Fabrizio Paoletti began building guitars in the Tuscany region of Italy in 2005. He constructed his first instrument—a triple-single-coil solidbody with an alder body and a sunburst finish—at the request of a friend. The finished product, he recalls, was “not so bad.”
Today, he continues to build instruments under the name Paoletti Guitars, with results that are not only quite stunning, but also wholly unique. In an innovative twist, his guitars and basses feature bodies constructed from the wood of century-old chestnut wine barrels—a nod to his family history, as the Paolettis have been producing Chianti in the region since the 19th century (Fabrizio’s father still operates a small local vineyard).
“My guitars pay reverence to both my passion for the land and my love of all things musical,” says Paoletti. “The first time I came across this idea about repurposing wine barrels, I was with Maurizio Solieri, one of the most famous musicians in Italy. He suggested we test the sound of chestnut on his own Paoletti custom guitar. The result was amazing, so I started to recover all the barrels my grandfather had left to my family. I’m talking about 130- to 150-year-old chestnut wood from abandoned wine barrels in Tuscany—what we call ‘Leonardo da Vinci land.’”
Paoletti employs this ancient wood in all his builds, most notably for his flagship Stratospheric Wine Series.
“Chestnut is alive—it breathes,” he says. “It’s a wood that brings a high number of harmonics, which I think is something that is very important, and it is also the king of sustain. There is a focus on middle-bass frequencies, but the tone is also malleable, depending on the other woods used in the guitar.”
In the case of the HSS model shown here, these other woods include a Honduras mahogany neck and a Macassar ebony fretboard, each of which Paoletti says is matched to the specific piece of chestnut used for the guitar’s body. Other features include Gotoh tuners, an original Floyd Rose tremolo, two custom-wound Paoletti Strato 60s single-coils, and a Rock II humbucker.
“The pickups are completely handmade here in the factory, using components that work perfectly with chestnut wood,” says Paoletti. “We also use Alnico V magnets, as well as a double-waxing process to prevent ‘bad’ noises.”
The pickups are controlled by a 5-way selector switch, as well as a trio of knobs (one Volume, two Tone) that have been fashioned from shotgun shells from the Italian ammunition company, Fiocchi.
The shotgun shells are hardly the only pieces of eye candy on the HSS. Paoletti tops the instrument with a richly-hued brass pickguard.
“We treat the brass with different acids and water temperatures to obtain different reflections and finishes,” he says. “Brass gives a great look on the guitars, and it also protects the pickup assembly underneath, and helps in controlling noise.”
Then, there are the roughly 30 brass nails that outline the top and front of the guitar’s body. “They’re reminiscent of the nails used on wine barrels to hold the wood pieces together,” explains Paoletti.
Paoletti hand builds all his instruments, working alongside a team of three in a small shop in Montemurlo, just north of Florence. Despite the small operation and modest output, his guitars have found their way into the hands of numerous high-profile artists, such as Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen, Richie Sambora, Europe’s John Norum (an official endorser), and Brian May.
“Brian noticed the astonishing tone of chestnut after 30 seconds of playing, even though we didn’t explain the properties of the wood to him,” says Paoletti. “I am honored by all the feedback from these guitarists, which is so very important to me. Their appreciation is confirmation of the quality and passion we put into our work.”
While Paoletti continues to develop new products and designs—he offers instruments featuring bodies wrapped in various leathers, for one—the common denominator, he says, is always chestnut.
“The Wine series of guitars has been, and still is, an innovation,” he says, “It features a wood that nobody in the world has ever used in making musical instruments. The basic idea is to let the wood, with all its unique veins and characteristics, express itself. The signs of time are well-marked on each instrument, and every Paoletti guitar has its own story to tell.”
> Paoletti Wine Series HSS $3,630 (retail price); includes full-warranty service, guitar case, and a certificate of authenticity. paolettiguitars.com