Editor Obsession: Archtop New Yorker Guitars

These vintage instruments, handcrafted by luthier John D’Angelico, are nothing less than works of art.

Apr 5, 2013
Vintage handcrafted guitar by John D’Angelico
Vintage handcrafted guitar by John D’Angelico
Photography courtesy D’Angelico New York

I’ve always wanted to collect vintage guitars of all makes and eras, but if I could only own one, it’d have to be a John D’Angelico New Yorker guitar.

During much of the first half of the 20th century, D’Angelico had a small shop in New York City that attracted musicians from around the globe. He specialized in archtop guitars, whose large sizes and hollow bodies made them powerful enough to hear even during the era of the Big Bands.

When the New Yorker Hotel opened on Eighth Avenue in 1930, D’Angelico was inspired by its Art Deco design. He took that inspiration into his workshop, and the result was his iconic model, which features an inlaid mother-of-pearl rendering of the hotel on the headstock, gold-plated tuners, a stair-step gold-plated tailpiece and stair-step celluloid pick guard, geometric inlays on the fretboard, and alternating black-and-white binding. New Yorker guitars from the mid- to late ’50s also have cutaway bodies that make it easier to reach the highest frets.

The characteristic violin construction of these guitars includes f-shaped sound holes and arched tops and backs carved out of single pieces of wood such as spruce and curly maple. Each Art Deco masterpiece is worthy of museum collections and the sales catalogues of leading auction houses.

I enjoy marvelling at the beauty of this instrument, but my greatest pleasure (were I to become its owner) would come in playing jazz standards. I can think of no better way to evoke the glamour and creativity of the Swing Era.




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