In March of 1998, I visited the Blue Guitars exhibit at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.c. The exhibit was culled from the collection of blue-stained archtop guitars specially commissioned by collector Scott Chinery. The idea was inspired by a guitar made by legendary luthier Jimmy D'Aquisto in 1995. The blue 18" Centura Deluxe archtop was one of the last guitars ever made by D'Aquisto before his death in 1995.
As a tribute, Scott Chinery commissioned the Blue Guitar Project. He approached 21 of the best luthiers in the US and Canada with the same assignment: Make an 18" wide acoustic archtop guitar using the same Ultra Blue Penetrating Stain #M520. The results of this simple commission were quite startling in their contrast. The effects of the type of wood chosen for the guitar and the way in which it was prepared resulted in no two guitars being exactly the same shade of blue.
In fact, as you can see from the photos below (click for enlargement), there is a rainbow of blue shades. The other dramatic difference is of course the style in which the guitar was designed and constructed. There are those which follow a clean classic line and those which look like E.T.'s guitar. from a rhinestone studded country gentleman to a jazz man, the diversity is very apparent from the first glance. I hope that you enjoy this gallery of a very unique and fascinating project.
This guitar was built in about 8 weeks and features extensive hand tooled metalwork. Both the head and tailpieces are handmade, rhodium plated and engraved in an English scroll design. The end button and tuner peg buttons are hand turned from celluloid tortoise shell. Maple was used for the back, sides and neck, while the top is Spruce. What you can't see in this picture is the beautiful book matched flame-maple back. This was my favorite of all the designs in the exhibit.
(l) Monteleone Rocket Convertible - John Monteleone
Monteleone's Blue Guitar was built in just over six months. While he was at it he decided that he might as well just build two, so he did. The guitar features two side mounted sound holes with sliding baffles and a ported front sound hole with a slider. The side sound holes required Monteleone to utilize a double-walled construction technique. Through the use of the sliders, the performer can direct sound upward for better monitoring, or outward for better projection to the audience, or a combination of both. The materials feature the liberal use of ebony wood and recycled ivory from a Steinway piano.
(r,t) Nickerson Equinox Custom - Brad Nickerson
Nickerson's Blue Guitar took over eight months to complete, about 6 times the normal process. The prominent aesthetic feature of the guitar is the scrimshaw blue macaw on the headstock.
(r,b) Manzer Blue Absynthe - Linda Manzer
As with all of the special guitars, this one took the Canadian luthier an extra long time to create -- five months, as compared to the normal two hundred hours. The reference to an outlawed liquor, absinthe, is meant to evoke an intoxicating and mythical elixir-like quality to her work. Her side sound panel is comprised of two thin veneers of ebony and curly maple sliding in a mahogany track as opposed to the double wall of Nickerson's guitar. She feels the slider allows the guitar to emote both a flat-top and classic arch-top sound.
From Left to right:
This guitar features a dense bird's-eye maple construction and heavy use of ebony with gold hardware. The result is a traditional look and feel to the unusual blue finish.
(m) La Cremona Azzurra - Robert Benedetto
The most striking and unusual feature here is the lack of heavy bindings so common on other archtops. Bendetto is also a violin-maker and he uses this technique here to produce an extremely lightweight instrument. The sound holes are an unusual variation on the traditional f-hole in terms of both design and placement. It produces a loud, strongly-voiced and well-balanced instrument.
(r) Gibson Super 400 Custom - Gibson Custom Shop
This guitar is the result of a team, not individual, approach. It is based on the stock Super 400 with a few flourishes: Real abalone inlays on the fingerboard, tuning pegs, fleurs-de-lis logo on the pickguard and tailpiece; rosewood inserts on the tailpiece and headstock; and, a special vintage "Gibson" logo.
(t) Buscarino Virtuoso - John Buscarino
The Virtuoso features maple wood binging, and black and blue dyed veneers on the body, headstock, fingerboard and pickguard. The most prominent aesthetic feature is the fingerboard "tree-of-life" design using m-o-p, abalone, coral and blue turquoise inlay. The tailpiece has an unusual scroll using inlays as above and has the collection's creator's signature engraved.
(m) Campellone Special - Mark Campellone
The most striking feature is the paua-shell pickguard which displays many shades of blue as a complement to the finish of the guitar. This can also be seen in the fingerboard and headstock inlays (see close-up). Other features include a rare type of ebony called Macassar used for the tailpiece, bridge, and other appliqués.
(b) D'Leco Custom - D'Leco Guitars
This guitar is the exact opposite of the Bendetto model. It is the heaviest of all the guitars and could probably benefit from the use of electronic pickups for amplification. The botanical-themed sound holes are visually striking but add to the muffled sound of this instrument.
The inspiration for the collection was a consultant for Fender guitars at the time of his death. He helped design this particular guitar, and in tribute the Fender custom shop added this blue dyed model in his honor.
Comins Chester Avenue - Bill Comins (r)
To complement the blue color, the headstock and pickguard's burled wood was dyed black. This guitar was completed in over 200 hours of work. Particular attention was paid to making the instrument comfortable for the player, not just a display piece. The luthier was also challenged to get the blue dye "just right". I think he's succeeded on all counts.
From top to bottom:
This guitar exemplifies the "more is more" philosophy of guitar construction. There is liberal use of M-O-P throughout the instrument and the pickguard is solid abalone. Also unusual is the sunburst finish of the fingerboard (see close-up). A heavily engraved and scrolled tailpiece adds the finishing touch.
The first thing you notice about this guitar is the unusual color of the bare wood parts. These are constructed of cocobolo wood and have a cinnamon hue to them. Megas tried to combine the sounds of the traditional archtop but with more fuller and open sound like a flat-top. The wood on the sides and back of the guitar are highly figured.
(LM) Walker Empress - Kim Walker
This guitar has a highly ornate headstock inspired by the blues of the peacock's plumage (see close-up). Other influences can be seen in the art deco styling of the tuning pegs. The result of over nine months of planning and construction, it is half the weight of any of the other blue guitars.
(b) Scharpach Blue Vienna - Theo Scharpach
The most unique aspect of this guitar is perhaps everything. The wood used for the bridge for example is 100 years old. The pickguard is polycarbonate with an art deco sea shell theme. The tuning pegs are a fusion of titanium and buffalo horn. The gears of the pegs are covered by a shield of sterling silver.
This is probably the most high-tech of all the guitars. Its creator uses Cad/Cam computer technology to design the instruments. Another unusual feature is the "broken-glass" fragments which are used in the inlay of the neck and headstock producing what the creator calls "18-inch whitewalls".
(R) Ribbecke Blue Mingione - Tom Ribbecke
This guitar features some unusual finish work such as the use of Koa wood from Hawaii on the bindings. There is a prominent vent-like sound horn which projects up from the side of the guitar directed toward the player. Carved from ebony, it is a striking feature and useful all at once.
This blue guitar took about four months to build and has an unusual highly figured brass tailpiece plated in 18 carat gold. M-O-P was used for inlays on the bridge and the butterfly on the ebony pickguard.
(l) Bozo Chicagoan - Bozo Podunavac
For this guitar, all of the inlay work was done on the unfinished body. Then the blue stain was overlain on everything, including the inlay. The effect is kind of spooky. There is incredible detail in the fingerboard inlay work and pickguard. The headstock and tailpiece are both oversized which is a trademark of the luthier. Also produced, but not on display was a companion guitar built to half-scale called the Baby Blue. When asked how it project such a powerful sound, the creator said "The strings are made of Kryptonite which was given to me by Superman."
This is the inspiration for the whole collection. The original blue archtop guitar.