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 by D'Aquisto.
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. This 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 design.
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 United States.
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"
More than 80 years later, the name D'Angelico has moved from a tiny shop in Little Italy to a sprawling showroom in midtown Manhattan but still they promise to produce exceptional guitars that
uphold the legacy of John D’Angelico.