D'Aquisto 7 and 12-String Masterpieces by George Gruhn for Guitar Player Magazine's
Rare Bird Column, April 1983
L. D'Aquisto, a master in his own time, shown carving the top of a Solo archtop guitar in 1992 at his workshop in Long Island.
Only nine Solo's had been built when James (Jimmy) D'Aquisto unfortunately passed away in April 1995.
Greenport, Long Island - James L. D'Aquisto was considered a modern
day Stradivarious of sorts, a genius at carving archtop guitars favored
by jazz virtuosos. Even though his guitars cost as much as a midsize Mercedes,
Mr. D'Aquisto, whose shop was in Farmingdale, Long Island, had a waiting
list a decade long when he died in April 1995 at the age of 59. In the
rare field world of expensive guitars, none were more coveted than Mr. D'Aquisto's.
Prices for the D'Aquisto guitars had skyrocketed since the builders death,
with millionaire collectors in Japan and the United States paying upward
of $100,00.00 for deluxe models. Even the craftsman's tools and his workbench,
which became icons to guitar connoisseurs, sold for tens of thousands of
dollars. "Once every 300 or 400 years, somebody comes along who happens
to find the key to making a particular instrument," "For the
violin, it was Stradivarius; for the archtop guitar it was Jimmy."
the D'Aquisto guitars are rare specimens of exceptionally fine quality.
James D'Aquisto produced custom historically interesting instruments that
are no longer in production. Ordinarily any instrument that can still be
ordered new is not considered to be a collector's item but D'Aquisto presented
an exception to this rule at the time.
D'Aquisto's work with guitars began in 1953, when he apprenticed to
master builder John D'Angelico in New York. For some years prior to his
death in l964, D'Angelico suffered from ill health. During this period
D'Aquisto did much of the heavy work involved in guitar construction while
D'Angelico did the final graduation of tops and backs, fitting of necks
and final finishing.
first began to produce guitars under his own name eight or nine months
after D'Angelico's death. According to D'Aquisto the first ten or so guitars
he built had almost exactly the same appearance as D'Angelico's including
the distinctive D'Angelico peghead shape, f-holes, and art deco-pattern
pickguard and tailpiece. In
1966 or '67, D'Aquisto began using his own experimental concepts: the step-pattern
metal tailpiece was replaced with an S-pattern one, small pickguards were
introduced, the f-holes were redesigned, the carving pattern was changed,
and the body shape on the 17" model was slightly altered. In1971 the
adjustable ebony tailpiece so typical of D'Aquisto instruments had been
incorporated. These tailpieces adjust up and down in order to vary string
tension on the bridge. While string length is not adjustable, each tailpiece
is custom-made to produce the maximum tonal output from the instrument
to which it is matched.
With the exception
of the tuning gears, all components used on D'Aquisto guitars are designed
expressly and uniquely for that particular instrument.
that the archtop design is superior to other acoustic guitar designs. In
his opinion, a properly constructed arch-top guitar could be equally appropriate
for classical, jazz, country or any other form of music. The arch-top design
permits both great dynamic range and a broad palette of tonal color. Rather
than trying to build guitars of traditional design, D'Aquisto claimed that
he was attempting to reinvent the guitar as a modern instrument capable
of outperforming currently available ones. He claimed to have many new
ideas yet untried but that he must move gradually, since the mentality
of the market will not accept too many radical challenges at once. Certainly
D'Aquisto instruments had shown revolutionary changes over the years and
many new innovations.
he had only made half a dozen 7-string guitars and only one other 12-string
(the other 12-string has an f-hole top and a 17" wide body, 1"
wider than the first one) in spite of their many unusual features, these
two guitars (not shown) are excellent examples of the maker's work and are
typical of his innovative approach to guitar construction.
The 7-string, Van Eps-style guitar (not shown) features an 18"
wide body, typical D'Aquisto modernistic f-holes and the standard D'Aquisto
ebony tailpiece. The absence of pearl inlay and other ornamentation is
not a cost-saving measure--in Jimmy D'Aquisto's opinion, inlays and any
other artificial materials added to an instrument detract from its tone.
The sunburst finish is a light chocolate-brown color. This instrument is
an acoustic guitar--the removable DeArmond pickup is a later addition,
though D'Aquisto had built many guitars with floating pickups. Essentially
this guitar is very much like the typical 18" wide D'Aquisto jazz
models with the exception of the wider 7-string neck.
The 12-string too, (not shown) is a most unusual piece. Jimmy had built
only one other guitar in this body shape. The arched oval-hole top is finished
in clear lacquer while the back, sides and neck are finished in a chocolate
brown color. While most D'Aquisto instruments have solid headstocks and
14 frets clear of the body, this guitar has a slot-head neck with 19 frets
clear of the body. The 16" wide body is smaller than most D'Aquistos,
giving a treble sound especially well suited to a 12-string. While this
instrument sounds quite different from other 12-strings, the tonal quality
is excellent--its handling characteristics, too, are superb.
D'Aquisto guitar was individually handmade, the total output was very low.
Jimmy stated that he worked on only six guitars in 1982, although his pace
over the last five or six years had been 10 to 15 instruments per year.
Prior to that period, he said he produced eight or nine guitars per year,
but was taking in some repair work as well--particularly on D'Angelico
instruments. Due to his long association with D'Angelico and his intimate
involvement in the production of these guitars, D'Aquisto was undoubtedly
the foremost authority on these instruments.
D'Aquisto built only custom-order guitars, with specifications tailored
to suit the needs of the purchaser. He said he particularly enjoyed working
on new designs, although he would not accept an order unless he believed
that the design had genuine merit. These instruments are expensive, but
their quality places them among an elite group of the finest fretted instruments