John D’Angelico (1905-1964) was, of course, the premier independent guitar builder of the first three quarters of the 20th century. He began his career at the age of 9 by working as an apprentice in the roundbelly mandolin, guitar and violin factory of his uncle Cianni, on Kenmare Street in Manhattan, and was eventually promoted to shop foreman. In 1932 he founded his own business, also on Kenmare Street, at No. 40, and began making instruments that included, at that time, roundbelly mandolins and ukuleles, plus guitars that greatly resembled the Gibson L-5 guitars of that period. Gradually, as he became successful, he expanded his design ideas until, little by little, they became indelibly those of the famous John D’Angelico.
The 1950s was the era in which the cutaway became more and more essential for the solo guitarist. Before this decade guitars were mostly used to play rhythm in a band or orchestra. As time went on, the most famous players determined that they needed to have access to more frets on the treble side of the fingerboard, and so, in 1939, the Gibson Company introduced their first cutaways which series they called Premiere. The 1940s really began, for guitar players, in 1946 – after World War II – and by the 1950s having a cutaway was mandated. It took Gibson until 1950 to introduce their CF100 flattop, their first with a cutaway. At the same time as the shape of the jazz guitar was changing, John D’Angelico, in the 1950s, was getting more orders. At the same time, his health was beginning to fail (he passed away in 1964). The result of this mix of events is that John D’Angelico decided he could save a great deal of time, and also charge less, for guitars made with a body (top, back and sides) that were made from laminated woods, which he purchased from two New Jersey-based companies. One was “Code” (pronounced Ko-Day) and the other, the body for this guitar, was purchased from United Guitars, which was owned by one Frank Forcillo, who had worked for D’Angelico during his earliest years.
Being nearly 17” in width, lower bout, this guitar is closer in specification to a Gibson ES-350 model, or perhaps a Guild X-500 in that both of those models were laminated, and each has a soft cutaway. This guitar is bound on top and back in single-ply crème celluloid. Some of the United and Code body guitars were single sharp cutaway and 16” in width, like a Gibson ES-175, this one is larger.
Per the report of one of the most knowledgeable experts in D’Angelico in the USA, Leroy Aiello, this sunburst finish is oversprayed with clear lacquer and buffed. The top, sides and back are laminate; the bracing is tone bar, the twin f-shaped soundholes are unbound. The re-gold plated tailpiece is the original straight “D’Angelico, New York” engraved with filigree etched all around, that has one open crosspiece near the top and two vertical filigreed open holes in the mid-to-lower portion. The bridge, which is essentially re-built, was shimmed and fitted to the top; it is ebony, two-piece, and we believe it was made by Guild. The pickguard is a replaced, tortoise color celluloid, single-ply bound in crème. This owner retained a receipt from Chasson Music in South Amboy, NJ dated 3/2/89 for the pickup (it cost $300 plus $18 tax).
This guitar’s pickups are twin “Fransch” brand P-90 style single coils with replaced ebony mounting rings. There is a three-way large crème celluloid switch in the upper treble (cutaway) bout, and two crème corrugated knobs for volume and tone between the lower portion of the treble f-hole and the gold plated tailpiece. The fingerboard is ebony with a square end, bound in single ply celluloid; the headstock is “batwing” style, with 5 points at the top, three-ply binding. The outer white (now crème) is doubled in thickness (two-ply). There is a pointy plastic truss rod cover, black outlined in white. The headplate is possibly Brazilian rosewood, inlaid “D’Angelico” in fat pearl with the built-in underline, and having three vertical etched diamonds at center (the middle diamond is larger). Tuners are Grover gold-plated Rotomatics, whose backs are etched “Pat. Pend. U.S.A.” and whose large buttons display gold wear.
The bone nut is original but it is slightly damaged (broken away, especially at its front edge under the fourth string). Our workshop will have replaced the nut. The frets are original, measuring 2.06 mm, having a height of .73mm. The fingerboard inlays are solid pearl blocks at frets 1,3,5,7,9,12 and 15. There are corresponding side dots at positions 1,3,5,7,9,12 and 15. There was originally a traditional D’Angelico “eye hook” (it actually was an eye-hook as one would buy at a hardware store) in the bass side of the neck, below the fingerboard, but this was removed and touched up when the guitar was oversprayed. There is presently a strap pin in the back, just below the heel cap.
Body width, lower bout . . . 16 7/8” Scale length . . . 24 ¾”
Body width, upper bout. . . 12 1/4” Neck width at nut . . . 1 7/8th ”
Body depth, lower bout . . . 2 5/16” Neck width at 5th . . . 2”
Body depth, upper bout. . . 2 5/16” Neck width at 12th. . . 2 1/4”
Body length . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 1/2”
The guitar shows normal signs of aging, use and wear including finish checking overall, some of it somewhat deeper, especially around the bass side of the bridge pickup, around the jack on the lower treble side, dings here and there including on back of neck, scratches, scuffs, nicks and dings on body and neck, following the overspray. There are very light buckle marks on the back but mainly in the upper bouts. There is a ding on the back of the headstock at the center bump.
The binding on the neck by the nut on the treble side has been glued; the pickup rings were replaced with ebony. The tailpiece, as we said, is re-plated, two of the screws are replaced. Our workshop will have performed its always first class set-up, made a new nut, cleaned the frets and brought the guitar to a level of extremely easy playability.
This is a “second owner” piece. The instrument’s prior owner was provided this guitar by his teacher, Louis Melia, who taught guitar in or around Edison, New Jersey. It is not known whether Mr. Melia purchased it as a new instrument – it is more likely (because it was “refurbished,” possibly by the builder, himself) that he purchased it used, possibly from John D’Angelico who did re-sell his instruments for owners. Inside the case is a short set list that the owner used at a gig decades ago with the songs “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” “La Bomba,” “16 Candles” and “Long Tall Sally” written on a paper napkin. These titles are headed with the words, “First Show.” If this were a cutaway 17” archtop D’Angelico was John had made entirely from scratch, like an Excel Cutaway, sunburst, from 1959, it would today bring something like thirty three thousand dollars. This one, however, is just: NOW ON SALE! WAS $12,366 BUT NOW ON SALE FOR: Our SALE Discount Price is $8,505.00 and Our SALE Cash Discount Price is $8,250.00.