“This was a very important guitar to me,” luthier John Monteleone said about his stunning Rocket Convertible in an interview with the Archtop Foundation, which now owns this instrument as part of the Blue Guitar Collection: 21 archtop guitars built for the late collector Scott Chinery, whose epic assemblage of over 1,000 guitars was documented in the book The Chinery Collection: 150 Years of American Guitars.
The Blue Guitars were inspired as a tribute to luthier Jimmy D’Aquisto, who built Chinery one of his modernist Centura Deluxe guitars using a distinctive blue hue. Chinery gave Monteleone and the other makers two conditions for the commission: the guitars had to be 18 inches wide and use the same stain D’Aquisto used—Mohawk Ultra Penetrating Stain #520-4146. Besides that, the makers were free to follow their muse, and this guitar resulted from Monteleone’s vision and craft.
With the top’s elliptical soundhole and the top side’s dual soundports, the Rocket Convertible incorporates two concepts Monteleone was experimenting with to show that archtop guitars are suitable for intimate styles, such as fingerstyle, while also giving the player more control over what they hear. Side soundports were still a new and novel idea to let players hear more of what listeners hear in front of the instrument. Both oval side openings have sliding metal doors so players can “open up” the guitar like a convertible to better hear themselves—a design innovation pioneered by luthier William “Grit” Laskin in the late 1980s. Likewise, the front soundhole also includes a sliding panel to increase or reduce forward projection. He calls this the Rocket, and it’s operated by a pull-out knob near the neck joint.
The rest of the guitar is made from traditional materials like highly figured maple for the neck, back, and sides and tight-grained spruce for the top. It also has ebony fittings and ivory inlays repurposed from an old Steinway piano.
Like most guitars from the Blue Guitar Collection, its blue color has changed in the 27 years since it was made. Variations in each maker’s finishing process and in each batch of stain resulted in the green and blue shades seen here.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.