This Tasmania-based guitar builder offers up a variety of handcrafted gems from Down Under.
BR Fretless RB IV
Rizzolo has offerings for the low-enders too, and this 34"-scale fretless beauty is a fine example of what he can do with four strings. Carved from a walnut and blackwood combo, the body is topped with highly figured Tasmanian fiddleback blackwood. The neck is constructed from the same walnut and blackwood combo and capped with an ebony fretboard that is subtly adorned with mother-of-pearl inlay work. For electronics, this thumper is packed with a pair of Kent Armstrong soapbars, as well as a Graph Tech Ghost piezo system in the Hipshot bridge.
For some, hearing mention of the Australian island state of Tasmania evokes thoughts of the home of a particular Looney Tunes character—not necessarily a place to find a guitar builder producing a wide range of high-end instruments. But Tasmania does offer just that. For more than 30 years, luthier Gary Rizzolo has been handcrafting instruments out of his shop for players around the globe.
Rizzolo remembers the exact day he fell in love with the guitar. He was just 10 when his uncle showed up on his regular Sunday visit to Rizzolo’s family, but on this particular day, his uncle had an “amazing looking, shiny greenish archtop” in tow. Rizzolo was hooked.
Rizzolo is essentially a self-taught luthier. While he didn’t attend a formal lutherie school, his education—coupled with a love for music and guitar—led him down the path to what he so passionately does today. It started with his 3-year diploma of teaching studies that included crafts training where he honed his woodworking and metalworking skills building furniture, cabinets, wood lathes, dowelling tables, and, yes, a guitar.
He later went on to pursue a fine arts degree in design at the Tasmanian School of Art to learn line and form. During his time there, he began amassing books on guitar building and ran a guitar-repair business that he feels helped him immensely in understanding “what worked, what was good, and what wasn’t.”
Unlike many in the boutique-luthier category, Rizzolo builds quite a wide range of instruments, from flattops to archtops to electric guitars and basses. “Once a builder masters the fretted instrument, it’s just a matter of re-jigging to build any other type of guitar,” says Rizzolo. He became known early in his career for 7-string classical guitars that eventually developed into his 7-string archtop, and then electrics that are close to his heart because of his days in a rock band. But he contends he’s still most passionate about acoustic instruments. With that, “Because I build guitars on commission, I make whatever the customer requires.”
Rizzolo likes working with highly figured varieties of timber, in particular rosewoods and maples. Local Tasmanian blackwood remains his favorite, even though its dust has been declared a carcinogen, but the luthier says he’s more than willing to mask up and work with it. “It looks a lot like koa and has a sound like mahogany with a bit more midrange. It has a wonderful fiddleback grain, but it is getting harder to find and more expensive as global demand increases.”
“I work alone and quite like the ‘one-man, one-guitar’ ideal,” says Rizzolo. “I work on an instrument from the initial full-size drawings to the final polish and then into the case to maintain the highest quality control.” Along with attention towards fine fretwork and shaping of the necks for superb playability, “extracting a full-rounded sound of bass and treble with a rich tone from thin pieces of solid timber is the art I enjoy the most in guitar making.”
Pricing and Availability
Rizzolo’s shop is located in the Tasmanian capital city of Hobart where he builds approximately seven instruments year entirely by hand. “I am slow and methodical,” says the luthier. His turnaround time is six months or less. He for the most part only builds on commission (which means all sales are direct), but he continues to experiment with models like his recent leaf-hole ukulele with Kasha bracing. Rizzolo’s guitars range in price from approximately $3,750 to $6,500 for his electric guitars and basses, and $5,600 to $11,200 for acoustics and archtops.
For more information, visit rizzologuitars.com
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.
As a high-end boutique builder in Brazil, Freire faces some unique challenges.
It’s somewhat ironic that the home of the world’s most revered guitar tonewood is not a hotbed for a relatively large base of guitar builders and available instruments. That’s part of the reason Brazilian luthier Celso Freire started building instruments for a living, forming his company Dreamer Guitarworks.
When Freire started playing bass at the age of 15 in the 1980s, it was very difficult to get a good bass in Brazil, even with money in hand. He was frustrated with the lightweight, unbalanced body of the J-style he owned that was manufactured in a Brazilian factory, but he did find a well-balanced Fender P in 1984. Freire immediately went to work trying to clone its body with a piece of mahogany to use with parts from his old bass. Though the first attempt at the body didn’t work out, the aspiring builder bought a router and had better results the second time around. Once he got the body right, he took it to a luthier to install a fretless rosewood fingerboard onto the neck of his old J-style, but ended up having to learn how to do the job himself because “the guy was so slow,” says Freire. When it came time to paint his project bass, Freire found a small guitar factory near his home where he ended up working for three years and learning the craft. A luthier was born.
On top of his self-taught skills and guitar factory experience, Freire already had a solid background in electronics from his childhood, helping his father put together hi-fi audio cabinets and tube amplifiers. He struck out on his own with Dreamer Guitarworks in the early 1990s with the goal of providing unique instruments built with the best available components and wood—a mission he continues to stay true to today in his one-man shop.
As a high-end boutique builder in Brazil, Freire faces some unique challenges. “We have in our culture that what comes from the U.S. and Europe is better,” says Freire. “This paradigm is very difficult to change, but it is changing.” The luthier also shares that the “abusive” Brazilian taxes can be a deterrent when attempting to increase production without compromising the quality of his instruments. Said tax is approximately 60 percent on imported guitar parts.
Citing Paul Reed Smith and Tom Anderson as the two builders providing the most inspiration for his work, Fender’s influence is also evident with Freire’s variety of instruments. For electronics, Freire prefers EMGs, but also utilizes Seymour Duncan, Bare Knuckle, Fender, Joe Barden, Lindy Fralin and others, depending on the build. Woods like maple and mahogany that Freire utilizes may be familiar, but the luthier also incorporates some of the gorgeous and more exotic woods from Brazil that he has access to like tauri, imbuia, and freijo. And when it comes to Brazilian rosewood and what restrictions are in place for Brazilian craftsmen, Freire says they can still find the wood, and buy and sell guitars legally. “I just don’t know for how long,” he adds.
This red-burst, T-style Dreamer TL features a marupa body with a curly maple top. Curly maple is also used for the neck, which is capped with a Brazilian rosewood fretboard that’s adorned with gold mother-of-pearl dot inlays. Hardware appointments include the Graph Tech Black Tusq nut and string trees, Sperzel locking tuners, and a Babicz Full Contact bridge. For electronics, this twang machine is loaded with a set of Bare Knuckle Piledriver pickups.
Dreamer MJ Bass
Freire’s Dreamer MJ bass utilizes Brazilian cedar (aka cedro rosa) for its P-style body, and maple for the neck. The 34"-scale Brazilian rosewood fretboard features abalone dots on the front side, as well as Lumilay side dots for gigs with less-than-stellar onstage lighting. The Dreamer MJ is outfi tted with an EMG BQC preamp, and for pickups, a Seymour Duncan SMB-4a in the bridge position and a Seymour Duncan SJB-3 Quarter Pound in the neck.
Dreamer #12001 Prototype
This 7-string prototype is part of a collaborative beta-test effort with New Jersey luthier Rick Toone. Both the neck and the Tru-Oil-fi nished body are constructed from Brazilian mahogany, while the fan-fretted fretboard—25"-scale on treble side and 26"-scale on the bass—is carved from Brazilian rosewood. The headless guitar features the Toone Townsend Tuning System and is outfi tted with an EMG 81-7 in the bridge position and an EMG 707 in the neck.
Dreamer DT Green Burst
The Brazilian cedar body of Freire’s DT Green Burst is topped with curly maple, while the hard maple neck is topped with 25"-scale ebony fretboard that’s dressed with abalone dots. Hardware appointments for this jewel include the Gotoh/Wilkinson VS401 bridge, Gotoh Magnum Lock tuners, and a Graph Tech Black Tusq nut. Going with Seymour Duncan for the pickups, Freire loaded up the DT Green Burst with a SH-4 JB in the bridge and a SH-2 Jazz in the neck.
The body of this hi-gloss, nitro-finished Jazzmaster tribute is carved from Brazilian mahogany and paired with a neck and matching headstock cut from maple. With mother-of-pearl dots populating the landscape of the Brazilian rosewood fretboard, other features include the Gotoh Magnum Lock tuning machines and a Fender Jazzmaster bridge. This classic-looking axe conjures up its tone with the help of the pair of Joe Barden JM Two/Tone pickups.
Built with heavy and metal in mind, the Dreamer EXP is a neck-through designed axe with a Brazilian cedar body and mahogany neck. Adorning the 25"-scale ebony fretboard is a mother-of-pearl “D” initial that stretches from the 11th to 13th frets. Hardware appointments include the Gotoh Floyd Rose bridge, Gotoh tuning machines, and Dunlop Straploks. And for electronics, Freire opted for an EMG 89 in the neck and an EMG 81 in the bridge.
Pricing and Availability
Freire builds approximately 30 guitars annually, but with plans to upgrade his shop in the near future by purchasing a CNC machine, he expects his annual production to increase to nearly 100. All Dream Guitarworks instruments are custom made, and because of the country’s spirited tax system, have a base price around $2,300 in Brazil, but are 30 percent less if purchased in the U.S. The current wait time for a custom Dreamer guitar is approximately four months.