When one thinks of D’Angelicos, elegant jazz archtops from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s spring to mind.
As it should be. John D’Angelico was the preeminent archtop builder of his time, and he served as mentor to Jimmy D’Aquisto, who with D’Angelico’s passing in 1964, became the premier builder of his own time.
So it was with due skepticism that we approached two of the guitars that today carry the D’Angelico name – a single-cutaway semi-hollowbody and a single-cutaway solidbody.
New Jersey-based D’Angelico Guitars of America contracts construction of the instruments to the Vestax Corporation, of Japan, and today’s D’Angelico line parallels John’s concepts, but with a decidedly modern twist. And the list prices of these guitars reflect the fact that although they are not U.S.-made, they surrender little when one applies the term “meticulous craftsmanship.”
Our first trial involved an NYSS-3 model semi-hollowbody with a 143/4″ x 13/4″ body featuring a solid German spruce top, flame-maple sides and back, and multi-ply black and white binding on the top, back, and around the f-holes.
The 243/4″-scale maple neck is topped with a flat-radius ebony fingerboard with mother-of-pearl inlays and multi-ply binding. The bound peghead is very reminiscent of the original, with an art deco truss rod cover, a MOP skyscraper inlay, and gold finish.
All hardware is gold, including the Grover Imperial tuners, a tune-o-matic-style bridge, stairstep trapeze tailpiece, and knurled knobs with tortoiseshell inserts (even the form-fit alligator tolex case has heavy gold latches!).
We also tried the NYSD-9, which had many of the same features (binding, gold hardware, inlays, and the same neck and headstock) but with a gorgeous rich amber AAA flame maple top, solid mahogany body (even the control covers), and gold-plated aluminum stop tailpiece.
Both guitars played effortlessly, with very low action and slim, comfortable C-shaped neck profiles. The highly polished medium frets were perfectly leveled, making bends easy and the sustain outstanding – even acoustically.
Electronically, the guitars are very similar, with dual humbuckers, two volume controls, two tone controls, and a three-way toggle. We tested both through several amps – combos to half-stacks – and we were pleased; the NYSS-3 offered an outstanding blues/jazz tone with just the right amount of midrange pop, very well balanced with great note separation and sustain. The NYSD-9 sounded surprisingly darker, but shared the same note separation and sustain. The taper of the pots was smooth and very well-graduated, making them a useful tool – not just decoration, like we’ve seen on many other guitars.
Our only nit to pick would be with the lack of shielding in the control cavity, which made for some noise when playing with heavier distortion.
Overall, though, today’s D’Angelicos offer a very positive experience in terms of sound, feel, construction, component quality, and of course, play.
D’Angelico NYSS-3 and NYSD-9
Type of Guitar: Solidbody and semi-hollowbody electrics.
Features: Meticulous craftsmanship, high-quality materials, high-end appointments and components. Tops of German Spruce (NYSS-3) and AAA flame maple (NYSD-9), flame-maple sides and back, multi-ply binding on top, back, and f-holes (NYSS-3).
Price: $3,700 and $4,200 retail (with hardcase).
Contact: D’Angelico Guitars of America, PO Box 627, Westfield, NJ 07090,phone (908) 518-9010, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.