It’s not surprising to see guitars bearing John D’Angelico’s name with features that are unique to each instrument. As a custom builder working in his New York shop, he made guitars to satisfy each customer’s needs and taste, and this special archtop, which blends elements of two of his most celebrated models, is no exception.
This amazingly clean guitar was made in the D’Angelico shop around 1961 for New York guitarist, teacher, and music store-owner Joel Frutkin, whose name is engraved on the stair-step tailpiece. The interior is stamped with number 2138, and according to the D’Angelico ledger reprinted in Paul William Schmidt’s book on D’Angelico and D’Aquisto, Acquired of the Angels, it is among the final 30 guitars built by the famous maker.
Crafted at a time when John D’Angelico’s assistant, Jimmy D’Aquisto, was taking a larger role in building and finishing the guitars, this guitar combines several features of the top-of-the-line New Yorker and the slightly less ornate Excel models. The large, 18-inch-wide body of this New Yorker model has a neck with the fingerboard and headstock inlays of an Excel. The light amber sunburst finish on this guitar was originally ordered to “look like bourbon” and has an uncanny resemblance to the finishes D’Aquisto began applying to his instruments during the ’70s and ’80s. Sometime in the ’70s, the replica pickguard, which was made by Jimmy D’Aquisto, was cut to accommodate a DeArmond Model 1100 pickup.
With its 24-3/4-inch scale neck with a 1-3/4-inch-wide nut, this guitar, which is owned by swing guitarist Tony Marcus, is exceptionally playable for both chord work and solos. Its tone is delightful, with a fantastic dynamic range that spans from sweet sustain for delicate fingerstyle to a powerful output that can make an amp irrelevant when using big-band-style swing chords.
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This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.