D'Angelico Excel Arch Top Acoustic Guitar (1951)


This item has been sold.
Item # 7780
Prices subject to change without notice.
D'Angelico Excel Model Arch Top Acoustic Guitar (1951), made in New York City, serial # 1865, sunburst lacquer finish, flame maple back and sides, spruce top; maple neck with ebony fingerboard, original black hard shell case.

"This is the best sounding guitar I've ever played" is a phrase we do hear sometimes-after all, we pride ourselves on finding exceptional guitars. When it's said by several of our own staff members-including one with over 50 years of professional playing experience-then we really take notice. This D'Angelico Excel has once again shown that the legendary status held by this single builder is no fluke-he really was building for the ages, and each instrument is an individual creation that is not only a work of art, but can be the finest tool for musical creation one can imagine.

This guitar is a fairly early and very lovely example of an original John D'Angelico cutaway Excel in sunburst finish. By 1951 the Excel was no longer D'Angelico's most elaborate or expensive guitar-that distinction belongs to the 18" New Yorker. Still, right up through the 1960's many players preferred the slightly smaller and easier to handle 17" Excel, and even after they were technically no longer the flagship model Excels still made up a large part of D'Angelico's production. He first made cutaway instruments in 1947, following Gibson's lead and by the time this guitar was made the rounded treble-side cutaway had become a much-requested feature.

Each D'Angelico guitar was individually built to order- often reflecting the player's personal preferences- but all shared the same high standard of craftsmanship that characterizes these purely handmade instruments. This Excel is a cutaway archtop guitar from the period that saw the full flowering of D'Angelico's talents, made not long after the cutaway style body became the standard style of instrument. It is registered in the D'Angelico ledgers as being sold in May of 1951 to a player named Carl Barrows. Many of the features are typical for the period; the body is made of beautiful curly maple; the X-braced top is very fine tight-grained spruce with 5-ply binding inside a double wide outer layer. The dimensions include a 17 1/8" lower bout with a body depth of just over 3"; The neck has a 1 3/4' nut width and a 24 3/4" scale. The triple bound ebony fingerboard has very neatly executed pearl block inlay in the Excel non-segmented block pattern.

The headstock has the "D'Angelico New York" script inlay, and is topped with the traditional finial at the top and the inlaid pearl block design engraved "Excel" on the face. It has triple binding inside the thick outer layer in the Excel pattern. The truss rod cover is metal in a design typical of 1957-8, and we believe this was added at the time. Tuners are the Grover Imperials used on all these guitars. There is a notched diamond in pearl inlaid on the back of the headstock, which is ebony veneered. The neck has a moderate "C" profile and is very comfortable to play, with a wider profile than some.
Overall length is 42 3/8 in. (107.6 cm.), 17 1/8 in. (43.5 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 3 3/16 in. (8.1 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 24 3/4 in. (629 mm.). Width of nut is 1 3/4 in. (44 mm.). This guitar is in extremely clean and well preserved condition, showing some light play wear with a few scuffs, scratches and dings. It remained in the possession of the original owner for many years and was treated with great care. It appears to have been refinished by John D'Angelico some years after the instrument's original completion, which was a fairly common procedure for the shop's regular customers. In this period, a single scratch was often enough to cause the owner to have this done-after all, they were generally used in formal professional situations where a beat-up looking guitar was not only not cool, it was not acceptable.

The rich, fairly dark sunburst finish on every surface of the instrument is typical of the masters' work but more in the style of the later 1950's than the original 1951 date of sale. We believe the neck may have been slightly thinned back-to-front and re-shaped a bit at this time, as the veneer capping on the back of the headstock is a bit shorter than most. The back center seam on the body shows a very small separation by the tailblock-visible but is completely stable. There are no other cracks or repairs visible. There are a few small dings through the finish, most notably on the back of the neck, on the bass side behind the 10th fret. The gold plating on the hardware shows some wear and a lovely patina and appears all original.

The guitar appears to have been expertly refretted some time ago, with wire slightly taller then the D'Angelico standard. All the multiple binding on this guitar shows no celluloid distress at all, there is just one spot of very slight shrinkage in the cutaway by the fingerboard. The pickguard appears to be the original celluloid piece, possibly from the time the guitar was re-worked at John's shop. It shows some slight upward cupping but no signs of deterioration. The top edge of the 'guard has been neatly notched for the DeArmond Model 1100 pickup, which is mounted on the guitar with the attachment bracket screwed to the bass side of the fingerboard. The tone and volume controls are mounted to the pickguard, with the wires routed to the jack mounted in the brass endpin.

The bridge is almost certainly the work of John's apprentice Jimmy D'Aquisto, as it shows his stylistic quirks. It also has two semicircular undercuts on the bottom edge of the saddle-these do not appear to be Jimmy's handiwork, but are fairly inconspicuous. We would be loath to alter anything about the instrument- played either acoustically or electrically this guitar produces a sound that is truly sublime; every note rings clear with a combination of warmth and definition that few fretted instruments poses. This exceptional guitar is complete with its original period case, ready to help more generations of players to discover the real original D'Angelico magic. Excellent Condition.