Buddy Miller in his home studio with his cream-sparkle Wandre—the first example of the vintage Italian guitar brand’s work that he purchased. It cost $50 at a Colorado pawnshop.

Photo by Ted Drozdowski

The guitarist and songwriter’s odyssey has made him a living legend of Americana and a stylist of rare scope and depth, with a resume ranging from Emmylou Harris to Robert Plant. And on In the Throes, his latest collaboration with Julie Miller, his wife and longtime performing partner, Buddy enshrines her songs with his 6-string foundation and celebrates their shared life in music.

Some architects work in landscape. Others in interior or urban design. But Buddy Miller explores the architecture of sound, creating aural sculpture that is both supportive and, like I.M. Pei’s buildings, transporting. Although he learned to play in New Jersey—wound up by folk, country, and the Beatles—Miller made his bones in Austin, New York City, Los Angeles, and, ultimately, Nashville, where he is one of the city’s most respected guitarists and producers.

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Now, that’s a radical cutaway! But the pickguard indicates it was a matter of aesthetics over ergonomics for this 1960 Wandré. The Rock Oval model is considered the most iconic representative of the brand and commands low-five-figure prices.

The 1960 Wandré Rock Oval exemplifies its builder’s eye for the artistic and the original.

Of all the many wild and wonderful guitar brands to spring forth in the globe-sweeping electric guitar craze of the 1960s, Wandré occupies a spot of its own. Designed and built by Antonio Vandrè Pioli from roughly 1957 to 1969 in Cavriago, Italy, Wandré guitars were ahead of their time in more ways than one. They were some of the first guitars to have aluminum necks (predating Travis Bean by more than a decade) and typically featured body shapes, finishes, and other design flourishes seen nowhere else in the guitar scene, then or now.

The vision brought to these instruments is in many ways like that of today’s community of high-end boutique luthiers.

But perhaps the most trailblazing thing about Wandré guitars from the ’60s was the singular artistic approach taken with each of their creations. Pioli and his company clearly thought of these guitars as statements and veered far from the Fender, Gibson, and other mainstream templates followed by most global manufacturers in this era. The vision brought to these instruments is in many ways like that of today’s community of high-end boutique luthiers, like Teuffel, Spalt, Ritter, and others.

Note the exposed aluminum slab beneath the distinctive headstock. Despite that construction, Wandrés sound nothing like the better-known aluminum-neck guitars built by American luthier Travis Bean.

Increasingly, collectors of interesting vintage guitars have seen Wandrés as worthy targets, and prices have predictably gone up quite a bit in recent years. Many Wandrés feature custom one-off finishes, and the extant examples with the oddest body shapes combined with the most vibrant paint jobs usually command the highest resale values.

The back of this Rock Oval reveals an almost three-dimensional look in the multi-hued finish, a three-bolt neck junction, and the pickguard peeking around from the front, keeping a player’s fretting hand from completely following the smooth body lines.

Today’s featured guitar is just one of a massive collection of Wandrés recently listed on Reverb by Paris-based seller Daniel Zeiller. “I have built this collection over nearly 50 years. I bought my first Wandré when I was just 18 years old. At the end of the 1960s, you had to search flea markets to find them,” Zeiller tells us. “No one wanted these guitars, but I did. I caught the virus and kept looking for them and buying them.”

All Wandré guitars featured pickups and electronics designed by Athos Davoli. The Wandré company also issued some guitars under the Davoli brand name during its 11-year lifespan.

Hundreds of Wandrés later, Zellier’s collection came to include virtually every model and finish variation under the Wandré sun, including the Rock Oval model seen here. With its mind-bending finish, surreal body shape, highly stylized inlays, and aluminum 23 3/4"-scale neck, it’s a wonderful example of the sort of flair that has given Wandrés a fresh place in the vintage guitar consciousness. These guitars also have a distinctive sound thanks to their aluminum necks and pickguard-mounted pickups by Athos Davoli, who worked with Pioli to develop the electronics for these instruments.

To see and hear a Wandré at work, check out Nashville guitarist Buddy Miller’s playing on this live rendition of Emmylou Harris’ Deeper Well.”

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