J.A.: Between D’Angelico and D’Aquisto, who has most influenced the way you create and craft your instruments?
John: I believe that I’d have to share the influences between them and for different reasons. I would give the basic foundation of influence to John, since he had a very fine understanding of how to carve the archings in his plates. He was able to coax a lovely bell tone from his guitars that had a richness of overtones. I can usually detect a delicacy of tone that many other archtops just don’t have. So, John’s guitars were my original model that I started with.
Both John and Jimmy made beautiful playing necks on their guitars. This is not easy to understand when you take into account that John did not play very much guitar at all, yet he was custom carving his necks in the very best way to accommodate a variety of players hands and playing styles. Apparently he just got it.
Jimmy, having grown up in John’s shop, got to understand necks and the rest of it quite early and quite well. I always liked the necks that he made and, because he was also a pretty good player, I think he could relate particularly well to the musician. Jimmy’s influence had more to do with supporting my desire to explore the guitar in a more non-traditional way. He always stressed, as I do, that the guitar must be subservient to functional performance before we can dress it up to look nice. It must first and foremost be a fine tool of musical expression. If we haven’t got those things in the right order we just don’t have a musical instrument anymore, but a wall hanger. This is the uniqueness of a very fine musical instrument that can also be considered as an art form.
I loved the openness of his designs and that he was willing to take chances with it. His timing was right for change in a positive way, to explore possibility for tonal excellence. He trusted his instincts enough to risk it. So, I believe that he gave me the confidence to try some of these things out for myself, to trust my own instincts and that while tradition can teach us valuable lessons, we still have much more to do.
I believe that I have learned from both of these great builders about economy of design and elegance of line, while never losing sight of the original idea, to make the finest musical instrument that you can hopefully make it possible to inspire musicians to go to special places with it.
J:A.: You had the chance to meet Jimmy D’Aquisto?
John: Yes, many luthiers had met and known Jimmy over the years. He was an occasional guest speaker at one or two of the Luthiers’ Symposiums. I recall him lecturing on his style of building at the (circa) 1986 Symposium in Greensboro, SC. Jimmy was a celebrated and very sociable fellow and he enjoyed talking about his favourite subject with everyone. Three of these luthiers had spent some time studying with Jimmy in his workshop. Your own [Canada’s] Linda Manzer was one of them.
Although Jimmy had always lived and worked not very far from me, I never worked for him. I did however visit him often while he had worked at the three different workshop locations on Long Island. In my early career days I was doing quite a lot of restoration and repair on D’Angelicos, which often needed to have bindings and purflings replaced on them. The untimely demise of these plastics were unexpected, to fail prematurely, or at all. The life expectancy and behaviour of plastics was not very well known in its early development. It was then considered a modern luxurious material for the industry and a variety of plastics were seen in a vast number of products of the day.
Jimmy was tired of having to repair these D’Angelicos, as it was eating into his productive building schedule. I was happy to get the work, the experience, and the challenge. Jimmy was happy not to deal with it anymore. All this repair was going my way. I would occasionally call him about a particular D’Angelico or I would ask him for some plastic binding material and that was how I got to visit him so often, bringing him the pieces I was working on. I would then get to see what he was working on and to hear the many great stories he had to tell about each guitar and his days in the D’Angelico workshop. Sometimes I would show him some of my own instruments. We spent many hours talking about new ideas and designs. So yes, I was fortunate enough to have known Jimmy and to have had his friendship.
J.A.: Tell us about your version of the Teardrop. How close is it to the originals?
John: Of the three Teardrop guitars, D’Angelico, D’Aquisto, and the Monteleone, mine is the most unlike the others. I deliberately wanted to veer away from the original versions and to not make the same guitar over again. Their guitars seem to reflect an almost father to son relationship which makes complete sense given their history together. The challenge for me was to maintain the original statement of design that makes them Teardrop guitars that have some thread of commonality to the theme, and yet to make a valid statement of my own.
The obvious portion of the design that really makes it a true Teardrop guitar is the pointed appendage that extends off the lower right or treble side of the body. John was the first to add this design element to the guitar and Jimmy included it in his Teardrop guitar. It was then upon me to include it as well into my own design. Other than that, my version is very different from the others. I chose to use my mandolin making experience to design a scroll body guitar that would give balance to the entire flow of line to the guitar. The method of neck joint to the body is like that of my mandolins, as is the body scroll.
J.A.: What are the specs of the instrument?
John: I probably have a very short answer but I’ll go long on it for you. Since the commission for this special guitar was intended to compliment the original Teardrop guitars that went before me, I wanted to keep my TEARDROP guitar in a size that would be relevant to both the D’Angelico and D’Aquisto TEARDROP guitars. The only problem was that one of those is 19″ wide and the other is 17″ wide. So, I suppose to keep things in relative proportion, I made mine at 18″ wide, which seemed to fit right in between there. The body depth is about 2- 7/8″. I forget the overall length for the moment, but I did have to have a special shaped case made for it. The nut is 1-3/4″ and I must say that the guitar balances physically very well in the playing position and happens to be quite comfortable to play. The top was carved from Carpathian cello spruce. The back sides and neck are all domestic curly red maple from Indiana. Maccassar ebony is used in all the obvious places.
The inlays were decidedly made of both silver and gold mother of pearl and formed into floral motifs made up of tears on the fretboard. All inlays are teardrop derived throughout the guitar. There are a pair of sliding panels on the SIDE-SOUND™ holes. The guitar is lacquer finished in champagne-peach-melba, the perfect compliment to tears of any kind.
J.A.: This is one of the most particular designs around for an archtop. It is a big instrument and one has to wonder whether it is comfortable to play?
John: I based the foundation for this particular guitar around my mandolin experience. It is a variant of my scroll body guitars, which were derived from the unique and complicated method of mounting the elevated neck to the body. Surprisingly, while the guitar seems to be intimidatingly large and might appear difficult to hold, the opposite is the case. The guitar is quite ergonomically comfortable to hold and to play.
J.A.: Are you crafting the Teardrop for someone in particular?
John: The guitar was made for an individual who commissioned it a few years ago. To further explain the comfort and playability of this guitar, when the owner arrived to pick up this guitar, he sat with it and played it non-stop for the four hours that he was here. It was a joy to finally hear it played so beautifully and to witness the opening up of the guitar in his hands over the duration of playing it. This Teardrop guitar was specially commissioned as a special request instrument and it will therefore remain to be the only one made. This guitar will be on display at the Montreal Guitar Show next summer and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for their special exhibition in 2010.
For more information about John Monteleone: http://www.monteleone.net/
For more info about the Montreal Guitar Show: http://www.montrealguitarshow.ca/accueil_en.aspx