Sunday, September 25, 2005

Huntington's Stradivari: Jesselli Guitars

There's an article in the Long Island section of the Sunday NYT about the way cool creations of Huntington artisan Joseph Jesselli of Jesselli Guitars, dubbed the Stradivari of Huntington.

According to the NYT, Jesselli "obsessively" handcreates a few guitars per year. Each of them take 5 to 6 months to make. He uses wood that he's had for at least 10 years, with incredible attention to detail and craftsmanship. The pieces are hand carved, crafted or tooled. 

They start at $20k or so per. The Stones Keith RIchards owns one. Alan Rogan, The Who's guitar technician, called them the "Best guitars ever made.

The article is not on line, but here are some of Jesselli's work:

click for larger photo


Note how the case and tools (above) match the guitar (below)

The Nouveau model is carved "in the round." The lines of the instrument can be traced from front to back. This gives the impression that the guitar is one finely-crafted whole, rather than a series of constituant parts. The result is the organic look typified by the Art Nouveau style. Take note of the ported back plate; rimmed in gold and held in place by twenty-two micro bolts.


The Modernaire: cutting-edge appearance executed in a turn-of-the-century art style.


The Sound Lenz (below) walks the line between being an acoustic and electric:


The full gallery of his creations are on line here.


Huntington's Stradivari
Brian Fidelman
NYT, Sunday, Spetember 25, 2005
Long Island section (not on line)

Jesselli Guitars

Posted at 12:51 PM in Art & Design, Music | Permalink


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Joseph Jesselli makes the best guitars!! These are true works of art!

Posted by: Justin Andrews | Oct 9, 2005 8:35:13 PM

Although I'm a bit biased, Uncle Joe crafts some phenominal guitars. Aesthetics aside, they sound awesome. Just whatever you do, don't eat the last of his ice cream sandwiches.

Posted by: Anthony | Oct 31, 2005 10:39:35 AM

It might interest you to know, there is another guitar maker out there, Brian Williams, a Zimbabwean, who makes about 3 - 4 guitars a year out of only the finest African materials. It was a while ago now, but Paul Simon bought one. They really are fantastic, there's no link to find them though.

Many craftsmen are the same, there are other people out there who will make only a few surfboards a year.


Posted by: Toby Lloyd | Apr 13, 2006 5:06:38 PM

I canyou about this great guitar craftsman that I used to know. His name was Joey Jesselli.

When I first met him, he was living in Huntington with his wife and kids. His living room was his workshop, so needless to say, his apartment was one of the dirtiest places I have ever been, but it never seemed to matter to me because he was one of the most amazing people I have ever met. He had that sort of charisma that you find in a handful of people throughout your lifetime. He was also a perfectionist, and I have seen him buff a single screw interminably because it wasnt shiny enough yet.

Joe Jesselli had an interesting professional lineage. I am sure you have heard of D'Angelico guitars. Well John D'Angelico had one apprentice, Jimmy D'Aquisto. After DiAngelico died, Jimmy D'Aquisto began making his own guitars. D'Aquisto had one apprentice, and his name was Joey Jesselli.

Joey was not your typical luthier since he was into woodworking before he began making guitars, and he was truly an artist, which is why I called him a craftsman.

Jimmy D'Aquisto's relationship with Joey became strained because Joe experimented with his designs and took the craft into realms never before attempted. You see, D'Angelico and D'Aquisto both made those big fat, hollow body, arch top guitars, mostly with F holes. Joey started out that way, but started putting in scrollwork, like the kind you would find on a violin. Then he designed a guitar specifically for a woman, noting that they have smaller hands etc., and he designed a doubleneck where the necks were angled to the tailpiece in a V because he said that with a doubleneck, whether you play the top neck or the bottom neck it is an unnatural position for your hand because it is either too high or too low...but the V design made the body a pivot point so no matter which neck you played. it was in a natural position. I thought that was brilliant! He is all about the wood, and in his bedroom, beside his bed, were piles of aged wood just waiting for Joey to transform them into a work of art.

He redid the necks on my Gibson and on my acoustic, which I was a Takamine. Needless to say, he wasn’t very impressed with the Les Paul, and is especially unimpressed with a painted guitar because he said those are the ones with the green wood or the gouges that they fill with wood filler and hide with paint.

But my guitar was a little different. When I bought my guitar, I wanted a "Black Beauty" but they weren't making black standards anymore. You could buy a black Custom, but I always thought that gold hardware looked gaudy, and I never liked the clunky-looking white rectangular inlays in the fretboard, and much preferred the mother of pearl tapered ones on the Standard.

Back then (I don’t know how it is now), we paid discount in New York. In California, and most of the rest of the country, they paid List price. Well back then, List for a Gibson Les Paul Standard was $1200 and discount was $600, but since I wanted a black Standard it was a custom order and Sam Ash said I had to wait 6 months and pay List price. I thought about it for a while, and became obsessed with the idea. I was young and stupid, so eventually I decided to go for it. But somewhere in the deep recesses of my then undeveloped mind, a light went off and I called Manny's, on 48th street. The guy said that they had TWO custom ordered black standards. He said that one guy was suppose to pick it up over 3 months ago and they haven't heard from him, and that if I wanted it, I could have it for discount!

I went to Manny's the next day and convinced the guy to let me play both of them. He said, "sure man, in fact, you can have your pick...but the other goes for List."

Joey told me that my guitar was one of the nicer Les Pauls that he had seen and he attributed that to the probability that since it was a custom order, they probably picked a good piece of wood. I got lucky.

Well, a few years ago, I read an article that said that Les Paul plays at the Iridium every Monday night. The Iridium has since moved, but I think he is still there every Monday night. I went and saw his show with my ex-gf and I wanted to bring my guitar so he could sign it. Well, stupidly, I let her talk me out of it. She said, we'll be in the city, maybe even in a bad're gonna get mugged....there is no place to park....they're not gonna let you bring it in...blah, blah, blah...

So we went to the 2nd show, because he does 2 shows a night, and they tell us at the bar upstairs that the show is downstairs. So we go down the stairs, and Les Paul is at the bottom of the stairs signing autographs for a line of people that extends up the stairs. And don’t you know that there were 4 people with their Gibsons for Les Paul to sign?!?!?

That did it, we went back the next week, saw him again, and that time I brought my guitar. The show was similar, but different. He tells a lot of jokes and is very entertaining. They say that the first show is a little better as far as guitar licks go because his arthritis hurts him by the 2nd show, but he was very engaging and his guitar is as much a part of him as his wedding ring is.

So, anyway, after the show, we climb the stairs and get on line for an autograph. We were the last 2 people on line, and as we waited, this drunk kept going to the front of the line and jabbered with him, holding up the line and bending his ear in incoherent drunk vernacular a la Frankie Fontaine from the Jackie Gleason Show, if you can remember that far back. But Les Paul was polite and engaging the whole time...a real class act.

Around that time, there was a Coors commercial...some young guy with long hair is plinking on his Guitar and this old guy (Les Paul) walks up and says, "Can I try your axe, man?" The kid looks at him with a smirk and says, "what? You know how to play?" The old guy says, "A little" and he takes the guitar and winds off some great blues riffs. When the kid gets his guitar back he looks at in in disbelief as if the old guy coaxed some demon out to play, and then he looks up at the old man and says, "What did you say your name was??" And Les Paul says, "Its on your guitar, man" and walks away. Great commercial.

Well, Coors actually produced a special run of beer, collectors item, really, where Les Paul was on the upper label and Mary Ford was sitting side saddle on the neck of the guitar, and the caption reads, "Its on your guitar, man."

So, while we were waiting for an autograph, Les Paul's manager comes out with two trophy blondes, one on each arm, and the bar back kid comes up to him with 3 of these Coors bottles. He gave one to each of the blondes, and had one left. Then he looks around and shouts up to me, "Hey you, Last Guy! Catch!" and tosses me the 3rd bottle, which I got Les Paul to sign also.

So finally, it is our turn to get autographs, and these two MONSTERS step in front of us-- Hells Angels, each almost 7' tall. They start talking to Les Paul and I figure it'll be another hour before I get my autograph. They were telling him that they just got back from Texas where they were doing security for Johnny Winter, and then they were telling him that they were the ones who ripped up Johnny Winter's speakers for him. Les Paul says, "What did you do that for?" and the guy says, “for the distortion. He had us rip the speakers so he could get that distortion that he gets.”

Les Paul laughed. He must have known right then that these guys were full of sh*t and he called them on it. He says, "that isn’t how you get distortion, you get distortion by overdriving the preamp stage.

I used to be an electronics professor, so this was my in. I chimed in and started talking about tube bias and class AB amplification in the power stage, and we went on and on, and before you knew it, the guys faded away like a Roman in a Greek spelling bee, and I got to talk electronics, one on one, with the guy who invented the electric guitar, for an hour and a half. It was like talking to Thomas Edison about inventing the light bulb, only way more interesting.

So, back to Joey...A few years back, maybe 10 0r 11 years ago, I was wondering what had happened to my old friend. I got on the internet and did all sorts of searches. I finally found a Joseph Jesselli listed as a technical contact for some companies computer department. There was a telephone number, so I called it. As it turns out, it was the wrong Joseph Jesselli, however, this guy did know Joey and said he was his cousin or something. He told me that Joey had divorced his wife and tanen the boys and moved to some backwoods place in West Virginia or something. I dont remember if he gave me a number or if I googled the number or something, but I tracked him down.

To my amazement, not only did he remember me, but he remembered my friend Larry too. He told me that he was not really doing much but had been quietly making guitars and storing them away since he has been there...for like 15 years!

I was just eccstatic that I had tracked down one of the most amazing people I had ever met and offered to do a web site for him. Back then the internet was not as prolific like it is now, and making web pages was my hobby and I was really good at it.. But we lost contact once again and that was the last time we spoke.

I have thought about Joey often since then, and when I found this page, I just had to tell this story.

Joey, wherever you are, I still think you're the best.

Posted by: Kevin | Apr 23, 2007 7:44:36 PM

PS. Some people are clueless. To compare a Jesselli guitar to a surfboard is like comparing your Venus Paradise Coloring by the Numbers picture to a Picasso.

I dont have a Jesselli guitar, but I dont have a Picasso either. But if I did, I would trade it for a Jesselli in a heartbeat!

Posted by: Kevin | Apr 23, 2007 7:57:53 PM

PPS. Those links above are a joke and have NOTHING to do with Jesselli guitars.

Posted by: Kevin | Apr 23, 2007 8:02:51 PM

i have had the pleasure of playing joes
Axe's and they are shoo sweet this dude
is a master spending time with joe i got
to know him and the boy's and they treated me as family this dude is a real genuine bro

johnny t

Posted by: john2ponies | Apr 24, 2007 10:33:00 AM

P.S.. i meet joe in west va in 94
sweet times joe take care
joe by the way i took your advise and now
have great surf dirt punk band 3R1

Posted by: john2ponies | Apr 24, 2007 10:40:16 AM

Its great to hear about Joey's success. We all remember what a a great keyboard player he was in high school. We had great times at his house with his dad and family. Joey lead the long hair/ leather pants revolt at JHG HS (1966). Good Hampton Days. Some other memories- Richie Golden, The Smubbs, Waki Waki Club, Teddy Pawlec, Dickie Baglio. Good Luck and continued success.

Posted by: Elwood Boys | Jun 19, 2007 11:56:47 PM

Keith Richards has one, he raves about his favourite guitar

Posted by: Leonard Sica | Mar 9, 2008 10:25:08 PM

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