Ron Chapman – 1937~
Jazz Guitarist & Writer
In a corner, perched on a high stool, Ron Chapman plays, seemingly oblivious to the surroundings. “Moon light in Vermont” segues into “Over The Rainbow” and I show my appreciation. He nods in acknowledgment and plays “Send in the Clowns“. “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life“, “Embraceable You” “Darn That Dream” It’s all nice tasteful stuff. With Ron you didn’t get any Wes Montgomery like runs or flashy flights of fancy. Ron’s forté was the unexpected chord that turns the piece around into something new. He explained later that, because of advancing arthritis he sometimes fingers a wrong chord. The new chords still sound good. “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, “As Time Goes By” and finally “Nuages”.
Ron used to play in the Priory Pub in Tynemouth and Saturday and Sundays at the Sand Dancer and the Turks Head in South Shields. He describes his playing as: “Solo chordal jazz in the style of Joe Pass, Johnny Smith, Barney Kessel etc.
Now aged 75 Ron has surrendered to the limits of his arthritic condition and now writes articles on Guitars and Guitarists (see his appraisal of Roy Sainsbury) for various magazines.
In the past I have written articles for the Just Jazz Guitar magazine. I wrote the history of the Hagstrom D’Aquisto. A story about Gary Potter and more recently I wrote about Roy Sainsbury. I have recently had to give up playing after 55 years due to arthritis in my fingers, I am 75 years old. To fill the void in my life I am writing a history of the Levin guitars, especially the Royal de luxe and the Orchestral guitar as these are the models that will appeal to jazz players. I notice good information and photographs on your website and I wonder if you have any objection to me using bits and pieces. – Sincerely Ron Chapman
Hagström ‘Jimmy’ Guitar Odyssey
Hagström Jimmy –
A new semi-acoustic guitar came to light in 1969 which was designed by and named after the American guitar builder Jimmy D´Aquisto. There were 2 models built, one version with an f-hole and 2 pick-ups and the other with an oval sound-hole and 1 pick-up.
Jimmy D´Aquisto visited the factory in Älvdalen Sweden twice to supervise the production of this Guitar.
My quest to find out more about The Hagström guitars designed by the late James, L, D’Aquisto started sometime in 1999, I was playing my recently acquired Hagström D’Aquisto guitar at the Turks Head Jazz Club in South Shields which is on Tyneside in North East England. The guitar was admired by several of the musicians in the audience. I mentioned to a pianist by the name of Roy Drummond that I was interested in finding the former owners of the Hagström Guitar factory in Sweden in order to obtain more information about the instrument. Roy plays on various passenger ferries between England and Scandinavia and on visits to Norway and Sweden he will sit in with whatever Jazz groups that he comes across and consequently knows several Scandinavian musicians. Roy told me that he had seen a Hagström shop in Bergen, Norway,
I knew that it was not the guitar factory, wrong country, but perhaps they could point me in the right direction. After a telephone call to directory enquiry’s for Hagström in Norway and a few minutes of searching her computer screen the directories girl said she could find no Music shop called Hagström however she had a Hagström name on the screen, could that be it?, she gave me the area code and the number for Hagström. I made my enquiry’s, a Hagström Guitar Factory? a shop in Norway by the name of Hagström?. In perfect English she replied “no, this is a private house on the outskirts of Oslo, but I have seen a shop in Oslo called Hagström, would you like me to get the telephone number for you?,” after a few minutes she very obligingly gave me the phone and fax number for Hagström in Oslo.
It turned out that the shop had been owned by the Swedish Hagström Company who had sold it some 18 yrs before, however a guy in the shop had worked for the Company and knew quite a lot about the guitar manufacturing and indeed the history of the demise of the factory but best of all he gave me the telephone number of Karl E. Hagström . After 2 hours of more frustration through wrong area code, one wrong digit in the number, language problems and so on I managed to get Mr Hagström on the telephone and here is some of the history and the background to the James, L, D’Aquisto Guitar put together with a lot of help from Karl E. Hagström who was the final owner of the Hagström factory. The Hagström factory is now a museum, it is situated in Älvdalen which is about a 4hr drive north east of Oslo. Älvdalen which means River Valley in English, lies in a densely wooded part of Sweden with many lakes and rivers. The Hagström Company was a big name in the Scandinavian music business and from 1945-83 they built up a chain of 48 music stores throughout Norway, Denmark and Sweden. The Hagström Guitar Factory started producing guitars in 1958 with production figures of electric guitars reaching several thousands by 1961 and a total production including Electric Bass guitars of 128,538 before ceasing production in 1983. James L D’Aquisto was of great interest to me, I knew little of him other than he had been an apprentice to luthier John D’Angelico in New York and I knew that Jimmy D’Aquisto was credited with a great deal of the work involved in the building of these guitars. I also knew that D’Angelico guitars had been sold to millionaire collectors in America and Japan for up to $100,000.00.
James D’Aquisto was born on November 9, 1935 in Brooklyn, New York. His grandfather was a custom tailor who originally emigrated from Palermo, Sicily in Italy during the 1st decade of the 1900‘s. His father, Vincent, was a skilled caster/toolmaker and his mother, Mary, was a highly skilled crafter. At age 4 Jimmy began displaying amazing abilities to create almost anything with his hands. One day a doctor found the very sick, 6-year-old with a fever of 103 degrees carving a model at the kitchen table all wrapped in blankets. His childhood was filled with music! The sounds of guitar, mandolin, violin, piano and singing at the traditional Italian family gatherings had a major influence on young Jimmy. As Jimmy grew older he became fascinated with Jazz. His focus soon switched to guitar and he began taking lessons from Anthony Antone, the prominent New York guitarist. By the time he was 17 he was playing at night clubs in New York.
James L. D’Aquisto (1935-95) career started by tending the D’Angelico shop in the early 1950s. As D’Angelico’s health started to fail in the late 50s, D’Aquisto assisted him with instrument construction. After John D’Angelico died in 1964, D’Aquisto constructed his own guitars, resembling those made by D’Angelico. He assisted other famous names in the guitar industry, as well as his excellent work with Hagström (he loved quality), he worked with Fender and Martin, and was considered the equivalent to a modern day Stradivarius. He died 18th April 1995 aged 59.
I was particularly interested in the Hagström James L D’Aquisto model nicknamed the “Jimmy”, and how a very famous American guitar maker had come to design such a guitar for a Swedish company. Karl E. Hagström had met Jimmy D’Aquisto through Unicord, a Gulf & Western Company who were distributors for Hagström in the United States, he also visited him in New York and at his shop on Long Island. James L D’Aquisto first went to Sweden in about 1968 when he was 32 yrs old. That was 4 yrs after the death of John D’Angelico. At that time he was designing a guitar for a company called Bjarton, the company were situated in a town called Bjarnum near Malmö in the south of Sweden, he spent some time designing a guitar to be produced by them out of solid spruce, 3 guitars were in the process of being built but only one was completed, this was actually hand carved by Jimmy D’Aquisto. However, the factory closed down before any production was completed, The Hagström Museum have that one and only completed guitar. Jimmy D’Aquisto returned to Sweden in June 1975 and spent about a month at the Hagström Factory in Älvdalen in Sweden, he supervised the production of the “Jimmy” which he had designed. Apparently it took a great deal of money to manufacture the jigs and to have the necessary tooling at hand before production started a year or so later.
Note: This account of Bjarton closing has been found elsewhere too, but it has been confirmed by Torgil Hagman (joint MD during the 1970‘s) that Bjarton was producing until at least 1980. As for the Jimmy, yes this was transferred to Hagström between the initial run in 1968 and the final production runs from 1976 to 1979. I had also learned there was a mix up with distributor names given out at NAMM at the original launch of the Jimmy in 1968.
Jimmy D’Aquisto describes the guitar as follows; “I designed this guitar with the professional guitarist in mind, it is a functional, quality instrument designed to serve the needs of the knowledgeable, discriminating musician. The size of the guitar is designed to rest comfortably in the hands of the musician enabling him to play for hours on end without fatigue. The ebony fingerboard and bridge enhance the tonal quality of the instrument and promote a clear sustaining quality. This guitar is constructed in Sweden by craftsmen who take pride in their work”. Signed James L. D’Aquisto”. He goes on to give the technical details of the guitar which was available in F-hole and oval hole. Body. Venetian cutaway design, laminated birch arched top, back and sides. body length 20″ width 15.3/4″. Depth 2. 3/4″ . 20 frets 243/4″ scale length.
Karl E. Hagström describes Jimmy D’Aquisto as a soft spoken man, full of humour a very good designer and craftsman and also a very good guitarist, sadly missed. He obviously liked what he had designed for Hagström as he purchased 50 of the raw unfinished bodies and guitar necks from Hagström to use in the building of his own D’Aquisto guitars when he returned to New York, Unfortunately the guitar necks which had a revolutionary truss rod design developed by the Saab Aircraft Company aeronautical designers were stolen before he got the chance to use them. The Hagström Jimmy bodies from Sweden were eventually used in the manufacture of some of his less expensive guitars and that’s the reason some of the D’Aquisto guitars have laminated bodies.
Fitted Ebony tailpieces in line with James D’Aquisto’s later development in his guitar – I obtained the Abalone shell from a Company in Australia who can supply it cut to size up to a maximum of about 50 x 50mm, I bought 700 mm total length cut to 5mm width to take care of a lot of the straight lengths and several larger pieces for the curved sections on the pick-guard but it still took a total of about 20 hours work to produce the finished article.
For me the really interesting facts about the Hagström “Jimmy” is that a total of only 1083 were ever produced, there were 727 of the F- hole model and 356 of the oval hole model , of these 56 of the F-hole and 23 of the oval hole Jimmy models were imported into England during 77/78 by Fletcher Copock & Newman, a total of only 79 of this instrument. Of the remainder of the production between 1976/79, 80% of the Jimmy’s were exported to the USA and sold by the Ampeg/Selmer Company and the remaining 20% were sold and exported to Stage Sound In Australia, Canada Austria, Italy, Norway, Finland, Holland and Belgium. Out of the 56 of the “F” hole guitars that came to England I have owned 3. I bought the first F-hole in a cherry sunburst in 1990 for £385 ($620) I foolishly sold it to the guitarist from a German Jazz band called the “Hot House Jazzmen” for £1,000 ($1,600). I thought at the time “no problem” I’ll find a replacement. I had no idea at that time that the guitars were so rare in England. I had no luck in finding myself a replacement until November 1997 when I came across the oval hole model, natural finish, near mint condition “Jimmy” in Hanks music store in Denmark Street, London, The appearance of oval hole Jimmy is not unlike one of the Koonz archtops or the Benedetto played by Howard Alden. It cost me £925 ($1,500). Only 4 weeks later at a guitar show in Newcastle upon Tyne I found an “F” hole model, cherry red sunburst in good condition £1,250 ($2,000) I recently I exchanged the oval hole model for another “F” hole model in absolute mint condition, so I now have only the two “F” hole models which I prefer. They produces a fat warm jazz tone which I would compare to the sound of Johnny Smith who has been the major influence in my music, it can also sound very like the mellow sound of Jim Halls Gibson guitar.
I had read Bob Benedetto’s article in the premier issue of Just Jazz Guitar magazine where he wrote at length about the benefit of the Ebony tail piece and the Benedetto pick ups for jazz guitars. I was interested in his remarks that if D’Angelico and D’Aquisto had lived longer they would have continued the evolution of the guitars by eliminating unnecessary mass from the instruments including heavy metal tailpieces which are acoustically detrimental to he tone of the guitar. I remembered that article and of course wondered if my oval hole guitar could be improved by a Benedetto pick up and ebony tailpiece. After a telephone conversation with Bob Benedetto regarding the suitability of my instrument for improvement I took delivery in January of the ebony tail piece and the S-6 suspended mini humbucker. The fitting of the tailpiece and Benedetto pick up by our own well known local luthier Les Tones (0191 483 2182) immediately altered and improved the tone of the instrument, consequently I have recently fitted ebony tail pieces to the F-hole guitars and I am delighted at the improvement.
The relatively low prices of the Jimmy may give a false impression of the instruments, but Jimmy D’Aquisto certainly put his best into their design. I have worked in a guitar shop and have played guitar on and off for 55 years, I have owned or played many of the Gibson, Guild, Gretch, Hofner, Framus, Levin and Fender models but when you buy a Hagstrom Jimmy you are getting the closest thing to a James L D’Aquisto electric acoustic for a price that is next to nothing. The Hagström Jimmy is exceptional, certainly not a “hand made” guitar and not yet a collectable guitar the sound of the instrument proves that Jimmy D’Aquisto’s knowledge about guitar design and construction could be incorporated into a relatively inexpensive instrument. Giving a tonal quality normally found only in the more expensive custom made guitars. From the information that I have there are about 763 of the James L D’Aquisto designed Hagströms somewhere in the USA. and a further 241 world wide. – Ron Chapman –
I loved these guitars, and found time to play every day, either in the Restaurant or at three of the other Jazz venues where I play regularly, I am always sure of one thing, no matter how well or how badly I play, everyday someone will approach me and say wow, what a wonderful sound. – Thank you James L D’Aquisto
Moonlight in Vermont on a ‘Jimmy‘
Apprentice and Master
James D’Aquisto (left) and John D’Angelico (right)
37 Kenmare Street, New York City ca. 1960
John D’Angelico died in 1964. His apprentice and protege Jimmy D’Aquisto, died in 1995. All current D’Angelico and D’Aquisto production guitars are nothing compared to the originals. They are probably the most valuable archtop guitars ever made. They were both masters. When D’Aquisto kept hanging around his shop, D’Angelico finally gave in and said something like “I’m going to show you how I do it. You can do it any way you want, but it must be as good as or better than what I do”. Both have sadly passed away, and D’Aquisto didn’t have an ‘apprentice’ in the same way that D’Angelico did, so their art has unfortunately passed on from this world. Now they are just trade names to be slapped on guitars.
Jimmy was all about innovation and sound/tone refinement and enhancement. He was head and shoulders above John D’Angelico on this. His defining trademark was simplicity and clean, unobtrusive design and maximizing the tone to be had from wood. Jimmy will never be surpassed or even equalled in that regard. But, as it relates to guitar building in general terms John Monteleone is in a league all by himself. John Monteleone is today’s Jimmy D’Aquisto. John finished Jimmy’s last Centura. Jimmy was half way through it when he passed away. Jimmy’s family took it to John and said – “you are the only one that Jimmy would have wanted to touch his unfinished work“. Jimmy and John were best of friends and they learned much from each other.