In Search of Genoese Harp Guitars, Part 8: Marco, the Guitar Collector

Day 4, as you recall, was a casual day with Franco’s family and friends, and later, Paganini’s violin.  Today, we decided on something impromptu.

Word had apparently spread that Franco was going around town with some crazy American harp guitar guy looking at instruments.  So on Day 3 or 4, Franco had received a call from someone he’d never met – Marco Cassissa, a local guitar collector and amateur restorer of his various finds.  He invited us to pay a visit if I had any interest.

We had no idea what to expect and weren”t sure we’d actually see any harp guitars, or of what quality, but decided the next morning, why not?

A reasonable drive up into the hills brought us to his home, a 300-year old villa he was slowly restoring…

Jaci, of course, was all over that door.  Shabby chic to die for!

We wound up the stairs to the second floor and into the dining room, where Marco had obviously prepared for us.

Needless to say, I had not imagined this!

I’ll highlight the many harp guitars, which were all very interesting, though perhaps a bit less exciting than at first glance.  For one thing, he wouldn’t sell any!  But that was OK.  On closer inspection it also turned out that many were in various states of repair, and others had various non-original repairs by Marco.   I found it difficult trying to identify the original and restored parts of the various instruments – something I’m naturally obligated to do as a researcher.

Though Sylvia was an excellent translator, none of us had detailed words for guitar terms like “headstock,” “bridge,” “tuning machines,” etc.!  And Marco (center) and our friend Enrico spoke almost as little English as I spoke Italian.

A. Monzino, Milan

A nice Gazzo or Candi-inspired instrument marked, Angelo Leirolo, 1920.  A new maker to add to our Encyclopedia.

No label or stamp (you’re seeing Marco’s own repair labels).  Obviously Gazzo/Taraffo-inspired, with the butterfly soundhole a nice touch!  Marco had replaced all the rope binding.

Luckily, this one was signed under the top “Giacinti” – a quality maker with some beautiful hollow arm and theorboed harp guitars already in the Encyclopedia.  This one is of course unusual for being both!  An interesting, all-original specimen with great tone, this was the one I wish I could’ve talked him out of.

Unknown, Gazzo-inspired instrument

Unknown.  I love this one.  With tuners on and strung up, it must have  been lovely.  The “gondola” bridge is replaced, hopefully following the original design.  The fretboard markers are round pieces of brass.

My notes  say “Venturi” – obviously the same builder I have listed as “Enrico Ventura” in the Gazzo feature.  I would suspect that the latter is correct (can any of my Italian friends help me out?).  The bass headstock was missing on this, so Marco created his own replacement with mother of pearl appointments.

Another unknown maker, clearly inspired by Taraffo’s Gazzo harp guitar.

Found in southern Italy, my notes describe this as “Casa Fondata (Garozzo), 1925?”  It is quite unusual, with some crude guitar techniques combined with outrageous multi-colored marquetry covering the sides.  Another one I’d love to see with tuners and strings on!

Marco served us fava beans and several kinds of local salami (and of course, wine…was it even noon?).  He brought out an assortment of old music and photographs for us to look at.

He told us that both he, his father and his grandfather played guitar and mandolin.  Harp guitars were of course as normal throughout this period, as two of Marco’s snapshots show.

Here’s a beautiful image.  Marco kindly let Franco borrow the photos to scan and send to me afterward.  In this photo (perhaps from his grandfather’s time), there are no 6-string guitars – only harp guitars (six total)!  The similar headstocks on the instruments – not familiar to me – suggest that they may have been made by yet another unknown, local Genoese Taraffo-lover.  Interesting that in some circles (like Marco’s), harp guitars are quite well-known, while a later article in the newspaper about our exhibit demonstrated that the normal Genoese public were virtually unaware of their musical heritage.  Reminds anyone of America?

Marco showing us the more “normal” guitars.  Of course, American instruments are a prize.

Looking out the 2nd (or was it 3rd?) story window at the front yard.  The sheds comprise his workshop.

This one was on the workbench.  Apparently, Antonello Saccu had reproduced the bridge for him.

All in all, I had a total blast, and I think Marco did too.  With lots of hugging and gifts of local wine and salami, we thanked Marco and his wife for their hospitality.

It would soon be time for lunch back at Franco’s.

The amazing Margherita, Franco’s housekeeper, chef, you-name-it!  (we wanted to steal her away, as well)

In Franco’s dining room – time for several courses, and of course I was forced – forced, I tell you! – to drink the lunch wine.

Franco is a major audiophile, with state-of-the-art modern and vintage equipment to play his vast collection of music properly.  I think he had 14 different Victrola-type players, of which this was the best.  The sound came out of that simple wooden baffle system in the front, and sounded as natural as one could get.  This was a new experience for me, and it blew me away.  It’s one thing to hear Taraffo on CD, but entirely different to hear played back through a similar device that he recorded into.  It was virtually “live,” as if he was in the room.  Later in the week, Franco had me sit in the next room while he played first a Mozzani recording (playing one of his own harp guitars), and then a Taraffo recording.  While I didn’t hear “steel strings” like Franco, the strange thing was that Taraffo was literally twice as loud as Mozzani.

Franco told me I looked like that RCA dog sitting in the corner by the machine, so I of course obliged.

After lunch, Rosella and Ljuba took Jaci and I for a drive up into the hills of the city.  We made them stop so we could take in this outstanding “modern” (100 years old) castle along the main road.

Traffic aside, we could’ve easily lived here…

Overlooking the port (south-ish)

Turning to the left (east-ish)

I took this picture to try to capture the Dr. Seussian building logistics of the hill section of the city.  In the space of a building or two, you be seeing about 10-2o vertical floors worth in a labyrinthine maze of real estate.

We stopped by to visit Rosella’s home.  Her building has a great door also.

By the time the day was over and we hiked back down to our hotel area, it was dark.  The city is beautiful around the clock.

Next week: Paradise!  A day down the coast

. Venturi

· MOP headstock, extension missing, replaced (made up)

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