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NMM 10772.  Plectrum Guitar by John D'Angelico, New York, 1937.
Excel model (17").   Ledger number 1241.  André and Kay Larson Fund, 2004.

NMM 10772.  Plectrum guitar by John D'Angelico, New York, 1937.

This four-string plectrum guitar was made by John D’Angelico, one of the finest makers of archtop guitars. Such instruments were devised to help banjo players transition to the guitar as the four-stringed plectrum and tenor banjos began to fall from favor in the 1930s. The plectrum guitar permitted these musicians to achieve a guitar sound without having to relearn their fingerings and technique. Likely a special commission, the instrument was completed on February 19, 1937, and sold to "Arnold," according to D’Angelico’s ledger books. The instrument features D’Angelico’s Excel model trim with geometrically engraved mother-of-pearl block inlay on the fingerboard and top X-bracing.


Inscriptions:  Inlaid in mother-of-pearl on headstock, New York incised on tail of "o" and filled with black ink:  D’Angelico / NEW YORK
Incised on mother-of-pearl banner on peghead: EXCEL / MODEL
Engraved on tailpiece, New York on tail of "o": D’Angelico / NEW YORK
Branded on inside of back (double struck): 1241
Stamped on tailpiece: GROVER / PAT.APPL’D FOR
Stamped on tuner plates, the lettering curved upward at each end: GROVER

Inlaid signature on peghead

Front of D'Angelico plectrum guitar Bass side of D'Angelico plectrum guitar Back of D'Angelico plectrum guitar

Note: Click on any major structural area of the instrument to see a close-up of that area.

Body:  Stringing:  four steel strings.  Soundboard:  arched, two-piece spruce, very wide grain.  Back:  two-piece, slab-cut maple with broad curl ascending from center joint; wooden pin through back into neck block on bass side of center joint; wooden pin through back into end block on treble side of center joint.  Ribs:  two-piece, semi-slab-cut maple with broad curl angled to right on bass side.  Head:  maple; broken pediment-style with turned, gold-plated brass ornament.  Neck:  maple with narrow curl; integral with head; three strips of inlay along center line, brown-stained maple on outsides and maple on inside.

Back of D'Angelico plectrum guitar



Neck heel

Note: Click on images or captions to see larger versions of images.

Inlay:  Head:  decorative mother-of-pearl inlay; mother-of-pearl D’Angelico / NEW YORK and EXCEL MODEL inlay. Binding:  white celluloid; trim comprised of black-white-black-white-white-black-white-black celluloid purfling strips. Soundholes:  f-holes bound in white ivoroid.

Front of D'Angelico plectrum guitar F-hole on D'Angelico plectrum guitar

Front of guitar and bass soundhole

Note: Click on images or captions to see larger versions of images.

Trim:  Heel cap:  white celluloid.  Fingerboard:  ebony bound in ivoroid with single black and white celluloid purfling strips on each side; end terminating in a point, with rounded edges on the sides; 19 nickel-silver frets; mother-of-pearl blocks engraved with geometric designs filled with black ink behind 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, and 16th frets; black celluloid side dots behind 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, and 15th frets.  Nut:  bone.  Bridge:  two-piece ebony with bone saddle and brass screws for height adjustment.  Pegs:  four Grover gold-plated brass worm-gear machine tuners with convex head surfaces, reversely curved corners (known as "butterbeans"), and decoratively cut plate outlines.  Endpin:  white celluloid. Pick guard:  imitation-tortoise-shell celluloid with decoratively-cut outline, bound in white celluloid with single strips of black and white celluloid, with three decorative, engraved bars at upper and treble sides, mounted on guitar with gold-plated brass bracket and three gold-plated steel screws.  Lacquer:  black-brown-to-blonde sunburst with fine craquelure.

D'Angelico plectrum guitar fingerboard Pickguard

Fingerboard and pickguard

Note: Click on any fret inlay on fingerboard to see a close-up of that area.  Click on pickguard to see larger image.

Interior:  Linings:  kerfed maple. Neck block:  mahogany; chamfered corners. End block:  mahogany; chamfered corners. Top bracing:  spruce X-brace; single spruce transverse brace. Grafts:  short maple grafts on inside of back near neck and end blocks; short spruce grafts on inside of top near neck and end blocks.

D'Angelico plectrum guitar peghead Peghead back

Peghead front and back

Note: Click on images or captions to see larger versions of images.

Measurements (actual):  Total guitar length: 1038 mm (40-7/8″)
Back length:  517 mm (20-3/8″)
Upper bout width:  310 mm (12-7/32″)
Waist width:  257 mm (10-1/8″)
Lower bout width:  433 mm (17-1/16″)
Rib height (including edging) at heel:  72 mm (2-13/16″)
Rib height, at waist:  73 mm (2-7/8″)
Rib height, at end block:  72 mm (2-13/16″)
Head length:  170 mm (6-11/16″)
Head width, top:  100 mm (3-15/16″)
Head width, bottom:  74 mm (2-2-15/16″)
Neck length (nut to ribs):  362 mm (14-1/4″)
Neck width, nut:  35 mm (1-3/8″)
Neck width, heel:  48 mm (1-7/8″)
Soundhole length:  154 mm (6-1/8″)
Vibrating string length (nut to bridge edge):  D:  663 mm (26-5/32″); C:  665 mm (26-3/16″)

Accessories:  Original plywood case covered in dark brown imitation-alligator-skin-texture canvas with green plush lining, brass-plated steel hardware, and brown leather handle. Five period Manny’s (120 West 48th St., New York, At the Sign of the Clock) guitar strings in packaging, 3 B or 2nds and 2 G or 3rds. Four strings on plectrum guitar: steel D and B; bronze-overspun steel G and C

Literature:  George Gruhn, "1937 D’Angelico Excel Plectrum Guitar," Vintage Guitar 18, No. 12 (October 2004), p. 39.

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Peghead, front Fingerboard Pickguard Soundhole Bridge Tailpiece Signature on tailpiece Guitar front Guitar front Guitar front Guitar front Guitar front Guitar front Guitar front Guitar front Bottom rib Neck and fingerboard Body, bass side Peghead, back Neck, back Neck heel Pin at top of back Back Back Back Bottom rib Pin on lower back Bottom rib Bottom rib