In March of 2014, I published a post here on sixstr stories entitled “A Trip To The Museum.” In that post I wrote about three very old guitars (1628, 1680 & 1725) that were on display in the Musical Instruments Gallery – #103 – of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.
I was fortunate enough this summer to be able to take a return trip to the MFA and I am happy to report that not only are those three very old guitars still on display, but the collection of instruments in Gallery #103 now includes three “new” guitars!
The oldest of the three “new” guitars was built in about 1840, in France, (probably) by the luthier, Antoine Anciaume.
This instrument was built to commemorate the transfer of the remains of Napoleon Bonaparte to Paris from his grave on the island of St. Helena.
The woods used in this guitar are burled amboyna, spruce, maple and ebony. The extensive and elaborate ornamentation was crafted from pearl and iridescent abalone. Among the images and scenes depicted on this presentation instrument are a Legion of Honor star (below the bridge); Napoleon’s tomb on St. Helena (inside the soundhole); the Colonne Vendome in Paris (on the fingerboard); and a statue of Napoleon himself (on the headstock).
This one-of-a-kind work of art is housed in a long glass display case that runs along the left side wall of the gallery. I found the two other “new” guitars displayed on the back wall of Gallery #103.
This sea-foam green National Glenwood 99 electric guitar was the first to catch my eye.
This instrument was produced by the Chicago-based Valco Company in 1964.
The somewhat map-of-the-United-States-shaped body was constructed using a type of plastic consisting of a two-part resin with glass fibers added. This composite material was called “Res-O-Glas.” The two molded, color-infused Res-O-Glas body halves encased a wooden core and were joined around the perimeter at the seam with a strip of white vinyl.
This unique, still-stylish rocker sports a gold-tone Bigsby vibrato tailpiece; a rosewood bridge and fingerboard; and mother-of-pearl fingerboard inlays. I can only begin to guess what the seven (!) white rotary knobs do.
Finally, to the right of the National hung this guitar: a 1954 D’Angelico New Yorker.
John D’Angelico (1905-1964) built arch-top guitars by hand in his shop in New York City – at 40 Kenmare Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side – from 1932 to the early 1960’s.
For the New Yorker on display at the MFA, the arched top of the body was carved from a single piece of spruce and features a shaded “sunburst” finish. The body’s sides and back (also arched) and the neck were made from maple. Ebony was used for the fingerboard and bridge. Mr. D’Angelico was inspired by the Manhattan skyline for the Art Deco geometric designs of the brass tailpiece, plastic pick-guard, and pearl headstock inlay.
Darcy Kuronen – Curator of Musical Instruments at the Museum of Fine Arts – wrote in Dangerous Curves: The Art of the Guitar (2000): “John D’Angelico is regarded by many to have been America’s most gifted guitar maker, and his instruments are among the most admired and highly sought by players and collectors alike.”
I wrote in “A Trip To The Museum” (2014): “The world of guitars is a vast, wonderful and fascinating place!”
The information used in this post came from Dangerous Curves: The Art of the Guitar; the information/display cards for each instrument at the Museum; and the MFA website.