As a harp guitar historian, collector and generally obsessed nut (not necessarily in that order), nothing floats my boat more than discovering another heretofore unknown maker. And there seems to be no end in sight!
The latest is Antonio Grauso, an Italian instrument maker in New York in the 1920’s. This rare catalog page (kindly submitted by guitar historian Lynn Wheelwright) shows a nice double-neck instrument firmly in the New York Italian immigrant tradition. It was offered with 4 or 6 subs.
Note how the headstock design and bridge are reminiscent of another Italian/New York maker, Gaetano Puntolillo (his is on the right).
Literally a week after that discovery, I stumbled upon a second Grauso, undergoing restoration at John Bernunzio’s shop. This one is about as rare and unusual as it gets!
John’s listing states: “fresh from a local estate, this is an enormous rare HARP GUITAR with six-string fretless neck and eight-string fretted neck. The fretted neck has the top two strings doubled. The guitar was made in NYC by Italian immigrant Antonio Grauso known for ornate mandolins and simple guitars. This most likely was a custom-made instrument with an 18-1/2″ wide back and 5-1/8″ deep mahogany body. The spruce top has four soundholes including two round holes in the lower bout. It is ornamented with marquetry trim and a large pearl and wood star. There is an original, large pickguard that is highly decorated and in the shape of a man-in-the-moon.”
Wild! Thanks to John for giving me a sneak peek at it. This is one I’d love to see in person (if not own) – it’s just got so much…stuff! The unique 8-string neck can be almost overlooked through all the craziness (this is taking “sound ports” a bit too far). Grauso then piles on the accouterments: fancy trim and pearl, vines, wood marquetry inlays, and (presumably) the owner’s initials “A.V.” in the neck.
The single, errant F-hole brings to mind that outrageous archtop by Michael Iucci, another Italian builder of flamboyant New York harp guitars:
Thanks for sharing, gents – this stuff is priceless!
I inherited my great-grandmother’s Grauso guitar and I was excited to find this information online. The label looks just like the image above. My guitar is a plain, 6-string with some repairs. My great-grandmother immigrated to NYC from Italy at the turn of the twentieth century, so it makes sense that she would buy a guitar locally. This is the guitar that I learned to play in the 1970s. I was told years ago that it isn’t very good, but I love to know some of the history. Thank you.
Grauso apparently like the dark inlaid moon pickguard (as do I). He used it for this 6-string (private party spotted the blog and is hoping to sell it): https://www.harpguitars.net/images/blog/grauso_6stg-kyniston.jpg
I saw that right after it came into John’s store when I visited last fall. What an amazingly insane instrument. I have seen plenty of Grauso bowlback mandolins and even a guitar or two. FWIW Grauso worked in Luigi Ricca’s shop when Ricca was making mandolins and guitars (later went on to manufacture pianos in an expanded shop in NJ — 200 employees according to Mike Holmes) and Grauso even mentioned on his label that he was a disciple of L. Ricca.
And it’s done!
Bernunzio Instruments posted wonderful new photos (and even a video clip) of the newly-restored instrument.
I’ve condensed them for our archives:
This is a truly fascinating piece of American harp guitar history (currently available at a seemingly fair-to-low price). Honestly, it would be on its way here right now if I had any A) space, B) money.