In the Internet Age, it's often hard to come across an instrument or a guitar builder that isn't known. With one quick Google search, you can find almost anything. But every now and then, something unique, special, and relatively undiscovered can reveal itself. In this case, it's an instrument that came to us right from our own backyard.
We're thrilled with the rare opportunity to present this one-owner custom built 1967 Albanus archtop.
Carl Albanus Johnson, famed 20th Century violin maker, started building archtop guitars in the Chicago area in the 1950s following a surge of demand in a booming archtop market. Local artists soon came to Carl for custom made guitars, and after establishing himself as a guitar maker, his instruments became recognized in the high end jazzbox world alongside the likes of Stromberg and D'Angelico. Carl continued to build custom guitars through the 1970s, albeit with an incredibly low output. It's estimated that Carl built fewer than 75 guitars over the span of his career, so seeing one in the wild is quite a rare event.
This example hailing from 1967 was custom built for Massachusetts jazz musician Louis Pelaggi. Louis was a full-time working musician in and around the Boston area for decades, and forged a close friendship with guitar icon Joe Pass. Louis had a penchant for quality guitars, including an old Gibson Barney Kessel model and a Guild Johnny Smith. According to his family, the Albanus would end up being his most prized instrument, and rightfully so! Let's dig into what this guitar is all about...
With it's 17" lower bout and 3" deep body, the Albanus is representative of many of the classic and popular archtop dimensions of its day. It's reminiscent of a Gibson L5 silhouette in some ways, with a slightly shorter overall body length. The hand carved violin-grade spruce and maple is absolutely gorgeous, and is highlighted by the hand-applied nitrocellulose finish that has aged beautifully. It's estimated that Carl used old-growth sets of maple destined for cello and viola builds on his guitars, and one look at the guitar would certainly make one assume that. The lightly faded cherry sunburst also highlights the figure perfectly.
While not overly ornate, this Albanus does share a striking and elevated aesthetic akin to an L5, with a multi-ply bound body, fingerboard, headstock, and pickguard. Block pearl inlays are inlaid over a rich, dark ebony fingerboard, while more pearl inlays are accented throughout in the bridge, tailpiece, headstock, and truss rod cover.
The shorter 24 3/4" scale is super comfortable combined with a medium-full C neck carve that's reminiscent of a '63/'64 Gibson profile. A slightly wider 1 3/4" nut width allows for effortless chordal work and smooth single note melodic lines alike. The Dearmond Rhythm Chief single-coil pickup - a now classic floating archtop pickup- captures the great acoustic qualities of the instrument, providing nice chime and definition.
This Albanus is the definition of high-end small shop builder during a period where Gibsons, Epiphones, and Guilds ruled the roost. If you want a handmade instrument with premium woods, unparalleled build quality, and the tonal power that can go toe-to-toe with some of the most legendary archtops of our day, look no further.
Condition: Very Good+. This instrument has been fabulously maintained all its life by the original owner. It's very well set up and plays great. As is common with instruments of this vintage, older style binding material can often shrink and often crack over time. Luckily, while much of the binding on the instrument has shrunken, it is all intact and relatively stable. Our local luthier/tech did re-glue some of the separated binding edges and seams on the fingerboard and on the perimeter of the pickguard, so playability is not affected. Despite its appearance, the binding is quite stable and does not show signs of advancing beyond its current state. Very little fretwear and general play wear. It comes in the original hardshell case along with letters from Carl Johnson to Mr. Pelaggi for instrument build, payment, and completion correspondence.
Price includes original Lifton hardshell case.