By Chris Gill | Photography by Massimo Gammacurta
In this magazine we’ve often talked about guitars as objects of art and discussed the influence of automotive design on the guitar. But never have we seen those two ideals brought together as dazzlingly as they are on this custom Art Series archtop guitar made by luthier Mark Lacey.
One of today’s premier archtop builders (Lacey was among the handful of luthiers that Scott Chinery commissioned for his “Blue Guitars” project in the late Nineties), Lacey has made numerous stunning guitars over the years, including impressive flattops and semi-solid electrics. Over the past few years, he started offering his Art Series guitars to provide discriminating players “something truly unique and personal to add to their collections.” The Lacey Delahaye Roadster is the result of collaboration between Lacey and collector Don Fisher from Portland, Oregon.
Aesthetically, this guitar’s inspiration is a 1937 Delahaye 135MS Roadster that both viewed at the Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles exhibit at Nashville’s Frist Center. The tailpiece is based on the Delahaye’s front grille, the pickguard mimics the curves of the car’s front fenders, the fingerboard inlays depict the car’s side engine vents and dashboard knobs, the soundholes are shaped like the hood ornament, and a headstock ornament reproduces the look of its distinctive door handles. The tailpiece and headstock ornament were custom crafted using metal 3-D printing and CNC fabrication, respectively.
The guitar’s sonic inspiration comes courtesy the beautiful decades-old Brazilian rosewood that Fisher supplied Lacey and was used for the back and sides. Lacey finished the back and sides with clear coats of nitrocellulose lacquer to preserve the rosewood’s phenomenal natural color and grain patterns, but the Sitka spruce top has a black nitro finish to complement the custom chrome-plated hardware, anodized brushed aluminum pickguard, and vintage DeArmond floating pickup while also further enhancing the guitar’s auto-like styling. The neck is Honduran mahogany with a rosewood center stripe and features an ebony fingerboard, 25 1/4–inch scale, 1 11/16-–inch nut width, and 22 frets.
Understated art deco style abounds, from the piston-shaped aluminum volume and tone knobs mounted on the floating pickguard to the chrome Grover Imperial 150C tuners with Thirties-style stair-step buttons. Flame-figured maple binding surrounds the top, back, fingerboard, and headstock, and the same figured maple embellishes the outer curve of the pickguard. The fingerboard inlay, made from various types of shell and brass, is an elegant work of art unto itself.
Lacey spent more than a year building this guitar, and that shows, not only in the meticulous craftsmanship, attention to detail, and comfortable playability but also in its sublime tone, powerful volume projection, and majestic resonance and sustain. Fisher strung this guitar with roundwound strings, so the characteristic archtop percussive “cut” is more aggressive than what you’d get from flatwounds and the overall tone is brighter. The Brazilian rosewood back and sides also give the guitar a wider frequency range than a maple archtop, resulting in tone that’s less midrange-focused and more balanced across the entire range.
This one-of-a-kind guitar is a prime example of the innovation and vision of today’s most talented archtop builders. Most independent archtop luthiers build their guitars to individual specifications, but Lacey’s Art Series takes that practice to an entirely new dimension of customization. While vintage archtops certainly have their appeal and will always be considered collectible and valuable, Lacey’s Art Series guitars are modern masterpieces that give guitar players and collectors a chance to make their own contribution to guitar history.
PRICE $35,000 as shown; prices vary according to specs, materials, etc.
Lacey Guitars, laceyguitars.com
ARTS & CRAFTS: Mark Lacey discusses the concept and construction of his Art Series masterpiece.
Why did you choose the Delahaye over other cars as inspiration for this guitar?
The exhibition at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville featured 20 Art Deco cars built by various manufacturers. I spent two days wandering around taking photographs and pondering which car could best be adapted to an archtop guitar. I kept coming back to the 1937 Delahaye 135MS Roadster when I realized that the front grille would make an excellent choice for the tailpiece. I wanted to keep the design fairly simple and incorporate some other features from the car without compromising the sound. In the end, the Delahaye just seemed the right choice.
How did the woods that Don Fisher provided inspire the design?
At first I was a little apprehensive when Don approached me with the idea of building an archtop guitar from some very old Brazilian rosewood he had acquired, as I had no idea how it might sound. He visited Nashville and we discussed various themes for the guitar. I suggested the car exhibition. Don liked the concept and allowed me to choose which car. I was pleasantly surprised with the overall tone of the instrument and think the choice of features I included from the car work quite well visually.
Do you prefer to collaborate with customers or express your own artistic freedom with your Art Series guitars?
When discussing ideas for my Art Series guitars, I definitely prefer some input from the client. Yet at the same time I like to be given some flexibility. Often these projects take time to evolve and should not be rushed. It is paramount that both the client and I are completely satisfied, and I try to provide several ideas and adaptations before committing to a final design. Most important to me is that no matter how ornate, the guitar still functions perfectly as a musical instrument.