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Photograph by Ilya Popenko
Voccoli "Jetson-style Airline" Reproduction Res-O-Glas Electric Guitar, 2012

This guitar was built in tribute to the "Res-O-Glas" Airline guitars, created by Valco and sold though the Montgomery Ward catalogues between 1958 and 1968.  These instruments were famously used by Jack White during his tenure with The White Stripes, as well as J. B. Hutto.  The blank body was purchased from "Guitar Kits USA," a small (and sadly now defunct) company that acquired  the rights and ability to recreate the fiberglas bodies.  The neck was built by Eastwood and purchased while the company was still selling some of their parts aftermarket.  The original Eastwood logo was removed in lieu of three inlayed pearl dots on the headstock.  The pickups are both Lollar Imperial humbuckers, with the neck pickup featuring the "Peter Green" modification - which perpetually creates an "out of phase" sound in the middle position.  The tailpiece has been modified by a skilled metalsmith with a "Jack of Hearts" motif, crafted out of nickel silver.  The tuners are vintage reproductions by Waverly, and the aluminum bridge was created by "V-Guitar-Co."  I consider this the first "Voccoli Guitar," as it is the first instrument I ever completed.  This guitar can be seen on the 2013 Battle of the Boroughs live footage, and can be heard on the 2017 "Victor V. Gurbo & Co." album.  

Voccoli "Mona Lisa" Telecaster Esquire-Style Electric Guitar, 2022

This Fender esquire-style solid body electric guitar features a two piece pine body, and a maple neck with an Indian Laurel fingerboard.  Most notably the guitar sports Leonardo da Vinci's iconic "Mona Lisa" on its surface.  My father has a photography series of the Mona Lisa appearing in unusual and unlikely places, which inspired me to build this instrument and take the image on stage.  This rendition of the classic painting was created by Adorama printing, and adhered to the raw wood surface.  A thick polyurethane finish was then hand applied over the image to protect it.  This concept was inspired by Fender's "foto flame" guitars of the 1990s, where a picture of wood grain was used in lieu of high quality wood.  I decided to emulate a "Linhof Special" (made by Pre-Nixon Electrics) that I saw at RetroFret, and routed this guitar with a "reverse" (left handed) Telecaster bridge, for a more pronounced low end and more clarity from the unwound strings.  The single hand-wound "Oat Soda Sounds" pickup is wired to a single volume knob, and a vintage 1950s telephone on-off switch, for convenient muting on stage.  The signal runs through a 3-way Fender selector switch, which allows the pickup to be played through three different capacitors.  These sonic options are designed to sound like different pickups, similarly to how Leo Fender wired the first esquires.  The saddles were hand-crafted by Bensonite hardware, and the leather pick guard was hand cut by leather artist "Black Whisky Blaze."  This guitar is 1 of 2 created, and in 2023 I started the tradition of having artists carve their name in the back of the guitar.  

Voccoli "The Finkle" Big Joe Williams-Style 9-String Electric Guitar, 2021

This guitar has a few striking and notable features: the first being this guitar was hand painted by the remarkable outsider artist Andy Finkle. Andy is known for his depictions of "sad monsters [and] animals displaying bad habits," and has multiple pieces in the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.  When I asked Andy what he planned to do with this body, he said he was going to "jam it full of cryptids," and he did so and did not disappoint.  The guitar features many of his classics, such as Lizard Man, Mothman and Big Foot.  It seemed fitting to pair his work with a concept popularized by another cutting edge and anomalous artist, blues master Big Joe Williams.  Williams (October 16, 1903 – December 17, 1982) famously added unisons strings to his instruments, doubling the D, B and high E strings on his guitars.  He claimed to have done this to confuse his friends and stop them from playing his guitars uninvited, but this anecdote deceptively plays off how powerful this modification is.  The extra strings, being doubled rather than octaves, creates a haunting hollow sound that lands somewhere between a 6 string guitar and a 12 string guitar.  I've made several Williams-style 9 strings but never kept one until now.  This guitar features hand wound "Suprocaster" pickups by Gemini Pickups, which are wired to a single volume pot and a vintage 1950s telephone on-off switch for convenient muting.  The bridge was hand crafted by Aldridge Empire, and the saddles are Glendale's "Groovy 60s."  The Sperzel "D-Thing" Drop Locking Tuner allows for quick changes in tuning.  

Voccoli "The Popenko" Jupiter Thunderbird-Style Electric Guitar, 2021

This guitar was hand painted by the multitalented musician, painter, photographer and videographer Ilya Popenko of Mad Meg.  Ilya had this to say about the inspiration behind the painting: "I decided to paint cows and watermelons as an homage to my childhood summers spent in a village outside of Volgograd. My relatives owned a piece of a watermelon field, which I remember weeding. They also had two cows. This one memory in particular inspired me to paint them. One of my distant cousins Tanya, who was a few years older than me and had already taken interest in boys, had to run to a date once and asked me to take the cows from the village square to their house. I was a spoiled city child who had never seen an animal bigger than a cat. She handed me a tree branch, which I was supposed to use to drive the cows, and disappeared. As soon as she left, the cows casted a sidelong look at me and took off running. After a few yards, I gave up chasing them and came home empty handed. The cows spent the day hanging out at the Volga riverfront and returned home by themselves later that night."  (2021) The Stratocaster pickups were hand wound by Matt D. of Slight Return and are reversed for a more pronounced low end.  The bridge piezo pickup was made by Brenner Guitar Products.  The traditional electric pickups and sensor pickup run respectively to their own output jacks so the guitar can be played out of two amps simultaneously. 

Voccoli "Bo-Bender" Bo Diddley-Style Electric Guitar, 2019

This guitar, which has been affectionately dubbed the "Bo-Bender" (or the "Bend-Diddley" depending on my mood) is a Bo Diddley-style guitar fitted with a Hipshot palm bending unit modified by Mule Resonator Guitars. Bo Diddley famously played a custom made square guitar, outfitted with a Gretsch neck and Gretsch electronics.  Later the company created a signature model for him, which can still be purchased today.  The body is the remains of an old oak farm fence, finished with genuine organic milk paint for optimal tonal clarity.  The pickups are hand wound by Rob Banta of Gemini Pickups, voiced to sound like vintage DeArmonds.  The old rosewood Warmoth neck with an ebony fretboard sports a matching red headstock, and a limited Fender-style font for the Voccoli logo.  The guitar originally started out as a Big Joe Williams-style 9-String before being decommissioned, refinished, and rebuilt with the Bender.  The guitar's bending unit allows for the the 5th, 3rd, and 2nd strings to be bent via the levers, simulating the sound of a traditional pedal steel guitar. The telecaster control plate has been reversed, á la the "Kirchen" modification, for easy access to the volume and tone knob, and the saddles are "Groovy 60s," crafted by Glendale Guitar Hardware.  Lastly, a small and personal detail, this guitar sports screws salvaged from the Voccoli family house.  This guitar played at the 2019 showcase at The Bowery Electric, the band's last show before the COVID-19 Pandemic.

R.C. Kelly Carmine Street Guitars "EagleCaster" Electric Guitar, 2014

This guitar was commissioned in 2011, the same year Bob Dylan toured with his own R.C. Kelly "EagleCaster."  I was fortunate enough to have stood in the front row at New York City's Terminal 5 while he played the aforementioned electric, one of the few times Mr. Dylan had played guitar on stage in years.  I learned more about Carmine Street Guitars after I encountered a private seller who claimed to have one of Mr. Dylan's rejected instruments.  According to the seller, Mr. Dylan commissioned three guitars, and returned one - which the seller bought directly from Carmine Street Guitars.  I went down to Mr. Kelly's shop to inquire about the legitimacy of the instrument, even though there was no reality where I could afford the reseller's inflated asking price.  I learned from Mr. Kelly that part of the reason Bob Dylan was such a fan of the guitar was because the body of the instrument was made out of the remains of Chumley's Bar, where he drank in the early 1960s. Reportedly he said "I could have spilled a beer on this guitar."  Shortly thereafter I commissioned my own guitar from Mr. Kelly in the style of Bob Dylan's guitar, but with a few modifications.  Instead of sunburst I went with the natural finish.  I requested the body be made out of the same material as Mr. Dylan's guitar.  I also went with a pine neck, made from the remains of the Chelsea Hotel.  Lastly, I requested the eagle's eye match my eye color - a detail that seemed to amuse Mr. Kelly, as no one had asked for that before.  I've made some modifications to the guitar over the years.  I'd requested the same pickups as Mr. Dylan, a set of Fralin P92s, but the guitar arrived with Seymour Duncans.  I changed the pickups to the Fralin pickups before later switching them for a set of DeArmond voiced Mojotone Pickups with gold foil covers.  I replaced the tuners with genuine Klusons and upgraded the wiring and hardware.  I also had Mr. Kelly cut me a second pick guard made from real wood, instead of the original he crafted which was made from plywood.  

R. C. Kelly Carmine Street Guitars "Masthead" Baritone Electric Guitar, ca. 2011

According to Rick Kelly and Cindy Hulej's social media and websites, this guitar was originally made for Bob Dylan - who (as you can read in the above article) reportedly owns at least one R.C. Kelly guitar.  It's also the first guitar Ms. Hulej adorned with her wood burning in collaboration with Mr. Kelly's work.  This guitar's body is younger than the neck according to the date scribbled on the heel, but there's no photographic evidence of this instrument ever sporting another neck - so I suspect the body was outfitted with this earlier Rick Kelly baritone neck prior to leaving Carmine Street Guitars. I cannot confirm, but don't suspect, that was done for Mr. Dylan.  The guitar was originally fitted with a freehand wood burned pick guard done by Ms. Hulej in the style of how she decorated the body.  However it appears that this piece was removed and fitted to another one of her instruments, as I have spotted photographs of this pick guard in the collection of another musician.  It later featured a Janis Joplin tribute pick guard, commissioned by the previous owner.  It now sports a natural finish guard, made by Mr. Kelly.  The pickups are early Dimarzio "Transition" pickups, finished in mat black.  The baritone scale length and light weight Bowery pine body make this instrument a deep and resonance cannon.  This guitar was purchased from the estate of a collector who I believe was the owner of the guitar since it left the shop.

Gibson L-1 Arch Top Acoustic Guitar, 1917

This early Gibson was made in Kalamazoo, Michigan at the dawn of the Spanish Flu pandemic.  The company wasn't even twenty years old when this guitar was completed.  It sports a thick spruce top, with a natural finish, cherry stained birch back and sides, and mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard.  It has a dyed maple bridge, along with its original and rare celluloid pick guard and tailpiece.  Many of these plastic pieces have since disintegrated, but they seem to gave gotten the chemistry right on the day they made this guitar because the parts are still going string.  Despite being Gibson's most affordable model in the 1910s, it still features a hand carved top and back.  While most guitars of its era were built for gut strings, this guitar was made for steel - intended to be a companion instrument to mandolins and banjos.  These guitars were popular with blues, early jazz, and "hillbilly" bands.  I purchased this guitar from RetroFret; the repair shop was full on the day of my visit, and George Aslaender walked out from the back of the store looking for an empty stand place to put the guitar down.  Unable to find one, he saw me and said "here, Victor, you need to buy this," handed me the guitar, and walked away.  He wasn't wrong.  I purchased it right away.  This has been my main recording guitar since I acquired it, it can be heard on our 2017 Victor V. Gurbo & Co. album, and it is the instrument I write most of my material on.  Serial Number: 38467.

Gibson L-Jr Arch Top Acoustic Guitar, ca. 1920s

This Gibson guitar was made in Kalamazoo, Michigan sometime in the second decade of company's existence.  Much like the slightly more expensive L-1, it sports a thick spruce top, and birch back and sides - but to make it more affordable Gibson cut out any and all frills.  It has no binding, no rosette, no pick guard, the fingerboard is unbound - it even lacks Gibson's signature script logo from the era.  The entire guitar has a dark brown stain, and it features a rosewood fingerboard instead of ebony.  This model was also sold as Gibson's "Army & Navy Special."  What's strange about this instrument is while the FON number tentatively puts this guitar's build date between 1924 and 1925, it sports the older celluloid tailpiece. Gibson serial and FON numbers from this era can be unreliable, so I will update this post if and when I acquire more information.  This guitar had seen its share of ware and tare before coming into my possession - it has a large repaired crack down the back, along with a medley of cosmetic defects.  The original tuners were long gone, and the tailpiece is missing its original pegs.  Sometime in this guitar's journey, a previous owner painted in their own take on the Gibson script logo - which still adorns the top of this guitar.  I added a set of Waverly reproduction tuners to this guitar, and I installed a K&K acoustic pickup so I can take this on stage.  I used this guitar for my first television appearance on Manhattan network television.  FON Number: 11166A.

Martin 0-18 Acoustic Flat Top Guitar, 1966

This guitar's history is a little more complicated than saying it was made in Nazareth, Pennsylvania in 1966.  I purchased this guitar right after 2012's Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged many parts of New York City.  The guitar's top was cracked and significantly water damaged.  Always wanting an 0-18, an instrument that was defined as "the working man's Martin," and famously used by artists such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, I purchased the guitar.  I immediately brought the guitar down to RetroFret's repair shop in hopes they could restore the instrument, but was told after a cursory inspection that the guitar was far too gone to ever be playable again.  While the back, sides, and neck were all healthy - the top had taken too much damage and had given up the ghost.  Despondent, I went home and searched online to see what I could liquidate the project for.  Much to my disbelief, I stumbled on someone selling a never used Martin 0-18 factory top, from 1966.  The seller told me his father was a disgruntled Martin factory worker who absconded with several parts when he parted ways with the company.  I bought the top and brought it back to Retrofret, where they confirmed the part was in fact genuine.  They carefully removed the old top, and installed the new one - allowing me something I never though I'd have access to - a brand new 1966 Martin guitar.  I've since installed the Sunrise pickup, which allows me to play the guitar comfortably with the full ensemble of Victor V. Gurbo & Co.  The guitar has a spruce top, mahogany back, sides and neck, and a rosewood fingerboard.  Serial Number: 215211.

Wide Sky "PL1 / Nick Lucas Copy" Flat Top Acoustic Guitar, 2018

This guitar was hand built by Patch Rubin of Wide Sky Guitars in Taos, New Mexico.  It features a reclaimed 100 year old "sinker" cedar top, figured Sapele back and sides, a mahogany neck with an ebony fingerboard.  The fingerboard sports the classic "Fleur-de-lis" inlay common on many of the original Nick Lucas guitars.  I'd always wanted a Nick Lucas signature guitar - famously Gibson's first artist series, the guitar was made to the specifications of the first "guitar star."  The original models were identical in body shape to the iconic Gibson L-1s and L-0s that were made famous by blues legend Robert Johnson, but the Lucas models featured a wider body depth - which gave his model a more pronounced bass response and larger presence.  I was fortunate enough to play an early 1920s model at RetroFret and fell in love, but I don't think a true vintage model will ever be within my budget.  I met Patch Rubin through instagram and we bonded over our love of the Gibson L-1 arch tops.  I commissioned this dream guitar from him, but made a few modifications from the original Gibson specs.  This beautiful and presentation level guitar has been by my side since.  I've installed a Sunrise Pickup so I can take it with me on stage with the full ensemble.  Due to the sharp picks I use and my aggressive open tuning playing, I've worn away at the top - which stands a testament to Patch's incredible build quality.  I was fortunate enough to order this just before he discontinued the line.  Labeled: Build #50, 9-2018.

Harmony H-162 Flat Top Acoustic Guitar, ca. 1960s (Signed by Bob Dylan)

This is a classic example of the H-162, also known as "the poor man's Martin."  Much like the Martin 000-18 which this guitar is based off of, the H-162 "concert sized" instrument features a spruce top, mahogany back, sides, and neck, and a rosewood fretboard.  Unlike the Martin, this guitar has ladder bracing instead of X bracing.  These sleeper guitars are coveted today as they're made from the same materials as their more expensive contemporaries, but are available at a fraction of the price.  However, as much of a bargain as these instruments are, they are usually in poor condition and tricky to restore.  The difference in bracing also makes these instruments less sweet sounding, despite the identical materials - making altering the bracing a common modification to these guitars.  While I cannot locate a serial number inside the guitar, the "steel reinforced neck" and the screws through the bridge make me suspect that this guitar is from the early 1960s.  I purchased this guitar from the estate of a gentleman who was close friends with Bob Dylan's tour manager during the 1980s.  The manager received this guitar from Mr. Dylan.  The guitar was in need of attention when I received it - the wonderful folks over at RetoFret reset the neck, worked on the frets, and repaired several cracks.  

La Filipina L-1 Style Flat Top Acoustic Guitar, ca. 1940s

The label inside this guitar reads "La Filipina, Guitar Factory, Lincoln St, Cebu City, Philippines.  Proprietor Pedro Abendan Since 1919, Trade Mark."  Unfortunately I don't know much more about this guitar than that.  Due to the distinctly American characteristics, the fine folks at RetroFret speculated this could be a one-off created for an American solider in the occupied Philippines.  Perhaps a fan of the Gibson L-1, much like myself.  However, your guess is probably as good as mine, as I have not been able to find another one of its kind.  I've confirmed from another source that the company was founded in 1919, but not much else is available online.  The guitar is crafted out of indigenous fruit wood, and finished in a classic "TV yellow" style.  There's only two pearl dots inlayed into the headstock, and there is no serial number.  The colorful tailpiece and sparkle pick guard give this guitar a unique and stylish flare.  I've had a K&K installed in this guitar, and I have replaced the bridge with a newer version with a bone saddle, and upgraded the tuners to reproduction Waverly tuners for improved stability.  I have played this guitar frequently when performing acoustic sets around New York City with Mark Caserta.  

Weymann Style No. 648 Flat Top Acoustic Guitar, ca. 1920 (featured in "Storied Strings: The Guitar In American Art)

According to the original Weymann & Sons catalogue, this guitar is "Standard size. [It features] rosewood back and sides.  Spruce top, with F sound holes, top edge in-laid and bound with Rosewood, inlaid strip down center of back.  Mahogany neck, Ebony fingerboard, with pearl position dots.  Rosewood veneered head-piece, machine heads, special tail-piece and nut.  Strung with metal strings."  However what makes this instrument unique is that it does not have that "special tail-piece."  Instead this guitar sports an early Stella-style tailpiece, which appears to be entirely original to the instrument.  It also lacks an end pin, which can be seen in the advertisements.  The guitar lacks any of the regular Weymann branding, such as the Weymann sticker, or a serial number embossed into the top of the headstock.  Lastly, the guitar has beautiful Brazilian Rosewood back and sides, a holy grail in the guitar world.  When I received this guitar it was in dire need of restoration, which the fine folks at RetroFret executed for me flawlessly.  They carefully repaired a crack on the back of the guitar, repaired the bracing, and reset the neck.  This guitar was featured in the Virginia Museum of Fine Art's Storied Strings, The Guitar In American Art exhibition.  In the accompanying book, Dr. Leo G. Mazow writes "In the late nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, relatively less-expensive guitars, such as those produced by the Philadelphia-based H. A. Weymann & Sons, made their way into parlors, dens, and other markedly middle-class spaces.  Likely inspired by contemporary Gibson models, the company produced a line of Hawaiian guitars with f-holes that lent them the classical, refined aesthetic of violins.  The guitar's reversible nut allowed the owner to switch between Spanish style (holding and playing against one's chest) and Hawaiian style (holding and playing on one's lap).  Depending on the furniture in one's den or parlor, the instrument could be adjusted to comply with the preferred style and comfort level when seated, or to accord with the room's decor.  The Weymann company ran a particularly healthy mail-order business.  We can conclude that, for those Americans who could afford to do so, purchasing a guitar mail order or from a shop - and certainly posing with a guitar in a portrait - acknowledged participation in a market economy." (Storied Strings: The Guitar In American Art, Leo G. Mazow, Pages 8-9). It's been an honor to have something in my collection featured in this exhibition, and I'd like to thank author and curator Dr. Leo G. Mazow, as well as Director and CEO Alex Nyerges and everyone at the VMFA.  This exhibition has since traveled to The Frist Museum in Nashville, where it can be seen now.  


Photograph Courtesy of RetroFret.


The Frist Museum, Nashville, May 2023

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