I found the Holy Grail: an archtop D’Angelico ukulele!
Master luthier John D’Angelico (1905 - 1964), best known for his exquisitely built and luxuriously sounding archtop guitars, built very few ukuleles. Even his guitars are rare. The roughly 1,100 he built in his New York workshop are coveted by jazz musicians for their superior craftsmanship, unique tone, and playability. Unfortunately, the number of ukuleles D’Angelico built can probably be counted on your right hand.
So, how did I find a D’Angelico ukulele?
It was a circuitous route beginning with postings on the Ukulele Underground, a few YouTube videos, and finally a Japanese website run by Korg which unfortunately turned out to be a dead end. What I did find was a line of D’Angelico-inspired archtop ukuleles recently built by an unnamed Japanese workshop that had once licensed the brand from its then current owner.
After reading through the promotional literature on the Japanese website, I was still no wiser. Not to be denied, I dug a bit deeper.
Here’s what I know…
Sometime after John D’Angelico and his successors left the business, John Ferolito Sr., a co-founder of Arizona Ice Tea, purchased the rights to the D’Angelico brand but never fully developed the brand. The brand was again sold in 2013 to John Ferolito Jr. and partners Brenden Cohen and Steve Pisani. The new owners revived the brand and have started marketing a reasonably priced line of guitars meticulously built using measurements obtained by imaging some of the instruments D’Angelico himself made.
Here’s where it gets a bit unclear…
It appears that before 2013 the brand was licensed to a Japanese manufacturer who developed a line of archtop ukuleles. The line was available only in Japan and perhaps because of that, production soon became unsustainable and the manufacturer filed for bankruptcy. Keyboard manufacturer Korg offered to help move the remaining stock through its sales channels, but only in Japan. At the 2014 NAAM a few D’Angelico ukes made it to the show floor and were very favorably reviewed by Hawaii Music Supply’s staff and were judged to be a more well-rounded instrument than what was being offered by its closest rival, Eastman.
On the Korg site you can find the now defunct line of D’Angelico archtop ukuleles. Six models were offered, five sopranos and a concert size. (See specs below.) Some stock is still available in Japan but once sold, these instruments will become unavailable.
I hope D’Angelico will someday reconsider building archtop ukuleles. I know it would make me very happy.
How about you? Let me know!
I'm an amateur ukulele player who happens to be fluent in Japanese. I hope that I can inspire you to learn more about the ukulele, Japan, or better yet, BOTH!