Marco Roccia ~ 1902-87 Master Luthier
Terence (Terry) Usher, (front Left) Tutor of the guitar at the Royal Manchester College of Music, recitalist and broadcaster, composer and arranger of works for the guitar, and author of many articles on playing the guitar, recently compiled a paper for The Galpin Society in which he paid tribute to the genius of Marco Roccia.
“Most of the modern Luthiers have been content to copy the designs (fan strutting) of Torres, Enrique Garcia, Ramirez and other earlier makers whose designs are accepted as Standard. One British Luthier, however, Marco Roccia recommenced making Guitars after the 2nd World War by casting aside all preconceived ideas except those of body size & shape and, calling upon his experience in repairing 1000’s of old Guitars by all the world’s makers, began again on new lines.
The experiments included double cruciform and other unorthodox Barrings; barring found beneath the Soundboards of early square Pianos; barrings without uniformity of structure placed empirically where the Soundbox was proved to be under stress and variations of wood thickness of treble & bass sides of the belly & sides.”
Marco Roccia’s vast experience in not only repairing old instruments but also on his own accumulated knowledge gained from discovering where some of these instruments “fell down” in construction over the years. Marco – a Master Luthier who crafted some of the finest Guitars ever produced in England during the 20thC. Late of Clifford Essex & Co, London. ‘fountain of all knowledge’ regarding all things ‘fretted‘.
A P Sharpe (left) discusses a point of Guitar making with Marco Roccia in the Clifford Essex Workshop.
Albert Percy Sharpe, (1906-1965) born in London, was a Musician, Entrepreneur, Bandleader, a collector of Banjo data, a renowned collector of phonograph records, an expert on Hawaiian Music, a lover of the Spanish Guitar who did much to promote that instrument, a strong supporter of the tradition of workmanship of Classically Trained Guitar makers and, as the longest-serving Editor of the Clifford Essex House Magazine, Banjo-Mandolin-Guitar (hereafter, BMG), a journal published by Clifford Essex.
He was a critical force in the British music community.
Marco Roccia, maker of the Clifford Essex concert size Spanish Guitar was an Englishman born of Italian parents. He started his instrument-making Apprenticeship as a boy; first in his father’s workshops in Cassino, Italy, and later in Paris. He returned to the land of his birth in 1927, when he joined the Clifford Essex Co. and became one of the craftsmen who produced the many thousands of guitars (of all kinds) that bear this world-famous name. After demobilisation in 1945, Marco Roccia returned to his position with the Clifford Essex Music Co. and was solely responsible for all repair work to fretted instruments entrusted to this Company. In addition, he crafted some very beautiful instruments including the “concert size” Classical Guitars, Plectrum Guitars, Banjos and Mandolins, all of which were entirely hand made by this craftsman luthier, Marco remained with the Company for over 30 years.
Grande Bouche guitar made by Marco Roccia. who for years worked at Clifford Essex’s Shop in London. He was the “Specialist” in Gypsy Guitars, and is behind a lot of the conversions & repairs which took place at the Shop. this is his version of the Maccaferri Concert Classical. made of absolutely exquisite materials. Solid Rosewood back and sides, solid European Spruce to, Mahogany neck with an Ebony fingerboard, the top has one ancient crack repaired and very solid. fitted with a beautiful set of original classical SB Tuners. the Guitar plays & sounds outstanding.
Jon-Paul Roccia, Great Grandson of Marco Roccia, is desperate to purchase an original Marco Roccia Guitar for his father, can anyone help? It would make his world as he has tried before and failed on every avenue!
I’m pleased to see such a comprehensive website that mentions Louis Gallo (once my Guitar Teacher) and Marco Roccia. I noticed on the page about Marco that his great-grandson (Jon Paul) is looking for one of his Guitars. I have a D-hole Guitar that was made by Marco. I bought it from Louis Gallo over 35 years ago, when I was his Pupil and I have kept it well for years. It’s a beautiful Instrument – a testament to its maker – a be just the thing he is looking for. – Joseph
Would it be possible for you send me a few more detailed photographs of it’s front, back, sides & headstock? You also state that it would need extensive restoration, Would you be able to elaborate on what would be required. I have a Clifford Essex “Ace” model from the early 30s which is a lovely little Guitar to play so I am always looking out for any other of their models from this era. – Marc
I noticed with interest your advert for the Clifford Essex Paragon guitar (Above). I also have one of these. Mine was also built in the 1920s by Marco Roccia, and it has a serial number of 159 on the Label. I bought it about 40 years ago, and I have never used it, as I have a Zemaitis Guitar which I am very happy with. It has, therefore, remained in a cupboard ever since. I am now moving house and wish to sell it and I wondered if it might be of any interest to you, or if you could advise me of its likely value and how might be best for me to sell it. I trust that I may look forward to hearing further from you in this connection in due course. I attach herewith a couple of photos of the guitar for your information. Mike S
Bracing – Diagrams of types of fan strutting used by famous luthiers
Most of the modern Luthiers had been content to copy the designs (fan strutting) of Torres, Enrique Garcia, Ramirez and other earlier makers whose designs were accepted as standard, however, Marco Roccia recommenced making Guitars after WW2 by casting aside all pre-conceived ideas except those of body size, shape and calling upon his experience in repairing 1,000s of old Guitars by all the world’s makers, began again on new lines. The experiments included double cruciform and other unorthodox Barrings; barring based on that found beneath the Soundboards of early square pianos; barrings without uniformity of structure placed empirically where the soundbox was proved to be under stress and variations of wood thickness of treble and bass sides of the belly and sides.”
Marco Roccia gained vast experience in not only repairing old instruments but on his own accumulated knowledge from discovering where some of these instruments “failed” in construction over the years, He being solely responsible for all repair work to Fretted instruments entrusted to the Clifford Essex Company
David Hodson Barring
Louis Gallo Guitarist
Louis Gallo was a respected Guitar player, Teacher & Composer. He was one of the 1st Guitar Players in London to acknowledge Eddie Lang’s Plectrum Guitar Music. He dedicated original Guitar Solo’s to this style. He also wrote many other Compositions for Plectrum Guitar & Fingerstyle. Louis was a great Teacher & expert on all things Django. He was also a great friend of Mario Maccaferri and did much to promote the 1970’s CSL Maccaferri remakes. These were the brainchild of Maurice Summerfield, produced by Ibanez and approved by Maccaferri himself. The early models are much sought after instruments. Louis son Ray has some photographs of his father with Mario Maccaferri which may soon be available. These have not been published before! In addition, Louis was a big friend of the Luthier, Marco Roccia who worked for Clifford Essex Music Shop in London. It was Marco who made ‘Selmers‘ from remaining parts available when the Selmer Guitar Factory closed. Louis Gallo & Marco went to France to buy sundry parts Stock amongst other Luthiers who urgently sought after the Selmer residues.
Having seen Bert Niblett‘s ‘Selmer’ 1st-hand several times, played it and talked to Bert about it, I believe that it is a genuine Selmer, date of manufacture not known to me. The Tuners, label (with M M’s name blacked out in accordance with Selmer Company practice), Tailpiece, Headstock ‘Selmer’ Mark are certainly all genuine & appropriately aged. The back, ribs and the neck also look certainly very old and do not appear to have been interfered with. Only the Table (Soundboard), with its orange finish looks as though it has been made over. According to the Francois Charle Book, all of Roccia‘s rebuilds were labelled accordingly with an additional Marco Roccia Label – he was not in the Business of producing ‘Fakes’. For all these reasons, I believe Bert’s Selmer Petite Bouche is as near genuine as it gets. I never saw Bert’s Grande Bouch Selmer Maccaferri.
Clifford Essex D Hole – Marco Roccia – Inst No. MG26548 (MG – Maccaferri Guitar Feb 1965 No.48)
My Guitar is a Clifford Essex 1962 D-hole made by Marco Roccia (no MG46238 – April 62 No.38), and is constructed from the outcome of the purchasing mission made by Marco & Louis Gallo to Paris to acquire Selmer Guitar parts – I’ve spoken with Ray Gallo about this event. I bought it new from CE’s, spending much of the Summer & Autumn of 62 at the Shop trying it out – Chris Spedding (I’ve been in touch with him lately) was the shop assistant in those days and recalls Marco building the Guitar and the dispute between Marco & A P Sharpe as to if it was to be the 12th fret or 14th fret to the body – Sharpe prevailed and correctly for a D-hole it’s at the 12th. Marco had wanted a D-hole but with the benefits of the 14th position. – Alan Brace
My CE Guitars are a Marco Macca no MG46238 (bought new in 62 and a result of the Gallo/Roccia Paris buying visit), and his Spanish no 85423 (bought Easter 2011), and a pre-War no 203 – a flat-top acoustic.
This last one I’m checking out with Clem Vickery at CE. I think it’s c.1930 by reference to No.186, which is noted as a Marco of 1930; my 203 is plainer in appearance, has no pick- guard, but like No.186 has similar Neck position markers, metal floating Tailpiece and its number stamped on the back of the Headstock. It may not be a Marco production; it has the metal badge on the back though as Clifford Essex & Son at Grafton Street which was the Badge used for the years 1919 to (after which the Firm became and badged itself “Ltd”). It’s been used in Dublin for recordings with Sinead O’Connor, amongst others. Marco – he died in Lambeth (per its death registry) in 1987, can’t trace his date nor place of birth. As he returned to the UK and joined CE in 1927 his D.O.B. was 1902. His retirement was in 1977. The post-War numbering I did not fully understand – the Guitar No. (i.e. the last 2 digits) – this latest sale info tells me that the last 2 are issued when the Guitar’s manufacture was started and the month/year No.s were given when it was finished: hence No.48 was finished before No.47 in this case. Previously I’d thought the production No. was given at the end of manufacture. regards,- Alan
My wife (Marco Roccia‘s niece and her guardian) was most impressed by your article concerning her uncle and thanks you. She spent many years observing his work in their home in North Brixton and remembers visits from John Williams and Julian Bream. In the 60’s I had the effrontery to present Marco with a very indifferent guitar of mine which he transformed into something unrecognisable and a delight to play. My wife vaguely remembers him making an appearance on children’s TV; does anybody reading your site remember this? Incidentally, I am a big Manouche fan but it wasn’t until we moved to France that I discovered Birelli Lagrene and had the privilege to see him live. Unforgettable. – Chris & Rosemarie
1960 – “Clifford Essex” (name of the Music Shop I worked at in London when I left School – guy’s name was Marco Roccia) to replace the Fingerboard with a new Ebony one.
Theodore Bickel, an early folk singer who came to give a concert at Ketchikan High School around 1954 played a Clifford Essex Guitar. The company made Classicals, and I remember being struck by the yellowed appearance of Theodore’s Guitar. It was varnished and I had only seen paler-coloured lacquer finishes (so far as blond finishes were concerned) on Guitars. I saw this book in 1960, ‘Make your own Spanish Guitar‘ by A P Sharpe and though it was only about 1/8″ thick, it showed the use of the bending iron and some other things I had no previous knowledge of. This was indeed gold!
…..there was a mandolin maker/repairer called Marco Roccia who lived in Brixton when I knew him which is not all that far from Sydenham and he used to work for Clifford Essex….
The Clifford Essex ‘Special Order’ in tiger maple and spruce was made sometime in the 1950’s by Marco Roccia
I have recently acquired a Clifford Essex Paragon Guitar which I believe must be from the late 1920′s and most probably made by Marco Roccia. It sat in its original Case in the Attic of a friend since 1959 and was in a fairly sorry state. I’ve now restored it and it plays like new. I’ve spent the last 2 months trying to find out about the Company and have now managed to piece together their History from a variety of sources. One of which was CE Paragon 102 which has a very similar 1930‘s Paragon Guitar in its museum credited to Marco Roccia. I also managed to track down a back issue of ‘Acoustic Guitar magazine’ reviewing the same Guitar in it’s classic gear section, in which it states that the number 102 on the headstock implies it might be only the 2nd produced. My Guitar has a slightly different ‘simpler’ Paragon Logo and has number 70 on the Headstock leading me to believe it was made some years earlier. I don’t know how significant this maybe seeing as only a handful of Guitars were believed to have been produced by the Company. See Photos below. Hope this is of interest. Peter Saunders.
Clifford Essex Paragon Guitar – I’ve owned a spectacular Clifford Essex ‘Special Order’ for many years that is tiger maple and spruce and made sometime in the 1950′s by Marco Roccia. I was interested about your reference to a ‘James Bond Guitar, er Almost’ that was on Ebay with a ‘buy it now’ price of $15,500 to which you made the comment, Give Me a Break?”. I took my chances and lug mine to the NAMM show several years ago in Anaheim to get some feedback. Each time I opened the case a crowd formed with lots of Ooohs & Ahhhs. One gentleman who asked to buy it referred me to an older gentleman sitting not far from George Lowden’s display. He said he was a retired Luthier from France and when I asked him if he could help me get an insurance appraisal for my Guitar, he took it in hand, gave it a look and a strum and said “Priceless”. He said that he almost certainly knew the man who made it, one Marco Roccia, with whom he had worked with at Selmer in France. I showed him the piece of paper that was in the Guitar besides the Clifford Essex Music label, which simply said ‘Special Order M.R.’ He said that was certainly his friend Marco Roccia, and that I would likely find the same initials inside on the back of the top of the Guitar, which was how he signed his Instruments. When I pressed him to put a value on paper for me he said the instrument was one of very few ever made (well under 100 total) and couldn’t be replaced. He said it was easily as valuable as an early Super 400 (which I have one of) and I told him that I had an old appraisal from a former Gibson Luthier for $20,000, and he said, ‘that won’t touch it, because you’ll never find another like it, especially with the woods, workmanship and the headstock inlays.” So, is $15,500 really off the wall? The link to that sale no longer exists, so there is no way to see the instrument, so maybe it was a roach, but still, they are quite rare and it least mine is very well made and is quite a sound cannon.
Vic Flick’s Paragon De Luxe
Clifford Essex Paragon Acoustic Guitar,
Attributed to the Luthier Marco Roccia No.186 – 1930,
Hello, – Thanks for an informative and in-depth article. I own a CE Paragon guitar which my dad bought for me when I was 13, for £12 in 1958, and until now I have not managed to find such useful information. It’s a beautiful instrument, good wide neck which kids these days cant handle. I wore the neck and back white with use. It went all around the world with me, Trad. USA Folk Songs, of black & white cultures. I had it renovated and now use it for old trad blues/slide, tuned to C#., great sound. – cheers Gordon T
Teresa Roccia Says:- Marco Roccia was my Grandfather – and I have a superb specimen of a totally unique instrument that he made – I am not sure what to do with it as it sits in my cupboard – should I loan it to a museum or sell it to a Collector who will cherish it forever?
Marco‘s daughter ( Gilda Roccia ) my grandmother – Alfie Pyne – Great Grandson.
Thank you , It was a really good & interesting read, however there is a bit relating to my great cousin Teresa Roccia owning one of Marcos Guitars that she may be willing to sell .. This I know personally not to be true as we have regular contact. I would be very interested in the Jazz Guitar that I saw if a genuine Marco made Guitar.
Thank you for your reply if there is any questions you have relating to this matter feel free to ask I am currently living with Marcos daughter (Gilda) & grandson (John David) so a wealth of knowledge around Marco’s life is available. – Kind regards Alfie (very proud great-grandson)
I just bought a lovely Umberto Ceccherini Mandolin – c 1895 – which, in addition to the “atelier’s” label, carries a CE repair label dated at 20.4.1977 and signed by Marco Roccia – a lovely instrument and I’m very pleased to now have a “repair” instrument relating to Marco. – Allan B
A ‘photograph’ of the Clifford Essex Concert Size Spanish Guitar
Construction and mounting of the Bending ‘Iron’. It should be borne in mind that, in use, the brass tube is not ‘iron’ which would mark the wood.
People would bring him Martins, Lacotes & Panormos.
Marco recalls repairing a few Torres and other famous Guitars. ” In those days the Torres was known as the Stradivarius of the Guitar. Next to that was the Martin, a marvellous Guitar. The only fault was the Fingerboard used to give, but when you made a new Fingerboard, then the Guitar lasted practically forever. Simplicio, Santos Hernandez, Yacopi, Hernandez, Fernandez – they were all great Guitars. Julian Bream had a Martin, it was his 1st Guitar. He was a kid then and his father brought it in. I believe I gave that one a new Fingerboard too, and I remember the Bridge was coming off, so I might have made a new one. That Martin was the Guitar he played his Wigmore Hall debut on.”
Before the War, every time Segovia came to London he would come to Clifford Essex to have his Guitar put in order by Marco. He recalls “Segovia was very friendly with Mr Clifford Essex. In those days the Office was in Bond Street and the Workshop at the Oval. Mr Clifford Essex Jr used to bring the Guitars down about twice a week in a Taxi. I repaired Segovia’s Hauser 3 or 4 times. either re-fretting or giving it a new Saddle.”
Marco Roccia retired in 1977 when Clifford Essex’s famous establishment in Earlham Street closed down.
For years Marco used to meet his lifelong friend, Louis Gallo, regularly each Friday lunchtime at the ‘Italian’. Louis tells us that he will miss his old pal and that goes for a lot of other people too.