1932 D'Angelico "Volpe Special"
This D'Angelico guitar is of such early manufacture that it does not bear a serial number yet. Some resources claim it might be the fifth instrument that D'Angelico made under his own name, whereas it was later written in his ledger at position number 14 (see “Guitars-the Tsumura collection” page 177).
Either way, when John D'Angelico opened his first shop in 1932, he was already an experienced luthier trained from age 7 in the workshop of his uncle Ciani. The first guitars that D’Angelico built, were principally based on the late 1920s Gibson L-5; darkburst, block fretboard markers and the instantly identifiable "snakehead" peghead design. Still the D’Angelico version boasted a slightly larger body measuring 16-1/2" wide at the lower bout. Without any advertising, the early D'Angelico sold by word-of-mouth among professional jazz musicians, leading to this custom-ordered instrument by Harry Volpe, his first famous client. As we now know, many would follow Volpe’s lead…
Volpe (1906 - 1995) owned a music store in New York, where he also taught guitar - amongst others to Sal Salvador, Al Caiola, Tony Mottola, Joe Pass, Johnny Smith… Many of his pieces for solo and duet guitar are still in use in (Mel Bay) guitar instruction books. Besides being a famous teacher and composer, Volpe was particularly was known as a regular soloist at the Radio City Music Hall. In the 1940s he endorsed the Gretsch Synchromatic 400 (famously photographed together with Django Reinhardt), and later in 1955 had his own Epiphone signature model. Volpe was also often seen with the Zephyr Emperor Regent, and FT210 Deluxe Flattop models.
Though this guitar does not differ much from other snakehead DA's, the eminence of this most important buyer must have made such an impression, that D'Angelico chose to put Volpe's name on the headstock most prominently, and his own smaller underneath.
I am particularly fond of the neck profile which is rather big and wide (1-3/4"at the nut) . It sounds delightful, warm, loud, rounded tone, just an overall excellent guitar. The instrument is well documented in the color section of the "Acquired of the Angels" book; as well as in the "D'Angelico, Master guitar builder - what's in a name" book on page 128.
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