While on the prowl at Winter NAMM, tasked by PG editors to follow up
with some up-and-coming luthiers, I tracked down James Mellozzo, sole
proprietor of Nikita Guitars, in his booth with a handful of his artistically
inspired instruments. I spied a particularly interesting, dragon-themed
T-style guitar to check out, but it was swiftly liberated from my eager
paws by a notable artist who wanted to use it for a product demo at a
neighboring amplifier booth. It was a bittersweet moment: on one hand,
his incredible chops impressed me; on the other, I wouldn’t see the guitar
again—it made such an impression on him that he took it with him when
he left the show. That experience and subsequent conversations with
Mellozzo left me with the urge to review one of his handcarved instruments.
I was pleased to find the Nikita Classic on my doorstep a couple
weeks after the show.
When Fine Art Meets Fine Tone
Mellozzo’s creative and artistically inspired approach to luthiery stems from a
family lineage rooted in the arts. His medium of choice is wood: he began
first as a trained master woodworker, designing and creating custom cabinets
for 20 years. Then, 10 years ago, he felt a calling and began to
apply his woodworking skills to guitar building. After reverse-engineering
countless project guitars acquired via eBay—combined
with his 30-plus years as a player—Mellozzo’s self education in
luthiery reached a level that led him to build his first Nikita.
Since then, he’s focused on building unique, signature guitars.
True to his artistic roots, none are exactly replicated,
making each Nikita truly one of a kind.
The Nikita Classic, with its highly figured tonewood laminates,
intricate inlays and triple humbuckers, appears at
first to give a nod to the creations of Alembic, Cripe and
Irwin. Looking closely at the degree of craftsmanship and
thoughtful design decisions that went into the guitar’s construction,
it’s hard not to be impressed. Every design decision,
executed by hand, seems to blend together, creating a balanced
instrument that can stand on its own. The Classic features a body comprised of a laminate of mahogany, rosewood
and maple that gives the guitar an
attractive appearance and prominent acoustic
tone. The one-piece, solid mahogany
back is more than 20 years old, features a
tummy cut and is finished with three coats
of urethane in an opaque brown vintage
tint. Atop the mahogany body sits a 1/8"
rosewood slab followed by a 3/8", two-piece
bookmatched figured maple top. The top
is finished in a very subtle blue burst (yes,
I know that sounds like an oxymoron) that
starts with an aqua hue and darkens to a
Caribbean blue that accentuates the beveled
edge of the top—which is carved in perfect
unison with the dual ebony carved pinstripes
that frame the top. Overall, it’s an impressive
feat of craftsmanship.
Likewise, through the expert use of taping,
the sides of the guitar give off the appearance
of having a six-layer, wood-striped
binding from the three wood types used in
the laminate body. This deft execution of
scraped binding also adorns the fretboard
and headstock. The urethane-finished neck
is also an attractive tonewood laminate, featuring
five layers in total and comprised of
mahogany, curly maple and wenge. The neck
is topped with 22 6105-sized nickel-silver
frets, and features an ample ebony fingerboard
with shell dot inlays best described
as “companion dots.” The headstock shape
approximates the body profile and features
a figured maple matching headstock veneer.
The hand-shaped, 12"-radius neck has the
feel of a ’59-style carve, but with a little
more taper. It meets the body at the 15th
fret. The dual-action truss rod is accessed at
the headstock through a handcarved rosewood
and maple cover.
The guitar is voiced with three chrome-covered
Lindy Fralin Humbuckers—a 7.5K
Pure PAF model in the neck, a 13.5K High
Output Humbucker model in the middle
and an 8.0K Pure PAF model in the bridge.
This seemingly unorthodox pickup combination
of vintage and high-output models is
another smart design decision. To enhance
playability, Mellozzo purposely lowered the
hotter middle pickup to create more picking
space while maintaining output balance
amongst the pickups. The humbuckers are
wired to a 5-way Switchcraft switch as follows:
pos. 1, bridge, full humbucking, series;
pos. 2, neck and middle, both pickups full
humbucking, parallel; pos. 3, middle, full
humbucking, series; pos. 4, neck and middle,
both pickups full humbucking, parallel; and
pos. 5, neck pickup, full humbucking, series.
I’m a fan of unsplit humbucker combinations
and was glad to see them incorporated in
the Classic’s design. That said, I did experience
volume loss in positions 2 and 4, which
according to Mellozzo has been addressed
on new guitars going forward.