This is an excerpt from the all-new MARCH/APRIL 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story and more photos, plus features on Billy Gibbons in Cuba, six decades of Gretsch guitars on display in Nashville, Texas chef and guitar aficionado Dean Fearing, the guitars of Ash’s Tim Wheeler, and our annual Motoring section featuring stories on the latest motorcycles and the vintage guitar and car collections of author Jonathan Kellerman, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.
CONTOURS D’ELEGANCE: When it comes to sexy curves, few things are more alluring than the guitars and cars in author Jonathan Kellerman’s collection.
By Chris Gill | Photos by Travis Shinn
Jonathan Kellerman is best known for his New York Times bestseller crime and psychological thriller novels, including the popular Alex Delaware series, which made its debut in the mid Eighties and now consists of 31 volumes after the release of Breakdown on February 2. Recently he also co-wrote two bestsellers with his son Jesse: The Golem of Hollywood and The Golem of Paris. However, Guitar Aficionado readers probably know Kellerman best for his gorgeously illustrated book on his museum-quality guitar collection, With Strings Attached: The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars. His impressive collection spans everything from several Antonio de Torres Spanish guitars from the 1800s to present-day masterpieces by John Monteleone and the Martin Custom Shop.
What many of Kellerman’s fans may not know is that his passion for exquisite automobiles is equal to his passion for fine guitars. And although his car collection may not be quite as voluminous as his guitar collection, it is notable for the both the quality and rarity of the vehicles, all of which Kellerman drives regularly.
“I’ve always loved cars,” Kellerman explains. “When I was a little kid growing up, I knew every make and model. I love the aesthetics of them, and I also love speed. I’ve always had interesting cars when I could afford them, and I’m particularly partial to Rolls-Royce and Bentley. My dad was an engineer, and when I was a kid I asked him what was the best car. He said, ‘Oh, definitely Rolls-Royce. They’re handmade and fantastic.’”
We asked Kellerman to pair some of his favorite guitars with his cars, and his choices further support the link between automotive and guitar design. “Function defines form to some extent,” he remarks, “especially with a performance car like a Ferrari or Porsche. How a car looks is often determined by how fast you want it to go. The guitar has evolved in a similar fashion—attempts to make it louder have led to exciting developments like Torres’s larger body dimensions, hollow-neck Weissenborns, Dobros with resonators, and dreadnoughts. There is a parallel process there.
“But what cars and guitars both have in common most of all is that they’re both functional art,” he continues. “It’s a natural wedding. A lot of people who love guitars also love cars because they both can be extremely beautiful objects.”
2006 Ferrari F430 Spider
1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard
“I’ve always loved Ferraris,” says Kellerman, “but a few years ago I was wondering if I was going to live my whole life without ever owning a Ferrari. I thought about it for about 20 seconds and went, ‘Nope!’ I started searching, and I decided to buy a 430. I prefer Ferraris made after 2005 because they are much more reliable. I use the automatic instead of the shifting paddles because it’s a better driver than I am! Somehow it anticipates curves and downshifts before you even get there. It’s so much fun to take on curvy roads.
“This Les Paul is clearly a ’59,” he continues, “but it looks like a 1960 because the sunburst finish has that brilliant red that doesn’t seem to fade. I thought it might be a late ’59, but I had Tim Kummer [of Kummer’s Vintage Instruments] out here to look at it. He looked at its serial number and features and determined that it was made earlier than that. He thought that maybe Gibson was experimenting with different finishes. The top has a lot of flame, and it has beautiful natural resonance that you can hear even when it’s unplugged. It’s a lovely guitar, and it’s dead mint.”
1954 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn sedan
Circa 1912–14 Knutsen 17-string harp guitar
This is the first Rolls we got,” says Kellerman. “My wife Faye bought it for me about 35 years ago. It’s a fairly rare car—Rolls made about 750 of them. It was the first standard steel-body Rolls, where they built the body themselves. Prior to World War II, most luxury cars were coach-built. Most of the Rolls-Royce Silver Dawns were built for export, so you see more examples with left-hand drive than right-hand drive. It’s one of the few cars where you don’t lose value if it is a right-hand drive car because they’re rare. It’s a post-war car with a pre-war look that always brings a smile to people’s faces.”
Kellerman chose this Knutsen harp guitar to pair with the Rolls because its black finish and reddish mahogany body matched the black and red paint of the Rolls. “The inky hue favored by Knutsen during the Teens, combined with the heavenly body inlays, recalls Orville Gibson’s turn-of-the-century creations,” he says. “The inlays also complement the chrome on the Rolls’ grill and hood ornament.”
2007 Bentley Azure
2000 Monteleone Radio City Malibu Sunset
“This Bentley is my daily driver,” Kellerman explains. “I’ll take it out on longer trips or when I’m taking my wife out. It has all the creature comforts. I don’t drive any of my cars a lot—I rotate them so they get driven regularly—so this one has only 30,000 miles on it, even though it’s a nine-year-old car. I love convertibles because I live in California where you can drive with the top down almost all year long, but most convertible bodies often lose their torsional rigidity. What Bentley did with the Azure is quite brilliant. They encased the entire chassis in a thin layer of carbon fiber to make it very strong and stable. Bentley only made about 700 of the second generation Azures. It’s a handmade car that was beautifully done and drives great.
“I paired this Monteleone Radio City Malibu Sunset with the Azure because they are both technologically advanced masterpieces of aesthetics,” Kellerman adds. “This is a gorgeous guitar that John built for me in 2000. I love it so much that I chose it for the cover of With Strings Attached. When it is played a certain way, it doesn’t sound like a traditional archtop guitar. It has unbelievable sustain that’s perfect for classical music, which is what I mostly play these days.”
1960 Bentley Continental Flying Spur
2011 Martin 000-28 VS Custom
“This is a really rare car,” Kellerman says. “The S2 Bentley Flying Spur, which Bentley made between 1959 and 1962, was their first car with a V-8 engine, and it’s considered one of the most elegant, beautifully designed cars ever. It served as the inspiration for the new Bentleys that they are building now. This is one of only three with a van Gerbig rear window, which is smaller than usual. When I decided to buy a Flying Spur this one came up, so I thought it would be good to get a rare one. It drives beautifully—very comfortable and quiet. These Bentleys are very reliable and will last for hundreds of thousands of miles.”
Next to the Bentley Flying Spur is a one-of-a-kind Martin 000-28 VS Custom that Martin’s Custom Shop built for Kellerman. “I was visiting Martin, and my wife suggested that I have Martin build me a guitar—she really is the perfect wife!” Kellerman says. “Chris Martin, Dick Boak, and Ed Golden built me one of the most beautiful guitars I’ve ever owned. I’ve always loved the sound of Martin’s 12-fret neck models, so I chose that design. Martin used their highest premium grade Adirondack spruce and Brazilian rosewood for it, and the inlay work is unique. I own dozens of pre-war Martins, but this is the best-sounding Martin I’ve ever played.”
This is a feature from the all-new MARCH/APRIL 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story and more photos, plus features on Billy Gibbons in Cuba, six decades of Gretsch guitars on display in Nashville, Texas chef and guitar aficionado Dean Fearing, the guitars of Ash’s Tim Wheeler, and our annual Motoring section featuring stories on the latest motorcycles, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.