The early 20th century was a lit flame in the city of New York. The 1930’s brought with it a conflict of highs and lows in the culture and development of the Big Apple. Our economy had tanked further than ever before, but development, culture and music were alive and on the rise. The Empire State building was well under way, the jazz and blues scene had brought its spotlight to the big city with legends such as Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, and among it all was the start of John D’Angelico’s 84-year crafting legacy.
D’Angelico first opened his doors in Manhattan’s Lower EastSide community of Little Italy in 1932. His hand-crafted, vintage, archtop designs caught prominence in passing by the hands of guitar legends, namely Joe Pass and Chuck Wayne, both of which were pioneers of the ‘40s preeminent jazz scenes. The thing that kept those musicians playing these robust, hollow-bodied instruments was that they always have been uncompromising, playable works of artistry. Unsurprisingly, the concept for the beautiful designs of their premier catalog was inspired by the 1930’s Art-Deco visual craze, architectural remnants of which can be seen in the city’s skyline, such as the spire of the Chrysler Building. To this day, D’Angelico factories go through an extensive authentication and MRI-scanned replication process, all to maintain the integrity of their product.
After going the rounds and sitting in the spotlight of the most prominent East Coast music festivals, D’Angelico guitars became a trophy piece for any touring professional, the ‘guitarist’s guitar’. The master luthier had built just over a thousand of his prized works before passing in 1964. While only 32 years had past since inception, the instruments and name became revered in the music community, aided by the elusive exclusivity afforded to an “original D’Angelico” and so forth. Everyone simply had to have one, which gave rise to knock-offs and the arrival of imitation companies. Some of these companies filed legal countersuits claiming stake to the trademark. Without adequate financial backing, the company went off the grid and remained a lost relic for nearly four decades.
Around 1999, John Ferolito Jr. decided that there was potential in the brand and purchased it pre-emptively from his father (John Ferolito Sr, co-founder of the famous Arizona Iced Tea Beverages). He and business partners Brendan Cohen (who would become CEO of the ‘new’ D’Angelico brand) and Steve Pisani sat on the brand for almost 10 years, sorting out their business strategy to breathe life back into the craft. The name notoriety preceded them, so it wouldn’t be hard to get any musician worth their salt to endorse, however they still had the task of matching that eye-stopping quality that the originals were known for. By touring the most prominent music festivals and putting their guitars in the hands of stadium packers such as John Mayer and Chet Atkins, as well as sponsoring some up-and-coming artists, the exposure was set. D’Angelico guitars have become all the talk and successfully rose back on the scene. The ‘Met’(Metropolitan Museum of Art) has since chosen to feature their product as a bonafide exhibition honoring the original Italian-American master luthier’s craftsmanship.
Today, the company’s business prospects have fared well and, according to Cohen himself, with last year’s expected sales revenue topping $5 million, that trend is expected to continue. When asked about what compromises the brand might make to garner an even wider audience of clientele, Cohen insisted that stylistically there was no compromise, the look is the pride of the brand. However, new models are already under wraps for Spring 2017 which offer more modern sounds, and a broader price margin which will ultimately drive up interest and sales in the long run. While the official monicker of the series has yet to be decided, they will add new aesthetic approaches to the catalog of existing archtop body designs, as well as feature new D’Angelico engineer designed pickups. A new acoustic model may be underway as well.
D’Angelico Guitars has set out to be a riveting audio-visual sensory overload, and their newly-renovated luxury showroom does not disappoint. Located on West 28th Street in Chelsea, the showroom features a legion of gold plated laminated flame-maple artistry strewn up on every wall. The multi-purpose showroom not only gives aspiring artists and collectors a direct outlet to demo the most sought after instruments of the collection, but also a valuable chance to interact one-on-one with the team behind it all. Master luthiers, engineers and the CEO have set up office in this residence and are intent on showing you why D’Angelico is still the real deal, inside and out. The Showroom is also a fully-functional venue outfitted with a bar, lounges and a superior soundstage for more intimate performances. From a modest craftsman’s corner of Little Italy to a mecca of musical connoisseurs, D’Angelico’s crowning achievement has secured the name and tradition for years to come. For more information on these unique pieces, visit http://dangelicoguitars.com/.