A Room Full of Blues
At the home of Scott
River, NJ 1996
L-R Front seated Arlen Roth, Scotty, Tal Farlow (holding
"La Cremona Azzurra"), Jack Wilkins
L-R Rear Jimmy Vivino, Steve Howe, Lou Pallo, G.E. Smith
"What a gathering! This was at Tomís
River, New Jersey, at the home of Scott
Chinery, who supposedly, and I have no reason to doubt it, has the
largest guitar collection in the world. Iíve never seen so many
guitars in my life. Gibson, DíAngelico, Stromberg, mostly all vintage
stuff. He commissioned different guitar makers to do a blue collection,
and all of them were done in blue finish. They were some really nice
guitars. A lot of famous guitarists were on hand too. I got
to meet one of my idols, Tal Farlow. That was a real treat for me.
Heís got fingers about four feet long!"
Scotty and Tal Farlow
Photo© by Cindy Benedetto courtesy Ken Vose
Try to imagine jazz immortal Tal Farlow, rock and roll virtuoso Steve
Howe, Elvis sideman Scotty Moore, blues legend Johnny Winter and a host
of other famous guitarists, crowded together in one room going gaga over
22 incredibly beautiful, blue archtop guitars. Not just any old shade of
blue, these brilliant blue babies are so vibrant that they seem to make
music without a string being touched. Add to the scene the luthiers who
handcrafted these instruments, and you have a once-in-a-lifetime event
that is the talk of the guitar collecting world.
The Blue Guitars project is the story of one man's passion for this
most American of all musical instruments. With more than three million
new guitars sold throughout the world in 1995 and about 14 million
Americans who consider themselves guitar players, it is hardly
surprising that the instrument has become a hot commodity.
For Scott Chinery, the man responsible for the creation of the Blue
Guitars, the project was both the crown jewel of an already
extraordinary collection and an homage to a man many consider America's
greatest luthier ever, the late Jimmy D'Aquisto.
D'Aquisto, successor to John D'Angelico as America's premier archtop
guitar maker, created a blue Centura Deluxe (one of the four models
designed as part of his "modern" series of archtops) not long
before his death in 1995. Its striking color was a specific request from
Chinery, a blue lacquer obtainable from a single manufacturer in
Amsterdam, New York
"I had often thought that it would be neat to get all the great
portrait painters together to interpret the same subject and then see
the differences among them. So that's what I set out to do with the Blue
Guitars. To get all the greatest builders together and have them
interpret the same guitar, an 18-inch archtop, in the same color blue
that Jimmy had used. All of these great luthiers saw this as a friendly
competition, and as a result they went beyond anything they'd ever done.
We ended up with a collection of the greatest archtop guitars ever
If you're wondering why an archtop is more difficult to fake,
consider the amount of highly skilled, painstaking, hand-carved work
that Bob Benedetto and the 21 other luthiers put into each of the Blue
Guitars. Benedetto, who has made more than 400 archtops, describes the
construction of his Blue Guitar, "La Cremona Azzurra" (The
"Routinely, with the exception of the finishing procedure, I can
make an archtop inside of two weeks. The Blue Guitar took much longer
because I had to think about it a lot. For the top and back plates I
used the best European cello wood, the same type of wood that Stradivari
and the other old masters used. The neck is two-piece, well-seasoned
American maple. The fingerboard, bridge, truss rod cover and finger rest
are all sculpted from select solid ebony, and the headstock is veneered
with exotic burl. The wood is selected both cosmetically and because of
its age. It's very old and fine tone wood. The suppliers that I
buy from in Europe are generations-old family businesses. I'm buying
from a descendant of someone who might have supplied wood for a
"The sound holes are unique--not like the traditional f hole or
oval hole--it's almost a floral design. Because the openings are unusual
and placed in an unusual location, I had to consider that when I was
carving and tuning the woods and placing the bracing inside that acts as
tone bars, distributing the vibrations from the strings to the top and
back, etc. All of this to maximize the end result: the voice of the
instrument. It was fun, different, a real challenge, and I was happy to
be a part of it."
Repeat Benedetto's story 21 times and you begin to get some idea of
the magnitude of The Blue Guitars project. For Chinery, his love of the
instrument has meant recognition of the sort he never imagined as a
young boy who loved guitars: an honorary doctorate in commercial science
from Five Towns College, a music school in Dix Hills, New York, and
exhibits featuring his collection in Washington, D.C.
An exhibit of guitars--primarily electric--at the Smithsonian
Institution's National Museum of American History will run through
April. The Chinery exhibit, which runs concurrently, features 36
instruments. Various guitars from the Chinery Collection will be on
exhibit through November 1998. In addition, the Blue Guitars are slated
to be showcased at the Smithsonian in the spring of 1998.
As Smithsonian spokesman Randall Kremer says, "The guitar as an
instrument deserves special appreciation and attention on a national, if
not an international basis, and that's what the Smithsonian can provide.
The guitar has existed as a cultural icon for a number of years, in
addition to being one of the most versatile of all musical instruments.
Very few instruments can cross the boundaries of classical, jazz and
rock with the aplomb of the guitar. We felt that it was an appropriate
subject to present to the more than 29 million people who visit the
Smithsonian each year."
excerpt reprinted with permission
is an East Coast-based novelist, screenwriter and
television writer. His book, Blue Guitar, will be published by
Chronicle Books in the spring of 1998.
Chinery passed away on October 24, 2000. He was only 40 years old.
Tal Farlow passed away in July of 1998 at the age of 77