D’Angelico Guitars: Preserving a Legacy
By Nick Hodgins
With Madison Square Garden so close, artists often stop by to visit the showroom.Four stories above the New York City Flower District at 141 West 28th Street, just a few blocks from Madison Square Garden, sits the D’Angelico® showroom. Inside, a premier collection of luxury D’Angelico guitars line the wooden walls, anxiously waiting to be played through one of the dozens of amplifiers sitting on the live stage. Take a step down from the stage and enter the opulent and inviting lounge, highlighted by a one-of-a-kind full bar constructed of Marshall half-stacks. It is truly a musician’s dream room.
Born in New York City in 1905, John D’Angelico learned the art of creating fine musical instruments as an apprentice in his great uncle’s luthier shop. Shortly after his great-uncle’s death, John D’Angelico began producing instruments under his own name in New York City’s Little Italy, and in 1932 D’Angelico Guitars was born. His handmade guitars quickly developed a reputation as the most coveted archtops around. Drawing inspiration from the architecture of the city which birthed them, each guitar embodied subtle features reminiscent of the Big Apple.
It’s that same sense of heritage and quality that co-owner Steve Pisani and Vice President of Domestic Sales Jimmy Gumina have made a point to preserve since the company’s resurrection in 2012.
In addition to preserving their legacy for jazz guitars, D'Angelico strives to create guitars for all styles of playing.“We took an iconic brand and we decided to give it care and bring it into the modern era,” said Pisani, who co-owns D’Angelico Guitars along with his partners Brenden Cohen, 30; and John Ferolito Jr., 27. Originally recognized for their signature jazz boxes that achieved prominence in the big band scene, D’Angelico has recently been branching out in an effort to appeal to a wider variety of playing styles.
“The cool thing is some of these newer models—the SD, the SR, DH—these guitars are not just for your jazz players,” explained Pisani. “We would like [to offer] a D’Angelico for every style. What I've come to realize, is that guitar players tend to buy guitars of different brands, and now we have a D'Angelico that they can add to their collection.”
One of the ways the D’Angelico team accomplished this was by scaling down some of the more popular archtops to 16” and 15” models, thus making them highly attractive to blues players, and far more comfortable to play. When the team noticed an opportunity to introduce a bass series, they jumped right on it.
“We saw some openings for the bass guitars and we thought, to have a hollow body bass would be really cool, since nobody else really has that,” Pisani said. “Eventually that led us to the solid body bass and the basses have been an amazing success story.”
Contrary to the innovations introduced over the past few years, there are certain aspects of the D’Angelico legacy which the team has made a point to preserve—notably their high standards for quality and their distinct headstock.
“It is a very iconic headstock,” described Jimmy Gumina, who manages the sales team and sales throughout the US. “We’ve done some research and found it’s the third most recognized headstock of any guitar, so we keep those design elements true.”
The EX-SD bass features a ¾” scale neck, making it the perfect option for guitar players seeking to transition to bass.Some of those iconic aesthetics include the D’Angelico inlay, the Chrysler Building truss rod cover, and a little cupola that sits subtlety between the top of the headstock – all nods to the city from which they were inspired.
“We’re trying to do two things,” Gumina continued. “We’re trying to take all those elements of what he [John D’Angelico] has done and his design; and then as we make new guitars, new models, we try to do little things to make the guitars as good as we possibly can.”
It’s because of that attention to detail you’ll find brass pins—rather than plastic—on the acoustic series, and Seymour Duncan or Lust for Tone pickups on many of the custom instrument runs. Switchcraft jacks and switches are standard, and soon all acoustics will come equipped with a set of the new NYDL D’Addario strings.
“The components we use, we try to get the best,” Gumina said. “We’re a premium brand and we treat everything we do that way.”
That sense of luxury is easy to see simply by looking around the welcoming Manhattan showroom, which Pisani described as looking like “Keith Richard’s living room.” Amidst the tapestry rugs, leather couches and blue lit stage area hang countless pictures of guitar legends, many signed by artists who made it a point to stop by the showroom and try out the guitars.
“A lot of bands that play down the block at the Garden will want to come in and see the guitars, so it’s nice that it’s only a few blocks away,” said Pisani, who went on to explain how they chose the Manhattan location to pay tribute to John D’Angelico and the city where this all began.
The Showroom can be reserved for private parties, for events, or simply for D'Angelico lovers.“All the famous guys, if they’re in New York, they come in and it’s a great opportunity, it’s a cool vibe,” Pisani continued, gesturing towards the stage. “We encourage playing, we do a lot of playing here, and then you get ideas about the guitars, ‘I like this’ or ‘I want to try that’ and ‘let me play this pickup,’ so it gives us a good idea of what the customers like.”
Pisani and the production team are always thinking up new concepts, fresh ideas, and original ways to appeal to different types of players and to keep in tune with what the customers like—all the while remaining true to the D’Angelico name.
“Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath took a guitar; Jimmy Vivino from Conan [The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien], took a guitar; Steve Miller took a guitar,” Pisani recalled. “These guys love the guitars, and what I really love is when I hear this: We love the quality. Case closed.”