In Search of Genoese Harp Guitars, Part 10: A Visit with a Guitar Collector’s Guitar Collector

Last week, I left off with Day 6, a “Day in Paradise” (which I highly recommend, by the way).  Day 7 was another scheduled full day, but this time it would be all about guitars.

One of the many guitar collectors Franco had run across during his Taraffo research (which of course, included much harp guitar research – done specifically for the benefit of Harpguitars.net) was Giovanni Accornero (Gianni, to his friends).  It turned out that I knew the man, if not by name, then by reputation.  Gianni was behind Edizioni Il Salabue, the firm that had first put out the beautiful coffee table book La Guitare, Paris 1650-1950 (by Sinier de Ridder, 2007, text in French/English/Italian) and the next year, a major exhibition and similarly-styled book, La Chitarra: Quattro Secoli di Capolavori (The Guitar: Four Centuries of Masterpieces, text in Italian/English).  I had already obtained the books, thanks to friends Françoise de Ridder and Franco, and now I was about to meet the man behind these labors of love, and, incidentally, owner of many of the instruments.

Mind you, this was a V.I.P. invitation to Gianni’s private residence, way out in the Alessandria countryside.  It was carefully arranged, with a chartered van to take 9 of us that Franco had selected.  When our trip was delayed due to the volcano (remember?), Franco had to scramble to rearrange the entire 10 days, including this trip.  Thankfully, Gianni was accommodating – incredibly so, as his entire family essentially took a full day off to host us.

An entire day and an estate home full of guitars…so I’m going to break this up into two, more digestible, entries.

Looking out the front door of the Accornero residence

Along to visit their spectacularly decorated home was Franco, Sylvia, Rosella, Ljuba, Enrico, and Alberto & Luisella Basso.  Gianni has his back to us, his daughter Julia is obscured behind him.

Gianni was very familiar (and complimentary) with Harpguitars.net.  He already had the first harp guitar waiting for me!  A lovely 10-string European instrument, unlabeled.  I couldn’t come up with the exact locale or decade…Ben,  Rainer – any ideas?

A surprise (I didn’t yet know what instruments he owned) and highlight was the c.1800 Carlo Godone (Turin) guitar.  This has been up on the site awhile in the Hollow Arm gallery (about the only place it fit), but seeing it in person was just unbelievable.  I just love the design of this instrument – nothing like it has ever been created since.  Gianni says there are 2 others known in European museums.  My guess is that this is the nicest, as Gianni only acquires instruments in the best original condition, and that are playable, with minimal museum-quality restoration done.  This one sounded much like any other fine Early Romantic 6-string of the period.

Another unusual feature is that it is fully decorated, in the manner of the Light harp-lute family instruments – unusual for the more dignified guitar.  There is no provenance to show what Godone or his patrons might have called this, as it is still essentially just a 6-string guitar.  I noted that in an old magazine article, Gianni himself referred to it as a “chitarra lira,” but in the recent book, he or another author refer to it as a “chitarre-arpa” (“harp-guitar” in their translation).  I, myself, would definitely not lump it in with any of the many forms of lyre-guitars, but calling it a “harp guitar” (in Name Only, don’t forget!) seems perfectly reasonable, given its harp curves and column.

Something that doesn’t show up in the book photograph is the charming 3-dimensional soundhole design – almost like a child’s miniature wooden “theater” with stage, columns and curtains.

Another distinctive feature are the delicate metal guide rails for the outer strings to better facilitate the wide spread of the tuners

Hand painted on all sides

Incredible condition, front and back

Here’s the first of our “Guess the Maker” contests –
In its original case…

It’s the only verified harp guitar known by this maker

3 sub-bass strings on a theorboed headstock

A finely made instrument, wouldn’t you agree?

Yes, a true, original 9-string Vinaccia!  Specifically, Pasquale Vinaccia & Sons, established 1883.  I have had one other Vinaccia (Fratelli Vinaccia, meaning Pasquale’s 2 sons, Gennaro and Achilles) on the site for awhile here – but most of us seem to agree it is likely an altered 6-string.

This was the end (or so he thought) of what Gianni would consider his “harp guitars” (nice that he’s joined our bandwagon of new terminology/organology).  He next brought out his lyre guitars, knowing I would be interested in these vague harp guitar “cousins” (that hollow arm thing) and the rest of his guests surely entranced by their design and workmanship.  He was right!

This first one, with a full heraldic shield painted on the back, is by famed Naples guitarmaker Gennaro Fabricatore, in 1816.  The Italian lyre-guitars are pretty easy to distinguish by their design from their French counterparts, often having the single “smiley face” soundhole.

A beautifully hand-painted original case…

…houses a similarly beautiful lyre guitar

We’ve temporarily misplaced our trip notebook, so I’m blanking on the maker (if known…).

This just might be the most elaborately decorated French lyre guitar on the planet, I’m not sure.  Obviously, it’s built for looks over tone, but it is still a serviceable player.

Every inch is breathtaking

It is an original Mareschal (Paris), a guitarmaker who claimed that he was the inventor of the lyre-guitar around 1775 or a bit later (and he very well may have been).  This one is from 1798.

And now I’ll give you a week to wipe the drool from your face and prepare for:

Next week: Guitars fit for a Queen (and a couple of guitar virtuosos)…!

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