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.”

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The three partners: Vinny Fodera, Jason DeSalvo, and Joey Lauricella.
Left: The Buckeye Burl Monarch's matching pickup covers.

Shrewd bargaining, a little white lie, and a series of serendipitous connections paved the way for Vinny Fodera to rub shoulders with some of the most esteemed bass builders in the business. When he’d learned all he could from his mentors, he set out on his own and ended up being the luthier of choice for iconic players like Victor Wooten, Oteil Burbridge, and Anthony Jackson.

Just across the water from the Statue of Liberty and the picturesque Manhattan skyline sits an anonymous-looking warehouse where some of the most prestigious basses in the world are crafted by hand. At 6,000 square feet, it's a massive step up from the 1,000-square-foot shop on Avenue O where Fodera Guitars was born way back in 1983, but it does have its drawbacks.

“[Super storm] Sandy hit us hard up here, but luckily everyone in our factory and their families are okay," says Fodera partner Jason DeSalvo. “We just started production again after a week without power. Now we have power, but no heat—it's 36 degrees outside, 38 degrees inside!"

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As far as bright colors and fancy appointments, the Fred Gretsch Company led the way. Gretsch achieved the pinnacle of luxury and style with its pièce de résistance, the White Falcon.

A stunning 1958 Gretsch 6136 White Falcon, serial #26356.

The exciting changes in the popular music of the 1950s also called for electrifying transformations in musical instruments. As the electric guitar became increasingly prominent, the top guitar companies battled to come up with the most innovative and attractive designs.

As far as bright colors and fancy appointments, the Fred Gretsch Company led the way. Gretsch achieved the pinnacle of luxury and style with its pièce de résistance, the White Falcon. The 1955 Gretsch catalog announced that “Cost was never considered in the planning of this guitar. We were building an instrument for the artist-player whose caliber justifies and demands the utmost in striking beauty, luxurious styling, and peak tonal performance and who is willing to pay the price.”

Gretsch’s special representative—the guitar promoter and demonstrator Jimmie Webster—designed the White Falcon. Webster drew ideas from a variety of sources including the gaudy Bacon and Day banjos of the Jazz Age. The 17"-wide body was finished in luminous white with gold sparkle binding. The gold-plated hardware included fancy jeweled knobs, Grover Imperial tuners, and a striking new tailpiece with a V-shape similar to the one used in the ’50s Cadillac logo. The gold pickguard was engraved with a flying Falcon.

LEFT: Designed by Jimmie Webster, the White Falcon represented the apex of the Gretsch line. With its six wheel saddles and threaded mounting bar, Webster’s Space Control bridge allowed a player to adjust string-to-string spacing to accommodate fingerstyle or plectrum technique. MIDDLE: The White Falcon’s tailpiece bore more than a passing resemblance to a ’50s Cadillac logo. RIGHT: In 1958, a horizontal Gretsch logo replaced the original vertical one.

This 1958 White Falcon has features typical of that year’s model—a gold sparkle horizontal headstock logo inlaid in the white Nitron plastic veneer (changed from the original vertical logo in ’58), Neo Classic thumbprint inlays in an ebony fretboard (changed from the original feather engraved hump-block inlays in ’58), Patent Applied For Filter’Tron humbucking pickups (replacing DeArmond single-coils), and a gold Space Control bridge (replacing the original Melita).

A new White Falcon sold for $675 in 1958. This guitar’s current value is about $20,000.

You’ll find lots of compelling photos and lore in 50 Years of Gretsch Electrics: Half a Century of White Falcons, Gents, Jets, and Other Great Guitars by Tony Bacon, The Guitars of the Fred Gretsch Company by Jay Scott, and The Gretsch Book—A Complete History of Gretsch Electric Guitars by Tony Bacon and Paul Day.

Original price: $675 in 1958
Current estimated market value: $20,000

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