Mario Maccaferri: An Interview with John Monteleone (Part Two)
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
By Daniel Wheeldon
This is the second part of a two series interview with John Monteleone about the guitar builder Mario Maccaferri. Make sure to check out Part One and the conclusion in Part Three.
In continuation. John Monteleone here talks about his insights into Maccaferri’s workshop, further projects which shed light into the philosophies of Mario Maccaferri, also discussing how these interactions left lasting impressions on him and his instrument making. My intention in making and transcribing this interview has been to document a unique story without digressing into histories already well written about.
I find it fascinating to think about instrument makers who span generations and seeing how they met and influenced one another. John Monteleone has connections to many great musicians and instrument makers not least D’Angelico and D’Aquisto. Mario Maccaferri has the heritage of Luigi Mozzani for his training but it is important to remember and highlight the importance of his friendship with Monteleone who no doubt reignited his interest to turn his creative genius back to the guitar.
19:15 GMT, 13th January 2019.
Daniel Wheeldon – DW
John Monteleone – JM
DW: What was Maccaferri’s New York workshop like when you knew him? Was it his personal workshop or was it part of a bigger production?
JM: Well it was a big workshop, it was a complex of buildings, it was in the Bronx on Webster Ave, right next to a police precinct. It was about a city block in size, so it was a complex of buildings. By the time I’d met him he had just retired, and if you went into one of the larger buildings you would see a line of injection moulding machines, and these machines were huge, and there were [perhaps] 40 of them. And then there were other places, other buildings, out building and so forth. Four silos full of plastic pellets out back by the railroad yard. In one of the buildings all he did was play golf, he would tee-off. As you walked in the door you saw thousands of golf balls all over the place – it was huge, you could drive a ball in this place!
DW: Good grief!
JM: He was a real golf nut, and he gave me my first set of golf clubs.
DW: It’s such a vivid image I’ve got in my mind now of that scene in the Bronx. With the guitar that you made for him, did it have any of the internal structure, the [resonator] or anything like that?
JM: Okay so here’s what happened next. So he gets the guitar back and he’s playing it and enjoying it, and he gets the idea that by this time we’re pretty friendly, he sees the potential of a project so he proposes that we make: ‘lets make some guitars together’. I said ‘well okay let’s do that’. He says ‘alright we’ll make six classical and we’ll also make six jazz model guitars. I said ‘great! This is good’. He says two of the jazz model guitars will have internal resonators and the other four would not. He just felt that he would revisit the idea, it was so long that he had been away from it that he just kinda wanted to get back to it to see what it would do. So we got started,we went out shopping together for wood, and we’d go out to lunch together and come back with wood and start getting a list of items that we needed. He had his own press for laminating. He laminated the sides and the backs, and I brought the soundboards.
DW: So what happened to these guitars?
DW: That’s disconcerting isn’t it. So the guitar that ended up in the Guitar Heroes [exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011], was that a Jazz guitar did you say? [This instrument was a classical model]
JM: [Unsure] These were all D-hole models – I remember making all the rosettes myself, multi-coloured rosettes for the ‘D’. We had a tremendous amount of fun in this project together, it really was a bonding moment, I was fortunate because there was nobody else who he shared these moments with as a luthier. Luthier to luthier. For me it was all about enjoying the experience, I didn’t interfere or interject with my own ideas because I just wanted to let him be himself. And then he offered the idea of going into business together too, which I rejected.
DW: The obvious question for me to ask which might be difficult to answer is: are there any areas in your own design or making processes that changed during that time, or any influences that you’ve kept on from that period?
JM: No actually it’s a good question, because there’s something that rubbed off of course. That was the ergonomic feel of those instruments were quite good. They have a good balance they are the right size for a very full tonal response, they have a good projection. And I always wanted to see something like that in a flat top guitar: x-braced, flat top, pin bridge, fixed bridge, like the American style approach to building the flat top, and that’s what led me to start building what I call the ‘hot club’ model. I still make those today. But originally one of the first ones was a carved version of that guitar. Carved top and back, a true archtop. Some people refer to those Selmer guitar as archtop guitars, and they’re not really.
DW: Could you say that they’re a flat top guitar makers’ archtop? Or would that be pushing it?
JM: Well it’s a very odd kind of guitar because the way I learned it from Mario, I learned it from the horse directly. And the real key element. There are several key elements: one of them is the top itself, which really came from the mandolin and that’s what Ma