 and was built in 1957. It is listed in the ledger as Spec. C.A.W. N.Y., which had meant special cutaway New Yorker. Cutaway guitars were about ten years in the making for John at that time but he still used the C.A.W. Interestingly enough, that designation was not used for all the cutaway guitars that were made after the Teardrop. Since most of those subsequent guitars were cutaways, there was no need to point it out anymore. The “Spec.” or special designation indicated that the guitar had some custom feature, but without further explanation. Incidentally, both Jimmy D’Aquisto and Jimmy DiSerio were also working in the shop at the time, although only DiSerio is included in the photos from that warm and muggy summer in lower Manhattan.
The Teardrop guitar must have been placed under the bed for some years until it was one day sent for repairs as a blonde and came back as a sunburst guitar. I had heard about this fabled guitar for years without knowing where it was until it showed up one day at a dealer and was quickly purchased by Scott Chinery. The guitar was from then on displayed prominently in many magazines and books. Scott was also collecting guitars from D’Aquisto, and only a few years before Jimmy’s untimely passing, another version of the Teardrop was commissioned by Scott and Jimmy designed his own take on the theme. His guitar had the infamous appendage on its body, better known as the teardrop portion of the design. He based his treatment for this guitar on his new and popular Solo design.
While D’Angelico’s Teardrop was an impressive 19″ wide, Jimmy’s was only 17″. I’m not sure if there might have been some kind of miscommunication there but Scott was expecting an 18″ guitar from Jimmy. While it is imprudent for me to speak for Jimmy, I believe that he might have thought that with the added air space of the interior that the guitar would have a better speaking balance, quicker and more balanced, if the body were 17″. Jimmy was known for his personal beliefs and how steadfast he could be to his own convictions. His guitar sounds great and so does John’s, different as they are from each other, as were the later period guitars from Jimmy that made a personal departure from the teachings of D’Angelico. However different those later period guitars were from John’s, it is clearly apparent that the foundation for building an archtop guitar must have a certain and reliable foundation upon which to build. This is often quoted as a common thread shared between these two masters.
I have played both of these guitars and I can honestly say that both guitars have their own uniquely beautiful voices. They can be heard together on the excellent recording of “MASTERPIECE GUITARS” that Scott had made with Steve Howe and Martin Taylor.