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Metropolitan Museum of Art Guitar Heroes Exhibition Features Extraordinary Instruments Created by Three Legendary Modern-day Master Craftsmen

Three New York master luthiers, renowned for their hand-carved stringed instruments—particularly their archtop guitars, which have been sought after by many of the most important guitarists of the last century—will be the subject of Guitar Heroes: Legendary Craftsmen from Italy to New York, on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from February 9 through July 4, 2011. Featuring the extraordinary guitars of John D’Angelico, James D’Aquisto, and John Monteleone, this unprecedented exhibition of approximately 80 musical instruments will focus on the work of these modern-day master craftsmen and their roots in a long tradition of stringed instrument-making that has thrived for more than 400 years and that was first brought to New York from Italy around the turn of the 20th century.

The exhibition is made possible in part by Mr. and Mrs. Richard L. Chilton, Jr.

The work of Italian luthiers, or makers of stringed instruments, has been highly desired since the 16th century, when lute makers in cities such as Venice and violin makers in places like Cremona supplied instruments for many of the most important personages in Europe. In subsequent centuries, makers such as the famed Antonio Stradivari continued this tradition. Stradivari, best known for his violins, built a great variety of stringed instruments, including both mandolins and guitars, one of which will be on loan to the exhibition.

By the end of the 18th century, Naples had become the dominant center for stringed-instrument production on the Italian peninsula, with makers there introducing innovations to both the mandolin and guitar. Later, in the decades around the turn of the 20th century, many skilled luthiers from southern Italy moved to New York as part of the mass immigration of the time. These makers set up workshops throughout the region, building traditional-style violins, guitars, and most importantly, mandolins, which experienced a tremendous popularity in America from the 1890s to the 1920s.

A change in musical tastes by the late 1920s meant that many Italian-American luthiers were suddenly forced out of business, but the young John D’Angelico was among a small group who were able to transition to building archtop guitars, an instrument that combined elements of violin construction (carved top, f-holes) with the guitar, based on the models being produced at the time by the Gibson Guitar Company. The archtop guitar was especially popular with jazz musicians in the days before the electric guitar. D’Angelico quickly built a reputation for his high-quality, beautifully constructed guitars. The tradition was carried forward by his apprentice James D’Aquisto, and continues today with the work of the famed mandolin and guitar maker John Monteleone.

Instruments by these makers have been used by some of the most influential guitar players of the 20th century through the present day, including Chet Atkins, Les Paul, George Benson, Paul Simon, Steve Miller, Mark Knopfler, Jim Hall, and Grant Green, among others. Guitar Heroes will present more than 50 works by these makers, many of which have been owned by some of these guitar greats. The works will be placed against the backdrop of the Museum’s extensive collection, which includes masterpieces of Italian and Italian-American construction, showing the place of the modern-day masters in this long tradition.

The exhibition is organized by Jayson Kerr Dobney, Associate Curator and Administrator in the Department of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum. Exhibition design is by Michael Lapthorn, Exhibition Designer; graphics are by Sue Koch, Graphic Design Manager; and lighting is by Clint Ross Coller and Richard Lichte, Lighting Design Managers, all of the Metropolitan Museum’s Design Department.

An app, the Museum’s first, has been conceived to complement and augment the exhibition. Through collaborations with musicians and experts, the app brings to life the guitar makers’ creative process and celebrates the enduring relevance of these instruments. It features Museum-commissioned musical performances expressly designed for this exhibition, artist interviews, and rarely seen archival video footage. Among the notables of the guitar world whose voices and performances can be heard in the app are Chet Atkins, George Benson, Grant Green, Bob Grillo, Jim Hall, Mary Kaye, Mark Knopfler, Woody Mann, Steve Miller, Jeffrey Mironov, Barry Mitterhoff, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Django Reinhardt. This dynamic multimedia guide to the exhibition, which has been developed by the Metropolitan Museum’s Digital Media Department, can be downloaded free from iTunes. It will also be available for rental on iTouch devices in the Museum’s galleries ($7, $6 for Members, $5 for children under 12).

The multimedia tour is made possible by The Jonathan & Faye Kellerman Foundation.

The Audio Guide program is made possible by Bloomberg.

Many of the app’s multimedia features, including longer excerpts of the performances and commentary—will be available in an extensive Guitar Heroes feature on the Museum’s website at

Two related concerts will be held in the Museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium: Steve Miller & Friends: Celebrating the Jazz Guitar (February 12), in which Steve Miller will be joined by two of the jazz world’s most renowned guitarists, Jim Hall and Howard Alden; and the John Pizzarelli Quartet (March 31), one of today’s foremost guitarists and his jazz ensemble. Tickets are available at, 212-570-3949, or the box office in the Museum’s Great Hall.

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