Time Traveler: My Interdonati Archtop

A remarkable story about a remarkable guitar.
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Andy Fuch’s Interdonati archtop
 that he learned to play on.

Andy Fuch’s Interdonati archtop  that he learned to play on.

I grew up in a middle-class working family. My parents met through music and opened a music store shortly before I was born in Queens, New York. They were working musicians who played club dates on weekends in the ’50s and ’60s, and I was raised on Long Island at my family’s summer home by my great aunt and uncle and my grandparents. The family was first-generation Italian, and had a small piece of land in Rocky Point. On the block were many Italian immigrant families. It seemed everyone was your “aunt” or “uncle,” whether related or not, and the smell of Italian cooking and the sound of Italian music was in the air. We were a block from the North Shore, so when I wasn’t at the beach, I was trying to learn “Pipeline” from my slightly older cousin Kenneth, or playing Italian folk songs with my uncle Pat, who lived next door.

Philip Interdonati at work on a keyboard.

Philip Interdonati at work on a keyboard.

Pat was loosely connected to my family by some thread I never fully understood. He was a lifelong bachelor who owned fine clothes, dated lovely women, and drove a cool car—I loved his 1960 T-bird. He also played guitar and mandolin. While my mom was a well-schooled guitarist (she studied with John Vicari, who taught John Tropea and played in the movie The Godfather), mom was often busy gigging and teaching others. She did teach me to count “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin, but I mainly learned what I could about playing guitar from Alfred or Standard guitar method books at Dad’s store and from uncle Pat, who owned some nice toys: an Ampeg Reverberocket, a Standel bass amp, a Hagstrom bass, as well as a very unique archtop guitar that I learned to accompany him on.

The guitar was custom made in New York City in 1938 by an Italian immigrant builder named Philip Interdonati. When my uncle passed away in the 1980s, my cousin Kenneth quickly cleaned out all his musical equipment and the guitar vanished somewhere in Florida. A few years ago, the guitar came to mind after finding some home-cut 78s that uncle Pat and my mom recorded many years ago. I had them transferred to CD, and while listening to them, I started searching on Google and found an article that a West-Coast guitarist named Tony Marcus had written about this exact guitar. I contacted him and explained how I knew the instrument, and that my uncle’s name would be on the paper sticker inside, and sure enough it was!

(Left) A beautiful engraved brass headstock plate adorns the 1938 archtop. To the right is an Interdonati mandolin and an interior label
 signed by the builder.

(Left) A beautiful engraved brass headstock plate adorns the 1938 archtop. To the right is an Interdonati mandolin and an interior label  signed by the builder.

Tony was willing to sell it to me, since it was a family heirloom. A guitar on which I became a guitar player had come home. After not seeing it for almost 40 years, I had tears in my eyes when I opened the case to behold its unique beauty. There is little online about the builder Philip Interdonati. He was a tool-and-die maker by trade, and also made furniture as well as musical instruments. He made less than 50 stringed-instruments, including a few unique scalloped-fingerboard guitars, some archtops, as well as many ornate mandolins and violins. He also sold tools and fixtures to John D’Angelico. Through the wonder of the Internet, I came to know some of his relatives, and learned that after Philip passed away, D’Angelico purchased his shop fixtures and wood stockpile.

The instrument has maple back and sides, a paper-thin spruce top, an ebony fingerboard with mother-of-pearl inlays, a fixed steel-reinforcement rod and a mahogany neck. The builder’s name is on a beautifully engraved brass plate on the headstock. The tuners and tailpiece are the same as D’Angelico used from the period. Guitar builder Ric McCurdy set it up when I first got it. He told me the guitar features scalloped bracing, which was common to Martin guitars from that period. The guitar is very lightweight, and it has a loud and clear voice. It is unique for the time in that it’s an archtop with a round soundhole instead of conventional f-holes, although I have seen pictures of this model with f-holes as well.

Interdonati mandolin

Interdonati mandolin

I showed the guitar to Rudy Pensa from Rudy’s Music in NYC who was impressed with the tone and workmanship, and said he was surprised he had never heard of this fine builder before. At one time the guitar had a DeArmond pickup and a black Bakelite pickguard, which have been lost to time. I hope to make a replacement pickguard at some point.

The guitar holds a place in my heart and my music room. I often play it late at night, and I always enjoy its beautiful tones and how it reminds me of my uncle Pat and my youth on Long Island.

Andy Fuchs is the founder of Fuchs Audio Technology, a maker of high-end guitar amplifiers, speaker cabinets, and the Plush line of effects pedals.