John D’Angelico made very few true electric guitars with the pickups mounted directly to the top instead of floating above the top. The single-coil pickups on this 1955 D’Angelico New Yorker were acquired from Franz of Astoria, New York, which also supplied pickups to the Guild guitar factory of Hoboken, New Jersey, only a short distance across the Hudson River from D’Angelico’s workshop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. This guitar is similar to the New Yorker models D’Angelico was making at the time with the exception of the pickups, controls and f-hole placement. Completed on December 22, 1955, this guitar was made for a customer with the last name Weber.
Although the electric guitar quickly gained popularity during the 1950s, few guitarists ordered electric guitars from D’Angelico. The electronics of the time could not capture the detail and nuances of the acoustic tone that made D’Angelico guitars renowned, and most guitarists preferred to play acoustically instead of compromising and settling for a less stellar electric approximation. While this guitar may not deliver the signature D’Angelico acoustic sound when plugged in, it produces very warm, fat, and alluring electric tones that are perfect for jazz, blues, or even early rock and roll or rockabilly.
With the exception of the pickups and controls, this guitar is essentially the same as the New Yorker models D’Angelico was making at the time. It has a cutaway body, 22-fret neck, and the usual deluxe appointments like gold-plated Grover Imperial tuners, a gold-plated D’Angelico stairstep tailpiece, and segmented pearl fretboard inlays. The rear of the headstock features an ebony overlay with a diamond-shaped inlay. The bindings are original, but the heel cap was replaced after the original one decomposed—a typical occurrence with certain plastic materials used to make instruments during this era.
“Vincent Gallo helped me find that guitar,” says Hank Risan. “He got it from the original owner. D’Angelico made a lot of guitars for musicians in the New York region that stayed in the area, so it was good to have someone in New York to find guitars for me.”
Risan was also friends with James D’Aquisto, who became D’Angelico’s apprentice in 1953.
D’Aquisto told Risan that one of his earliest tasks was making truss rod covers like the one seen on this instrument. D’Aquisto learned every detail of D’Angelico’s craft from working side-by-side with him until D’Angelico passed away in 1964.
Serial number: 2211
Top: Spruce, natural finish
Back and sides: Maple
Fretboard: Ebony, segmented block inlays
Bridge/tailpiece: Ebony with pearl block inlays, gold-plated D’Angelico stairstep trapeze
Tuners: Grover Imperial stairstep
Other: Two Gretsch single-coil pickups with white plastic covers, three-position pickup selector switch, master volume and master tone controls