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Perfection in an American Archtop Guitar

The Excel model and John D’Angelico’s heritage from the Italian violin-making tradition

D’Angelico Excel, 1962 American Guitar, John D’Angelico, New York, 1962 (Lot 23, Estimate $30,000-$40,000)

John D’Angelico guitars are known for their smooth tone, elegant appearance, and rarity: only about 1,200 of these instruments were produced. D’Angelico custom built each guitar by hand according to the specific requirements of his customers, and he employed only one apprentice ever to assist with production. D’Angelico made exclusive use of the natural or “blonde” finish for instruments with the fanciest wood, and the innovative “cutaway” body improved the ease with which guitarists could execute rapid arpeggios in the upper frets and very high solo passages.

By the early sixties, these features had become standard in all of the finest jazz guitars, with D’Angelico guitars from this period in the vanguard and now counted among the most valuable and desirable of modern archtop guitars.

Skinner is pleased to offer one of the finest examples of John D’Angelico’s work in our Fine Musical Instruments auction on April 28, 2013 in Boston. This Excel model dates from 1962, exhibits superb materials and craftsmanship, and comes with an outstanding provenance.

Instrument-making ran in D’Angelico’s family, and this influence is clear in the use of the  traditional tonewoods of Italian luthiers. The quartersawn back and sides of this guitar are built of flamed European maple, showing beautiful silver medullary flecks, or what Italian violin makers call “specchiatura.” These silvery highlights indicate a high content of silica, which makes the wood strong, light, and flexible — an ideal combination for instruments. In contrast, the neck is made of dense American maple, making it strong and stable. The European Red Spruce top shows a strong “hazel fichte” or bear-claw figure — a rippling effect of the fibers across the grain. This indicates that the wood was taken from an old growth tree, a quality that produces the greatest possible sound velocity of any type of spruce.

These materials, combined with D’Angelico’s superior craftsmanship, give this guitar a rich, complex tone, even when played very softly, and plenty of “headroom” when played loudly.

This guitar was the personal instrument of Don DeMarco, longtime accompanist and bandleader for the superlative Vic Damone. DeMarco kept it in “private reserve” as the prize jewel of his collection. It remains in near-mint condition with the addition of a modern pickguard made of period materials by Cris Mirabella.

We hope you’ll join us in Boston on April 28th. View a selection of vintage American guitars featured in the auction.

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