Captured in this documentary, John Monteleone’s hand-crafted fretted instruments draw inspiration from the past. His chief inspirations are legendary guitar craftsmen John D’Angelico and Jimmy D’Aquisto, and he incorporates untraditional design ideas such as oddly placed holes and sophisticated Art Deco inlays. The filmmakers capture Monteleone jamming with friends in his shop, and selecting wood in Italy.
The son of a sculptor, the luthier’s youthful days playing piano sparked an interest in tone and design. The ’60s folk revival brought him to guitars when he built his own Martin-style dreadnought. From crafting replica mandolins, he evolved into original designs mixing the venerable and innovative. Montelone’s non-musical touchstones range from the Stradivarius and designs of Raymond Loewy to famous trains (the Super Chief) and iconic buildings (Grand Central Station and Radio City Music Hall).
Testimonials from players are plentiful and eloquent. Mark Knopfler, who composed the 2009 tribute tune “Monteleone,” has much to say about his friend. So do David Grisman, Mike Marshall, Dick Boak, Woody Mann, Ben Harper, Frank Vignola, and Jimmy Bruno. Monteleone’s own explanation is more succinct: “I never look at (building) as work.”
This fascinating film makes that abundantly clear.
This article originally appeared in VG’s April 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.