The Harp Guitars of Mario Maccaferri

by Gregg Miner

with very special separate thanks to Michael Wright and François Charle
Additional acknowledgments

Part of a 4-part Special Feature

UPDATED June, 2010

Introduction to
the Models
Harp Guitar
Type 1
Harp Guitar
Type 2
Harp Guitar
Type 3
Harp Guitar
Type 4
Harp Guitar
Type 5
Harp Guitar
Type 6
Harp Guitar
Type 7
Harp Guitars
Maccaferri's followers  The Maestro Plays His Mentor's


          Introduction to the Models 

Before Django picked up his first Selmer, before Mario Maccaferri himself even considered making steel-string guitars, let alone creating the seminal Gypsy jazz guitar, there were the Maccaferri gut-strung "concert" guitars.

As Maccaferri himself was a renowned classical guitarist, touring Europe periodically from 1923 until the early 'thirties, naturally his instruments were exclusively gut-strung.  However, these were not standard six-string "Spanish style" guitars, but for the most part, an array of harp guitars of Maccaferri's own design.  In truth, there appear to be many more photos of Maccaferri with a harp guitar than a standard six-string.  This unique instrument choice was certainly the direct result of Maccaferri's tenure with Luigi Mozzani, of Cento, Italy, who specialized in harp guitars, including some of the most distinctive designs ever imagined.  Just as Mozzani specialized in creating and building harp guitars with extra bass strings and utilizing these same instruments for his performances, so too did his best student, Mario Maccaferri.

Mozzani's chitarra-lyras were most commonly 9-course instruments with 3 sub-bass strings.  Maccaferri, who began his apprenticeship with Mozzani in 1911 (at age 11), was involved directly in the construction of these instruments, and certainly learned all the intimate details, both positive and negative, of the various designs.  At some point he started experimenting with his own harp guitar designs, most based on Mozzani's "one-arm" designs, though sufficiently different to be uniquely his own.  By all accounts, Maccaferri's goal in developing these instruments was (like Mozzani) to create a better, louder concert instrument.  Visually, I would describe them as being much more "modern-looking" than Mozzani’s.  Tonally - having been fortunate enough to briefly play both Jim Forderer's Mozzani and Maccaferri - I would say they are very similar, sounding quite lovely, with great bass response.

One wonders what Mozzani thought of his apprentice's efforts, or if any of his own construction techniques or designs were influenced by his much younger disciple.  Around 1923 (1927[?], according to the authors in La storia della Liuteria Centopievese) Maccaferri set up his own shop, also in Cento.  Michael Wright reports that Maccaferri “advertised himself as a maker of all fretted instruments after 1923, offering nine different guitar models, seven various mandolins, as well as violins and cellos.”  By 1926, the instruments of both master and his "best pupil" were featured side by side in a distributor's catalog (Valeriano Rovinazzi of Bologna; catalog published in German and Italian).  Mozzani appears to have been comfortable with this, and likely quite proud, as he kept Maccaferri on until 1928 in a supervisory capacity in the bowed instrument department (Maccaferri was also a fine violin maker).

While the 1926 catalog shows only a drawing of the main new Maccaferri harp guitar (with descriptions of the others), Maccaferri's own 1928/1929 catalog contains valuable photos of these four new harp guitar models.  In fact, "priceless" may better describe these catalog pages (all from Maccaferri's personal files) insofar as no surviving examples of these  instruments seem to have yet surfaced.  Happily, there exist several fine photographs showing Maccaferri with one of these early models.  See Catalog Reference for full catalog pages.

Then there are the other non-catalog photos.  These show four additional Maccaferri harp guitar models that differ slightly to significantly both from the early catalog models and the final Selmer models (and there are stories of yet others).  The amazing thing is, all these instruments appear to have been created in a very short time between the Maccaferri Cento catalog and the all-too-brief Selmer period.  And all this time, Maccaferri was periodically relocating (Paris, London), concertising throughout Europe, and recording.  How could he have been so prolific?

It is the time sequence and dating of these rare "interim" harp guitars that fascinates me.  Pictured below are all the different types of Maccaferri harp guitars that I am aware of.  The first row shows all of them in order of possible chronology (just one scenario of many) - but also in what I (personally) imagine as a reasonable "progression" from a design standpoint.  The following chapters provide further details and conjecture on each instrument or "type."  Most of the dates are from other sources, and some may be approximations or errors.  Many are dates attributed to the photos in which the harp guitars appear (if accurate, thus being the latest that the pictured instrument could have been built, with no clear idea as to how much earlier).  For the sake of discussion, I will call these harp guitars “Type 1,” “Type 2,” etc, in order of presentation (again, which may or may not reflect the correct timeline).

The four undocumented instruments are the most intriguing, as there doesn’t seem to be any definitive way to date them, or to deduce their order of appearance.  I found myself being influenced both by the shape of the soundholes, headstocks and fret count (which admittedly may or may not have anything to do with the actual facts).  Nevertheless, I present them in order of “round” > “oval” > “D-shaped” (but back to one round!) purely for the sake of conjecture and discussion. 

(Type 1)
(Type 2)
late 1920s
(Type 3)
late 1920s
(Type 4)
late 1920s
(Type 5)
(Type 6)
(Type 7)

Headstock comparison of the above models
(Type 4 not shown as headstock is out of frame)

Type 1

Type 1
Type 2
(theorboed, 9-string)
Type 3
Type 5
Type 6
(standard Selmer, 9-string)
Type 7
(Selmer, theorboed, 10-string 3+7)

          Harp Guitar Type 1

 5 views of Maccaferri harp guitar Type 1, 9-string version, taken from the three photographs below and the 1926 and 1928/1929 catalogs.

In my opinion, this likely represents the first Maccaferri harp guitar design, and it is by far my favorite.  The two known extant catalogs indicate that it was a production model from at least 1926 through 1928 or 1929,  though of course the number produced is unknown.  Maccaferri is shown playing one (perhaps the same specimen) in three photos below, and a second is shown in the hands of another player.

Features of this instrument include a lovely three-dimensional sculpted headstock joining piece, and a bass arm without a soundhole (all of Maccaferri's hollow-arm harp guitars had a separate mahogany piece for the face of the arm, usually stained black).  By some accounts, it is the first production guitar with a "cutaway," providing access to the higher frets (only 20 on this model), though it was obviously a continuation of Mozzani's first chitarra-lyras (which had clear access to the 24th fret!).  The rounded cutaway is much like that of many contemporary guitars – this design was way ahead of its time!   Note also the "normal" round soundhole.  We know that it was built by the catalog date of 1926, and that Maccaferri was likely using it in his concert tours.  Beyond that, there is no knowing how much earlier it may have been introduced (possibly as early as 1923), or if Mozzani had any guiding or consulting hand in it.

The tuning of the 3 sub-bass strings is identical to Mozzani's; descending D-C-B (see catalog image below).

This 1926 Rovinazzi catalog contains an illustration of what is undoubtedly the above "standard" Maccaferri harp guitar.

While not the most accurate drawing, this is clearly meant to illustrate the type 1 instrument.

The same image of Maccaferri graces the inner cover of Maccaferri's own 1928/1929 catalog.

I first saw tantalizing information about these next two instruments in the Appendix of Intelisano's first Mozzani book, which gave the stringing and tuning, as listed in the 1928/1929 Maccaferri Cento catalog.  Unbeknownst to me, Michael Wright had managed to obtain an original copy from Maccaferri's widow Maria, and graciously shared with me high resolution scans of it (along with other invaluable material scattered throughout this feature).  Like the "standard" model above, these were listed, but not shown, in the 1926 Rovinazzi catalog.

Here we see the Type 1 "11-string" (11-course) version with 5 sub-basses.

The tuning continues the 9-string's descending D-C-B with A and G (written as GABCD / EADGBE left to right or low to high ).  The extra two strings necessitate a lengthier bass headstock, while retaining a similar three-dimensional carved joining piece.

Image from catalog at left, at right the only known specimen I am aware of, from the 2009 Mozzani book, courtesy of Lorenzo Frignani.

This fascinating instrument looks identical to the "standard" model above - until it is seen in perspective (below), which shows that it is a giant-sized version!  Maccaferri dubs it a "chitarrone" (not to be confused with the much earlier lute of the same name), but it is really a 9-course quinta bassa.  This quint-bass is tuned to the same relative intervals as the standard 9-string harp guitar, except that everything is tuned down a fifth.  This yields a high string of A, and a lowest sub-bass pitch of E, an octave below a standard guitar's low string!  The very few other quint bass harp guitars known have just one floating string (see Heinrich Albert & the World's First Harp Guitar Quartet and Gallery Form 1a).
What a truly awe-inspiring instrument this must have been!

Here are the 3 "Type 1" models shown in scale (presumably) as presented in the 1928/1929 catalog:
Quint-bass, 11-course, 9-course.  The scale length appears to be an inch or so longer on the 11-string, and a few inches longer on the quint.

The 1926 Rovinazzi catalog includes both German and Italian descriptions of the three instruments, though they take some deciphering.  Original prices are given in lira ("L").

N. 1 is the quint-bass; a "contra-guitar for accompaniment" is how they translated "Chitarrone mezza-lira" into German.  This entry mentions the adjustable neck and ebony fingerboard, while the Italian entry lists a "carved bottom" (convex back).  The overall dimensions are 1.14 m (44.9") tall and .45 m (17.7") wide.

N. 2 is the 11-string (5 sub-basses), which measures .98 x .42 m (38.6" x 16.5").

N. 3 is the 9-string "for the soloist," measuring .96 x .41 m (37.8" x 16.1").

The Italian entry mixes up the last two - the handwritten "5" should have been done on the above entry - the larger instrument selling for an extra 30 lira.

N. 1: Maccaferri's own 1928/1929 catalog again uses the name "Chitarrone" and identifies it as a "quinta bassa."  He also supplies the tuning: the neck is tuned a fifth below standard (lowest string is A), with the 3 sub-basses descending G-F-E.

N. 2 and N. 3 are the hollow arm 11- and 9-string harp guitars.  Though they are listed as having 24 frets - with the corresponding high E notated on the staff - the actual specimens shown in the catalog only have 20 frets.  So do two of the specimens seen in the photo below of Maccaferri himself (in the remaining photos, this section is hidden).  It seems strange that he had been playing his mentor Mozzani's instruments with 24 frets, yet did not incorporate this feature for his own first instruments - despite the claims in the catalog.

N. 5, a "common form" 9-string that sold for considerably less, is clearly the theorboed model shown next ((Type 2).

To my knowledge, no extant Type 1 specimens have yet been discovered - despite the fact that they were offered for at least three years, and possibly as many as seven (c.1923-1929).  At least one quint-bass and 11-string were built, as evidenced by the catalog photos.  Below are all remaining photographs depicting the 9-string.  We can see that at least two were built, and presumably others.  Whether that is a single specimen Maccaferri plays in all three photos is unknown.  Note how the Mario Maccaferri signature is inscribed in the upper bout on every specimen, including the photo and illustration in the catalog.

Maccaferri Type 1: This photo first appeared in the 1926 Rovinazzi catalog Maccaferri Type 1: Two specimens in the 1920s

Maccaferri Type 1:  Inscribed in 1929 (photo could have been taken earlier)

Maccaferri Type 1? 3? Other?
From 1929 Columbia Recordings catalog

                 Harp Guitar Type 2

Nothing is known of this 9-course theorbo-style Maccaferri harp guitar, except for this single image in the 1928/1929 catalog.  It has the same 20 frets and is distinctive in that it is the only Maccaferri harp guitar without a cutaway!  The unsupported, carved extension was undoubtedly wonderful looking, if fragile.

                 Harp Guitar Type 3

Maccaferri Type 3: circa 1926-1930

This interesting instrument does not appear in the catalogs, and is the first of the interim "personal" or "one-shot" harp guitars we will discuss.  Whether it was the first chronologically is anyone's guess.  So is the question of whether this or the following two instruments were built after the 1928/1929 catalog was printed, or during the same 1926-1929 period as the above catalog instruments.

The headstock joining apparatus is not as carved, but still as delicate!  Note that Maccaferri now has 24 frets on an extended fingerboard, as will the next two instruments.

                 Harp Guitar Type 4

As discussed in Harp Guitar of the Month, this one is a mystery!  It seems to be known only from these two cryptic photos taken in 1947.  Agonizingly, in neither photo do we get enough details.  François Charle agrees that this was made sometime between Maccaferri’s Mozzani period and his Selmer period – beyond that we have no idea.  It was obtained from Selmer's London office as allegedly "Maccaferri's personal performance instrument."  It is now known to have had "two soundboards, a tone reflector," and a "beautifully carved back."

          Harp Guitar Type 5

Our third “interim” Maccaferri model is wonderful, and once again, we have no idea when it was built!  As a relatively new student of the Maccaferri world, I was surprised that more hasn’t been made of this instrument.  It’s distinctive in every way – from its “squashed egg shape” (as luthier Fred Carlson described it), to the unusual upper treble bout, to the headstocks, to the rosewood back and sides, to the four, rather than three, sub-bass strings, to the unique Mozzani-like 6-point neck adjustment system.  Not to mention what could very well be the first appearance of the famous “D” soundhole – through which can be seen a fascinating and strange internal resonator.  If any historical instrument begs to be disassembled and analyzed, it is this one!

Originally, the instrument was known from the photo shown, which François Charle dates to the late 1920s.  The extant specimen was consigned to Bonhams of London in the late 1990s, and the company’s catalog stated that "the vendor purchased this instrument from Maccaferri in New York, who told him it was made by Mozzani”!  Presumably the manufacture date of 1928 was provided by the owner also - whether as true provenance, or a casual guess, we will never know.  While the first statement sounds reasonable (and added weight to the original assumption that it was indeed the same instrument played by Maccaferri in the photo), most agree that the second claim seems highly unlikely - and that it is, in fact, a pre-Selmer Maccaferri (that is my opinion as well).  Nevertheless, I think it is worth paying closer attention to the supposed Mozzani provenance.  We all concur that it was made sometime in the ‘twenties (between Maccaferri’s Mozzani period and his Selmer period) - but when exactly?  While to my eye, it appears to be a later design, there is simply no way to know when and where it came from. Maccaferri was apparently setting up his own shop in 1923 - also in Cento, where Mozzani's workshop/school was located.  But he also stayed on with Mozzani until 1928 (in the bowed stringed department) - so why couldn’t Mozzani have been involved?  If not building, then co-designing.  If not designing, then coaching. At the very least, Mozzani’s shop could have been utilized – thus being built “at” Mozzani’s – not that far off from the owner’s “made by Mozzani” statement made some seventy years later.  Whichever scenario (if any) is true, it is fascinating to think about!  After all, what if the signature “D” soundhole on the thousands of vintage and modern Gypsy jazz guitars was actually suggested by Mozzani? (Hey, I'm just brainstorming!)  Getting back to the surviving instrument, the adjacent photo shows the harp guitar in the Bonhams catalog (kindly submitted by James Westbrook), complete with added tailpiece.  The remaining images show the instrument restored to original configuration – photographed (by myself) at the Guild of American Luthiers convention in June, 2006 and (with better results) at La Guitarra Festival in September , 2007 – where it was part of a historical display by collector Jim Forderer.

The neck (below) appears to be a variation of Mozzani’s 6-point floating-neck adjustment system.  Through the back, 3 lower bolts are accessed (middle bolt for in/out, outer bolts for bass/treble pivot).  At the top, rather than the same 3-bolt system, I believe we are seeing two adjustments (for pivot) near the nut, and three adjustments at the top for in & out.  This is just my assumption – based on the inclusion of what appear to be wood plugs hiding what I hypothesize are small bolts underneath.

Originally, everyone assumed that there was just one of these guitars made, and that the extant specimen which surfaced in 1990 was, in fact, the very instrument Maccaferri is seen with in the late 1920’s photo.  It is very unusual and distinctive, and by all appearances, another personal instrument of Maccaferri's.  And yet, when I compared my first photos with the original Maccaferri photo, I noticed an obvious discrepancy.
Note that Maccaferri’s instrument does not have the extended section with what I presume to be the bolt/plug feature.  When I first photographed and examined the instrument in 2006 (all too quickly) I simply could not tell what in the world was going on with that headstock!  I thought it was fully original - even with the strange cracks and cuts, appearing somewhat like alterations, as if Maccaferri re-worked it to provide the new adjustment points.  My initial posted article thus hypothesized two nearly-identical specimens (the soundhole resonator also looked different).  Still frustrated, I made a trip to better photograph and examine the instrument in the fall of 2007. 
Update - May, 2008: New analysis  

In person, I was still stymied (I needed a microscope, not my reading glasses) - but once "back in the lab," and able to blow up the photos and leisurely study them, I think I have hit about the answer - though I cannot say I am 100% positive.

I will leave the reader to (if desired) download and study the full-size photos.   What do you think?   I believe (or if that's too strong a word, then conjecture) we are looking at a "period" modification of the original late-'twenties photographed instrument by Maccaferri himself - i.e.: soon after it was built, with the same wood, stain, materials, etc.  I was told by John Monteleone that Maccaferri was known to be an excellent engineer, designer and machinist, and was thus able to create any required custom hardware for his inventions.  Here, I think he decided to either install or re-do (if there originally were any) adjustment points to the headstock area.  Or perhaps the area was damaged - there is at least one crack in the fragile lattice-like structure.  I have drawn in red where I think the seam of a new, extended facing piece may have been inserted.  It's not completely obvious as it was impossible in person to see the vertical seams in any lighting, and using the photos, blown up, contrasted and sharpened, one has to sort of imagine some of them.  A few are obvious, and if these are not what I propose, then they make no sense whatsoever!  Perhaps others are near invisible from the sanding and finishing and ultimate age of the piece - I cannot say.

The above image, without drawn lines, contrasted

If I am right (or close), then there is every reason to believe that this is the same instrument in the original photo - every reason but one...

Take a look at a comparison of the internal sound baffle.  They don't seem to match either!  Certainly, the unique plate seen through the soundhole of the surviving specimen is original.  Yet it doesn’t seem to be present in the Maccaferri photo specimen – though something else (in the upper left) does. 

Note the extension providing 24 frets

          Harp Guitar Type 6

Which brings us to the Selmer harp guitar models.  Or does it?  The three images above show what I believe is the same instrument, shown in the hands of Maccaferri in 1932 and 1934, as shown below.  It appears identical to the Selmer production harp guitars below, except that it appears to be missing the headstock logo.  This could be a feature of the photographs – perhaps the logo was not inked, or was very lightly stamped into the wood.  Or, it could be Maccaferri’s personal prototype – either for the first 1932 Selmers, or a true “pre-Selmer” Maccaferri instrument.  As the bass arm is stained black, as is apparently the inside of the arm, it is difficult to see that the typical Selmer arm soundhole is present in each photo (Aside: by the way, I should point out here that the Selmer harp guitar arm soundhole is right out of Mozzani’s design files).  An additional clue is the fingerboard extension and fret count. This specimen has 21 frets - the 20th being the last full fret.  With one other curious exception, the serialized Selmers have a full extension for 24 frets (however, I have only seen images of two of these).


This instrument was a second Maccaferri/Selmer consigned to Bonhams in the 1990s.  At first I thought this was an earlier version of the final Selmer harp guitar – with a different, separated bass headstock design.  Then I realized that it simply has the extending piece of wood broken off and missing – all other features are the same, if not identical.  In comparing the headstock to a close-up image of the instrument at right from Charle's book, I noticed that the tip of the bass arm does not actually touch or attach to the main headstock (I couldn't tell this from any other photos) - so this is obviously a weak point.

Headstocks of #275 & #278 

Current appearance of #275.  It looks like the broken tip is cleaner (work done?). 

In rechecking my scan from Jim Westbrook, I noticed that someone had hand-written over the Bonhams catalog description, "ser. no. 275 on label."  This confirmed that this was indeed an identical production Selmer harp guitar to the instrument at right and dating it a bit later than the "c.1931" listed by Bonhams.

The strange thing is that this specimen appears to have the same 21-fret configuration as Maccaferri's personal Selmer discussed earlier.  Was a 24-fret extension broken off?  Or is this original?  If the latter, then this would clearly indicate that Selmer produced both a 21-fret and a 24-fret model - thus lending more weight to the possibility of Maccaferri's being a production instrument (perhaps #275?!).  Unfortunately, photos showing this area do not settle the matter - it could be original or simply a good repair.  Note in the above photos the Selmer stamp in the headstock of #275.


This instrument was unfortunately further damaged in transit to the States, but has since been restored by John Pearse, and now owned by Jeff Doctorow.

Selmer harp guitar, serial # 278, c.1933 (built during Maccaferri’s short tenure with Selmer).  This specimen is pictured in Charle’s book, along with an identical specimen, serial #277.  With the discovery of #275 just discussed, I thus conclude that there was an obvious "run" of at least four of these harp guitars (275 through 278, if not additional numbers before or after).  Charle has personally seen five specimens and puts total Selmer harp guitar numbers at "about one dozen."


Unfortunately, things are clouded by the fact that identical serial numbers were used for 4-string tenor Selmer guitars!  Listed in the Selmer notebooks (as reported by Charle in his Appendix) are 4-strings #275, 276 & 277, with dates of 4/14/33 (for the first) and 3/24/33 (for the last two). 

As Francois Charle explained to me, "Numbers on the list aren't always right, many mistakes appear like double numbers."


Understandable - but how a sequence of identical numbers was used both for tenor guitars and harp guitars makes no sense to me.  It also makes the exact dating of the harp guitars difficult - as the tenors all have exact completion dates, while the harp guitars have none.


Charle reports that all Selmer harp guitars had Maccaferri's patented internal sound chambers.  How very cool!

Maccaferri Type 6: 1932 - François Charle Maccaferri Type 6: 1934 - François Charle Maccaferri Type 6: 1934 - GM, mid '30s - François Charle

          Harp Guitar Type 7

A single photograph of this fascinating instrument was discovered in February, 2008 within the personal file cabinets of Mario Maccaferri.  Special thanks to the family and researcher Jeremy Tubbs for sharing this important find with us.

There are several interesting features, and it is hard to know where to begin!  It appears to be a smaller body instrument with a more traditional classical-style shape and round sound hole, albeit with the Maccaferri cutaway.  Note the strange protrusion on the cutaway - a subtle extension serving as a leg rest?  The extra section attached to the upper bass bout and neck appears to be a small extra resonating chamber complete with sound hole!  It has Maccaferri's preferred 24 frets on the high string.  The headstock affair is yet another hand-carved, hand-machined Maccaferri design.  Most interesting is the stringing configuration of seven strings on the neck, with three sub-basses.  This is an intriguing find that relates directly to the extensive "Undiscovered Maccaferri Harp Guitars" section and footnote that I had originally written (see below).  Perhaps most curious of all is that this instrument bears a Selmer label inside.  Was it a custom Selmer order, which Maccaferri uniquely accomplished?  An un-produced Selmer prototype?  Or yet another personal instrument that Maccaferri built for himself, placing the Selmer label inside due to his contract with them?

Dating this one is a little easier, as we can assume it was built within the 1932-1933 timeframe of Maccaferri's Selmer relationship.  But putting it in sequence in the timeline of the other instruments (specifically the "Type 6") is once again difficult to do!

Note: I identified it with "Type 7" in order of its discovery (nothing to do with having 7 strings on the neck).  It very well may have been created before the "Type 6."

          Undiscovered Maccaferri Harp Guitars

Besides all the previous instruments, which are frustrating to date, but at least exist in photographic records, there are additional mystery Maccaferris of which no photographic evidence exists.  Did the instruments, in fact, ever exist?

In Mozzani: Un liutaio e la sua arte, Giovanni Intelisano specifically lists Mozzani guitars having 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 sub-bass strings (presumably all harp guitar models, with perhaps some theorboed versions).  The 1926 catalog above lists 7,8 and 9-string versions as well.  But other than the typically seen "9-string" (3-sub-bass) Mozzani harp guitars, there is so far just one existing harp guitar with a different number of sub-bass strings: a specimen with six sub-bass strings (no image yet available).  

Similarly, there are reports of Maccaferri harp guitars with more than three sub-bass strings - and they are equally rare.  So far, the only surviving specimen seems to be the early Maccaferri "Type 5" specimen(s) shown above, with four sub-bass strings.

Other rumored instruments?  The Selmer book states that Maccaferri harp guitars "exceptionally might have six (sub-bass strings)."   Asked about these purported instruments, François Charle replies "I don't have any proof for a 6-(sub-bass)-string Selmer Maccaferri harp (guitar), I was just told about (them).  I only really saw five 3-string Maccaferri Selmer harp (guitars)."  My suspicion is that these 6 + 6 harp guitars never existed (Charle's source perhaps describing the 5 + 6 1928 catalog version).

May, 2008 (updated text in red):  My original comments on the next three described “mystery instruments” below still stand – however, after updating this article in May, 2008 with the exciting discovery of the “Type 7” Maccaferri harp guitar, I have to now acknowledge that a 7-strings-on-the-neck instrument was in fact built by Maccaferri.  It certainly lends more credence to the mysterious and conflicting reports, and - if not the very instrument alluded to - shows that something very similar could reasonably have been built.  The frustrating thing is - with its three sub-bass strings, it still doesn’t match either configuration given below!  However, it does put Maccaferri’s own quotes into a new light – these I had analyzed extensively in a final footnote, which I have now had to re-think.  In fact, once done, I came to believe that the likeliest conclusion may be that each of the three “mystery instruments” below was actually referring to the newly discovered “Type 7” 10-string (3 + 7 harp guitar).

1. As yet, there is no direct evidence of the specific instrument Dick Boak mentions in his 1992 Acoustic Guitar article, the information for which apparently came from interviews with Maccaferri himself.  Boak states that, during his London period, Maccaferri "became fascinated by his latest creation, a harp guitar with seven playing strings on the neck and five bass strings for accompaniment, and he performed with that instrument for some time after its completion."  In the many photos of Maccaferri playing his various harp guitar designs, it seems strange that this 5 + 7 version never appears, if it was a favorite.  However, with the 3 + 7 “type 7” now known, could there have been a 12-string version as well?  As explained in my final footnote, I believe it more likely that an error was made along the way, and that the 10-course instrument was being discussed during the Boak/Maccaferri interview.  However, I cannot completely rule out the possibility of a 5 + 7 configuration.

2. Another variation, reported by Michael Wright, was a 9-course harp guitar, but with seven strings on the neck and two sub-basses.  Wright adds that it "proved difficult to adjust to, and Mario went back to" his standard 3 + 6 version.  This information comes from his article in Guitar Stories Volume 2, from Vintage Guitar Books (2000).  In the VG online article, Wright is quoted as describing a "harp-guitar with seven strings on the fingerboard and an additional five unfretted bass strings."  Wright informed me that the book would be the more accurate, and that the information likely came from either discussions with Maccaferri's widow, Maria, or from material she showed him.  Wright suffers from my own weakness – he writes “popular articles,” and thus does not include precise source notes (that would come in pretty handy right about now!).  He also had access to Maccaferri’s files, and could have even glimpsed this photo (he simply doesn’t recall).  All that we know is that his stated 9-course version comes closest to the new 10-string.  My feeling is that we should discount Wright’s own conflicting reports and accept that he either saw the photo, incorporated information from Clinton and Boak, or both.

3. Could either Wright or Boak have obtained their information from George Clinton's 1976 Maccaferri Interview in the London Guitar magazine?  In reading the convoluted Clinton interview, I was unable to clear up the mystery.  In it, Maccaferri himself mentions a seven string - without specific reference to the number of sub-bass strings - as the guitar he used before settling on the 9-string.  Again, I believe that the best candidate for the instrument under discussion is the “Type 7” 10-string.  Please see the footnote for full analysis.

Future Discoveries

We know from the photographs that at least one of each of the designs from the 1928/1929 catalog must have been built (and at least two of the hollow-arm 9-string, as proved in the "duo" photo), but no existing specimens have come to light, to my knowledge.  We also know now that a 3 + 7 instrument was built.  Perhaps over time, undiscovered owners of some of these rarities will come forward.  Keep your fingers crossed, and keep checking back - with this feature published permanently online, chances increase every year that Internet searches will put us in contact!

I’m interested in hearing opinions of others on the possible dating and provenance of the above instruments.  Unless new information comes to light, this may just remain another unanswered area (like much of harp guitar history, unfortunately!).

          Maccaferri's followers, or predecessors?

Most of us are aware of the popularity of Maccaferri's distinctive Selmer jazz guitars, made famous by Django Reinhardt.  These instruments were widely copied, and continue to be even today (probably more so).  Less well known are the luthiers who built harp guitars that appear to have been inspired by Maccaferri (who was of course influenced in turn by Mozzani, who was influenced by the Viennese Schenk!).  The first instrument below (left), played by professors and "concert virtuosos" Silvio Casale and Mario Bosio, features what looks like a standard Viennese-influenced theorboed bass extension, with a Maccaferri-type slotted headstock and a soft "cutaway."  The next instrument, played in the Sardinian "Karalis Quartet," almost could have been built by the same maker - similar bass extension, body shape and fretboard extension, with a narrower center strip in the slotted headstock (more like a Selmer).  No clue who the makers are, though next (in color) is a Tullio Giulietti (Milan) theorboed instrument with that same general body shape - built before Maccaferri's instruments on January 18, 1919!  Interesting body style that seems to be popping up frequently in early 1900's Italy.  Meanwhile, in Paris, a c.1940 Di Mauro instrument has a very Selmer-ish body, soundhole and cutaway, but appears to have been an archtop.

Courtesy of Alex Timmerman

Courtesy of Marco Piroddi

Courtesy of A. Saccu

          The Maestro Plays His Mentor's

Left to right: Mario Maccaferri in 1916 with a Mozzani harp guitar, circa 1920 with another of his mentor's instruments (2 images), Mario "at the time of his concert at the Conservatory in Milan, 1926" (George Clinton).  Below: Posing at home in the 1950s with three of the five Mozzani harp guitars he kept until his death (all are shown in color in the Mozzani feature). According to Mario's friend, John Monteleone, Maccaferri acquired these five Mozzani harp guitars in the 1951 liquidation sale of the Mozzani workshop/school, which closed in 1947.  Michael Wright had believed that they were acquired on a return visit to Italy while Mozzani was still alive (which would have been pre-1943). The inventory of the sale listed 7 chitarra-lyra (no styles or models distinguished), and my suspicion is that Maccaferri indeed purchased five of these.  Monteleone remembers them being stacked in "plain flat cardboard boxes (yikes!) for many years until I arranged to have hard shell cases made for them."  Maccaferri also performed various repairs on them: "The guitars were in mostly very good condition with one or two exceptions. The common problem with the Mozzanis had to do with keeping the harp string tuners from breaking loose.  I had also done some crack repairs back then."  This 1983 article in Classical Guitar Magaizine describes a visit to Maccaferri's where four of the instruments had recently been restored.  The instruments were subsequently sold to collector Scott Chinery by Mario's widow, and dispersed upon Chinery's passing in 2002.  Strangely, the two I examined were in a terrible state, with cracks and flaws a-plenty, including some strange finish issues.  Chinery reportedly also had some of the originally bare tops varnished.   Regardless of the specifics, they were all Mozzani workshop instruments built after Maccaferri's time (though he had built identical models himself, and knew every detail of their construction).  According to Monteleone, Maccaferri acknowledged that the clever Mozzani neck adjustment - he loved the floating neck - was nevertheless a problem in the long-term, due to the "design flaw" of mixing metal and wood.  He still held Mozzani's instruments in the highest esteem.


To Table of Contents and additional Maccaferri Features


Sources / Credits:

All images on this page are copyright and courtesy either Michael Wright, François Charle or Giovanni Intelisano, and include invaluable material originally supplied by Maria Maccaferri.  Thanks to Jim Forderer for allowing me the opportunity to photograph his original Maccaferri.

Special thanks to Michael Wright, for graciously and generously donating scans from his Maccaferri chapter in Guitar Stories Vol II (now out of print, but still available from Elderly Instruments and other sources).

I presume that the reader is at least somewhat familiar with the Maccaferri and Selmer jazz guitars. For background on these infamous instruments, see the indispensable book by François Charle, who has graciously permitted use of material from the book.


Available from:

François Charle
17 Galerie Véro-Dodat
75001 PARIS France

Additional Sources: 

Michael Wright (web article and pers. comm.)
Paul Hostetter (web articles and pers. comm.)
Jeremy Tubbs, Eliane Maccaferri-Reese, Dick Boak, John Monteleone, Michael Simmons, James Westbrook, Jeff Doctorow
"Mario Maccaferri: Interview" by George Clinton, Guitar: the magazine for all guitarists, Jan, 1976
"Living Legend" by Dick Boak, Acoustic Guitar magazine March/April 1992 (thanks to Peter Penhallow for providing a copy)
Guitar Stories, Volume 2
(Maccaferri article by Michael Wright)
Mozzani: Un liutaio e la sua arte (Mozzani: a Luthier and His Art)
by Giovanni Intelisano
La storia della Liuteria Centopievese (The History of Centopievese Lute Making) by Lorenzo Frignani and Giovanni Intelisano
Julian Bream: The Foundations of a Musical Career by Stuart W. Button

Catalog Reference


Cover Page 1 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5
Page 6 Page 7 Page 8 Page 9 Page 11
Page 12 Page 14 Page 15 Page 17 Page 18
Page 19 Page 20      
Cover Inside Cover Page 3 Page 4 Page 5
Page 6 Page 7 Page 8 Page 9 Page 10
Page 11 Page 12 Page 13 Page 14 Page 15


Note: May, 2008 (updated text in red):
Here is my detailed analysis of the mysterious instrument with seven strings on the neck and either two or five sub-basses.  Following the clues, I wonder if this instrument can be traced to Maccaferri’s own comments, via an interview with George Clinton in 1976.   My working theory is that Dick Boak (describing a 5+7 configuration in 1992) and likely Michael Wright (describing a 2+7 configuration in 2000) would interpret these clues differently and lend the unsubstantiated instrument further credibility.  In fairness to both authors, there doesn’t appear to be any foolproof way to positively interpret the Clinton piece, but it is certainly a subject worth exploring.  Additionally, Wright may have actually seen the photo of the newly discovered “Type 7.”

For the full background, all three articles should be consulted (Clinton, Boak, Wright).  The pertinent areas:

  • Boak states that, during his London period, Maccaferri "became fascinated by his latest creation, a harp guitar with seven playing strings on the neck and five bass strings for accompaniment, and he performed with that instrument for some time after its completion."
  • In Wright's Vintage Guitar online article, Maccaferri History: The Guitars of Mario Maccaferri, a "harp-guitar with seven strings on the fingerboard and an additional five unfretted bass strings" is mentioned.  This article was taken from VG’s March and April. ’95 issues.  In the 2000 VG book, Guitar Stories Volume 2, Wright reported a 9-course harp guitar, with seven strings on the neck and two additional bass strings.  Wright now believes the latter to be the accurate version.  There is also earlier mention of the Clinton article, so we know it was referenced.
  • In analyzing Clinton ’s disjointed 1976 interview, let’s look at what Maccaferri is quoted as saying.  His remarks appear to be made in reference to the instrument(s) he used in his later concert days, but as his memory and dates seem unspecific, I have to assume the timeframe to be anywhere between the mid-1920’s and 1933.  This statement is still valid, but as seen above, the 1932/1933 Selmer period is no longer “suspicious,” and in fact, fits our new working theory (below).

Mario Macceferri: (Quote 1) “I had used one with seven strings but I preferred the nine…”

Later, (Quote 2) “…the seven strings, incidentally, were on the neck.  I found it very difficult and had to go back to the six strings…”.

And finally, (Quote 3) “…mine were floating strings beyond seven.”

Confusing, isn’t it?  I have not provided the context in which these statements were given because, frankly, it is missing in the original article as well.  Clinton does a rather poor job of presenting these quotes, without any clarification, linearity, or surrounding logic. 

I had originally given my exhaustive analysis of the quotes and clues, along with details of my reasoning, which concluded that Maccaferri was actually referring to a 7-strings-on-the-neck guitar without sub-basses.   Even now, I can see why I came to that conclusion (which technically is still a possibility) – but I won’t bore the reader with that whole exercise, which I have since deleted (available on request).  Instead, since we have an instrument that may fit the limited and confusing facts, I have re-analyzed all the material from this standpoint – that this instrument, or something very similar, is the “mystery” instrument that might fit all the comments (Maccaferri’s and the three writers).

New working hypothesis: Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that the new “Type 7” harp guitar (3 + 7) was the actual instrument Maccaferri was referring to in his Clinton interview.

With that assumption, following is my new interpretation of Maccaferri's quotes:

“I had used one with seven strings but I preferred the nine…” Quote 1 would now – as before - be considered to have been a poor, incomplete sentence/statement – Maccaferri omitting the “count” of the floating strings, even though he includes them in the “count” of his “nine” (9-string harp guitar).
“…the seven strings, incidentally, were on the neck.  I found it very difficult and had to go back to the six strings…”. Quote 2 now fits the 3 + 7 “Type 7” perfectly logically (and bolsters the confusing Quote 1).  He would have been “clarifying” his earlier quote (realizing himself that it was confusing and mis-stated?) and kept both instruments in the same context – strings on the neck.  By itself, the statement would seem to be describing standard guitars without floating strings.  But we know he was discussing his floating-string harp guitars - instruments he never viewed as anything unusual and only referred to by string number (probably the very reason that this interview with a “layperson” became so confusing).  This unfinished sentence that should have ended with “…on the neck” makes logical sense.  He meant that seven strings on the neck (with the suspected three sub-basses) was more confusing or “difficult” to play than his standard six strings on the neck (with the known three sub-basses).
“…mine were floating strings beyond seven.”

Quote 3 would now make sense, in that Maccaferri – in still trying to explain his strange 3 + 7 instrument – would again mention the fact that this experimental instrument had floating strings, and that they fell in place after a seventh neck string.  Also note that this statement was made when the topic of the Narsisco Yepes 10-string came up.  Perhaps another clue that the mystery instrument was in fact “another form of” 10-string (i.e.: 3 + 7) harp guitar?

Frustratingly, at no time does Maccaferri mention the number of sub-bass strings of the “mystery instrument” – it could have had five, as Boak stated, or two, as Wright stated.  But – and in my opinion, more likely -  it also could have had three – which fits our working hypothesis that is based on the only known harp guitar to date that is a possible match.

A couple of sticking points remain from my previous conclusions that we should still bear in mind, even with our “candidate instrument” in hand. 

One is that all other evidence shows that, throughout his entire life, Maccaferri was very consistent in referring to his various guitars and harp guitars only by the number of strings.  But his interview does not follow this pattern.  Had he played the pictured 3 + 7 10-string, or a 5 + 7 harp guitar, why did he not refer to it as a ten- (or twelve-) string guitar”?   The term should have come up at some point in his discussion. 

The second is that if he was so fond of this 10- or 12-string instrument, playing it “for some time” as Boak states, why wasn’t he ever photographed with it?

I should note that I have always found the 5 + 7 suspicious (and more so now).  Maccaferri was never photographed with any instruments that had 5 sub-basses (11-strings total); the most was 4, for a total of 10 strings.  A total of 9 was clearly his preferred configuration, and so I find a switch to 12 strings unlikely for Maccaferri.

One final quote from Maccaferri is worth mentioning.  In reference to his general concert period (which lasted until 1933), he identifies his 9-string as “one of the Selmer guitars which I designed.”   This suggests to me that he was likely remembering his last - and perhaps to him – best, or favorite, harp guitar (without a doubt the “Type 6”).  It is extremely unfortunate that none thought to ask him about his much more interesting earlier harp guitars, and specifics regarding his shop and Mozzani’s influence or involvement.


June, 2010:
Added the Type 1 5-bass specimen from the 2009 Mozzani book.
Added 1929 Columbia catalog photo.
Added 1983 Classical Guitar Magazine article.
Added Federico Galimberti (playing a Maccaferri) catalog image to Iconography page.

August, 2008:
Added photo of Maccaferri demonstrating his right hand position on his Type 3 harp guitar from the book Guitars: From Renaissance to Rock by Tom and Mary Anned Evans (1977). (photo supplied by Maccaferri at the time)
Added additional photo (from the EBay listing) of the headstock of the broken/modified Type 6 specimen.

May, 2008:  
Added new photos of the Type 5 Maccaferri, and completely rewrote the chapter after new analysis
Added the new Type 7 Maccaferri
Completely re-wrote the Undiscovered Maccaferri Harp Guitars section and accompanying footnote
Added a short section on Maccaferri's followers
Added an additional photo of Maccaferri with another of his Mozzani guitars in the section The Maestro Plays His Mentor's

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