Milanese Master Luthier Luigi Galimberti
by Gregg Miner
January, 2018

Introduction

I continue to find it fascinating that although Italy is just 3% the size of the United States, their harp guitar designs are at least as plentiful and diverse as those created in America.  Some even surpass our Knutsens and Gibsons in creativity.  They also began experimenting with them long before American’s got wind of them, and kept up some of their harp guitar traditions long after American’s got tired of the “fad.”

Throughout the early 1900s, several dramatic styles and regional Italian “schools” developed.  This site has long highlighted those in Genoa (Gazzo and Candi), along with the output of Mozzani and Maccaferri and their followers.  I’ve also been fascinated with – and have tried to archive – the many builders involved with the Monzino firm in Milan.  The subject of this piece is one of those.

I became aware of Milan’s Monzino & Sons (they later morphed into Monzino & Garlandi) after acquiring a wonderful harp mandolin of theirs back in 1989 (at left).  Over the years I learned that some of the more spectacular instruments were built by others – names unfamiliar to me.  From about 1906 onwards, the Monzino firm contracted some of the area's best luthiers, while also providing training, thereby creating an authentic school.  Building guitars and harp-guitars, mandolins and bowed instruments, the first wave included the Antoniazzi brothers, Ermino Farina, Severino Riva and Innocente Rottola.  The next generation of Monzino’s luthiers included Ambrogio Sironi, Piero Parravicini, and Luigi Galimberti, the subject of this article. Some years ago, the Monzino Foundation established a web site where they presented some of the firm’s history and instruments.  My overview of that site and my own Monzino harp guitar page resides here.

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The shop of Antonio IV Monzino & Sons, Milan, 1914. Several harp guitars can barely be seen behind and to the right of the lyre-shaped guitar.


Galimberti

After ogling the instruments on the Monzino Foundation site, the 1910 Galimberti harp guitar (at left) was one I hoped to see when I was fortunate enough to visit the Monzino collection in Milan’s Sforzesco Castle Museum in 2012.

The instruments were exquisite and enthralling, though Galimberti’s harp guitar was not on exhibit, nor were his two elaborately carved harp mandolins from 1924 and 1930.

Only one other surviving harp guitar known to have been built by Luigi Galimberti has so far been discovered, and I was lucky enough to acquire it in 2017:

Galimberti 1932 Harp Guitar
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This has the standard Monzino & Garlandini label of this period visible through the main soundhole, and this second hand-signed label visible through the arm soundhole.  It is in all original condition, as received (unrestored).  The scale length is 25-5/8" and the body is a delicate 15-1/2" wide by 3-1/2" deep.  The total length is a dramatic 46", which the sub-bass strings take advantage, ranging from 30-1/2" to 36-1/4" in vibrating length.  It has beautiful flame maple back and sides, with some noticeable belt buckle wear and other signs of love.

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As seen in my Monzino gallery, many of the firm's luthiers followed the template of the hyper-extended hollow arm and tight twist to accommodate the 6 or 8 sub-bass tuners.  Note the possibly original ring for hanging on the wall when not in use.

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I love this bridge shape, especially the "stair-step" for the lowest  bass strings.  The only real damage that needs attention is a crack in the bridge.  I'll address it someday...though unusable, I love the original silk & steel strings with the fuzzy color silk wraps.  Yes, despite the very sparse ladder bracing, this was strung in silk & steel, and may have been even when new.  Most "popular music" harp guitarists of Italy preferred the brighter, louder sound of steel, especially as they so often backed up mandolin ensembles.  Note the "zero-nut," a feature on virtually every old or new Italian guitar I've seen.  The creature in the wood marquetry pickguard is a nice touch, as is the soundboard's tail embellishment.  Geared tuners all the way make this a practical working instrument.

Galimberti Family Treasures

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Towards the end of 2017 I was contacted by the extended family of Luigi Galimberti's grandson , who live in the same small town of Seveso where Galimberti lived and worked.  They were asking about this incredible, just-restored harp guitar in their possession.  Acquired by Luigi’s luthier son Lodovico around 1960, it’s actually an unrelated, unlabeled instrument (our guess is Genoese).  Restoration by Domenico Bertoletti can be seen here.  What a unique and beautiful instrument!

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The family does have a few original Luigi Galimberti instruments, along with photos from his career, which they’ve graciously shared with us here.

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These handsome photographs of Luigi Galimberti were taken before World War II.

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Luigi's son Lodovico  followed him into lutherie.

Galimberti garnered dedications from a plethora of players throughout his life, including names like Zuccheri, di Ceglie, Servida, Balzaretti, Policenti, Tolotti, Chiodi, and Vancheri.  Presumably, some of these guitarists are playing Galimberti instruments.

This 1933 photo and dedication is from Federico Galimberti, no relation to Luigi.  Harp guitarist F. Galimberti appears elsewhere on this site with Mozzani and Maccaferri hollow arm harp guitars; I can’t positively I.D. this one.

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As demonstrated by the signed photographs above, unless they were strictly “classical guitarists,” professional and amateur Italian players would switch to semi-acoustic archtop guitars and electrified versions of same.  Most builders quickly responded and adapted to the new forms and tastes, just as American firms did from the 1930s on.  These are photographs of four different Luigi Galimberti archtop acoustic and semi-acoustic electric guitars.

The Galimberti family owns several original instruments by Luigi from different eras, including this spectacularly carved violin.

A nice flame maple archtop with progressive colored accents

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A striking solidbody electric mandolin

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Luigi's son Lodovico’s built this classical guitar for his son (also named Luigi), who never picked it up. Today, his daughter is instead learning on it.

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The standout for me was this photograph of an unknown guitarist (signature illegible) playing a wonderfully designed harp guitar.  It could have easily been built by Galimberti, but we have no way to know.  Here it is compared with mine.  Despite the very similar bridge, it could have been made by any number of the other Monzino luthiers. 

Taking all this in, I’m envisioning the Monzinos (Antonio's IV, V & VI during this time) with their stable of luthiers in a very creative environment, continually trying to surprise and top one another with instruments like these.  What fun their customers must have had!


Luigi Galimberti Biography

Asking for biographical information on their luthier ancestor, the family provided the following information (edited by GM):

Luigi Galimberti was born on October 29th, 1888 in Seveso, a small village near Milan.  Woodworking – carving, inlaying and furniture making – was widespread in the town, so he naturally turned to this profession.  After a period of lutherie specialization in Paris he started working with Romeo Antoniazzi in 1915, following the instrument models of the Cremonese school. 

Luigi worked at the Monzino and Garlandini workshop from January 1st, 1928 to July 19th, 1930, after which he opened his own shop, first in Piazza Borromeo 7, then in Via Dolomiti 17.  In addition to Monzino, he also supplied musical instruments for the "Messaggerie Musicali" store and for famous artists of those years.

He won prizes and medals in Rome and Florence and showed four violins and a viola at the historic 1937 International Exhibition held in Cremona. He was a prolific maker of bowed instruments, including 30 double basses and many guitars. His instruments are highly regarded for the buff polished, golden-yellow varnish, both oil and spirit based.

Occasionally, guitars labeled "Galimberti L." are seen that were produced after 1957, the year of his death – but they were built by his son Lodovico Galimberti, who helped his father in the construction of guitars in Seveso.

Some of Luigi Galimberti’s instruments are exhibited in museums: the "Museo del violino" (Sala Stradivari) in Cremona, the "Museo degli Strumenti Musicali" Collezione Monzino in Castello Sforzesco, Milan, and now the Miner Museum in Southern California!  

family-galimberti.jpg (270897 bytes)A special thanks to the extended Galimberti family

Pictured: Luigi (grandson of the luthier Luigi, son of Lodovico), his wife Giovanna, and their daughters Laura (right) and Federica (left).  Federica's husband is Andrea Tagliabue, who kindly provided the biography above and handled correspondence for this article.

 Additional Sources: Fondazione De Musica, Civico Museo Degli Strumenti Musicali

2/1/2017: New Galimberti Wikipedia page


 

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