A one-man operation building approximately 10 guitars per year and winding his own pickups.
Knowing that her father dug artwork and crafts, making furniture, playing guitar, and had a keen interest in electronics, Michael De Luca’s eldest daughter thought a book on building electric guitars would make a great gift for his 50th birthday. A great gift indeed—De Luca read the book from front to back several times that same week. “Each time I read it, I understood more and more, and I remember being totally magnetized by the prospect of actually making a guitar from scratch,” says De Luca.
Hooked and “totally possessed” by the idea of building a guitar, De Luca further researched the craft through various internet sites and many other books. “I spent at least eight to nine hours per day from the moment I was home from work until the early hours of the morning, seven days a week, over a period of about six months researching and honing my skills,” he says. In this ramp-up time, he made guitar bodies and necks from scrap wood until he felt he was ready to take on building a guitar from “proper wood.”
Today, six years later, De Luca builds both custom and standard-model guitars as a one-man operation under the moniker DELM Guitars. The company name was derived from the first letter of the first name of his two daughters, his wife, and himself. In fact, all his model names have reference to someone of great meaning in his life. “If it weren’t for my eldest daughter giving me a book on guitar making and my youngest daughter later enrolling me in the Guild of American Luthiers, I would never have discovered the immense passion and satisfaction that creating musical instruments would bring into my life,” shares the now-established builder.
When it comes to wood choices for his instruments, De Luca chooses what’s appropriate case by case, but it must be stable, fit for the purpose, properly seasoned, and free of any structural defects. He usually goes with mahogany for the bodies, but has utilized Huon pine, Tasmanian and Australian blackwoods, and New Zealand rimu with “great results,” as well some of the other traditional body woods. For fretboards, De Luca favors ebony by far over most rosewoods because of ebony’s durability, density, and the rigidity it can add to the neck.
Certainly not a defining trait of most luthiers, De Luca winds his own pickups. “When I built the first guitar for my eldest daughter, I purchased a set of humbuckers for the guitar, and after a few weeks, I couldn’t resist the temptation of taking one of them out of the guitar and dissembling it to see how it was made, and how it works,” De Luca recalls. Again coupling his curiosity with research (and his background in electrical engineering), he built his own coil-winding machine. Though the first few months of tweaks and experimenting were difficult, De Luca eventually ended up with a machine he was happy with. He then started documenting his tone tests with a guitar he says has now been re-wired hundreds of times. “I am fortunate to have had many musicians test and critique my pickups, and with their suggestions, I’ve been able to finally produce pickups and wiring configurations for a diverse range of tone options,” he says. “Tone is a subjective topic, because what sounds great to one person may not be quite the same for another.”
De Luca doesn’t have a model that he considers his signature, but notes that his chambered-body PCP model was the very first guitar he designed from scratch. It’s the guitar that gained popularity almost immediately amongst players—becoming the workhorse for the development of proceeding designs. As for what continually drives his work, De Luca conveys that it’s actually the process itself. “Boutique builders put their heart and soul in each instrument they build. For me to create a guitar that inspires people to strive for perfection in expressing their passion and soul through music is my inspiration.”
De Luca’s standard 17.5" LD-56 archtop with a venetian cutaway features AAA-rated European curly maple for the back and sides, and AAA-rated European spruce for its top. De Luca also uses European curly maple for the set neck, which is capped with a Madagascar ebony fretboard and a bone nut. This 25"-scale jazz box is outfitted with a Benedetto mini humbucker in the neck position, and other appointments include a handcarved ebony tailpiece and mother-of-pearl and abalone inlay.
The ED-87 is a 16.5" double-cutaway hollowbody that gives a nod to Gibson’s ES-335. Mahogany is the predominant wood on the ED-87, used for the neck, top, body core, and full-length center block. Lacquer finished in a gorgeously deep black, other appointments of the ED-87 include a Bigsby B70, Grover Super Rotomatic tuners, and mother-of-pearl and abalone inlay work. For electronics, this black beauty is loaded up with a pair of De Luca’s DELM D50J humbuckers.
The double-cutaway, chambered-body PCP-R has a body core and set neck constructed of mahogany, with New Zealand rimu serving as the topwood and Madagascar rosewood for the fretboard. The 24.75"-scale PCP is the first guitar design/style De Luca conceived and built from scratch. This particular version is outfitted with Gotoh keystone tuners, a Gotoh aluminum stop tailpiece, and a set of De Luca’s DELM D50B humbuckers.
Highly figured, flame maple finished in Atlantis-blend tops the chambered, mahogany body of this 24.75"-scale double-cutaway. It’s outfitted with a solid-walnut set neck that’s crowned with a headstock dressed in blackwood, and the fretboard is carved from Madagascar rosewood and has a bone nut. The gold hardware appointments include a Bigsby B50 and Gotoh keystone tuners, and to deliver its sound, the NC-11A is loaded with a pair of DELM D90 single-coils that are topped with curly maple covers.
The DD-89 is De Luca’s take on a Les Paul-style axe, with its body, top, and set neck all fashioned from mahogany. Going with rosewood for the fretboard, this classic-looking guitar’s chrome hardware appointments include a Schaller bridge and tailpiece, and Gotoh keystone tuners. And for pickups, the DD-89 rocks a pair of De Luca’s D50B humbuckers.
This solidbody finished in rapid yellow would look fast even without the pinstripes. The 25.5"-scale NC11-TD has a 3-piece, laminated-maple set neck that’s topped with an ebony fretboard and black-horn nut, and the mahogany, double-cutaway body houses a trio of De Luca’s DELM 100S single-coils. Other appointments for this Strat-style include the Gotoh traditional tremolo, Gotoh mini tuning machines, and pearloid pickguard.
Pricing and Availability
DELM is currently a one-man operation that builds approximately 10 guitars per year; however, De Luca says demand is increasing so he may expand his workshop. The wait time for standard models is approximately three months, while the wait for a custom build falls between four and six months. De Luca’s guitars range from $3,300 to $8,100 (U.S.), depending on model, custom design, materials, and inlay work. De Luca accepts direct orders for both custom and standard models, but encourages players outside Australia and New Zealand to make initial contact through his dealer, destroyallguitars. com. Players in Australia or New Zealand can place orders through his dealer in Melbourne at ghmusic.com.au.