Forcillo archtop guitar, New Jersey, circa 1953
Here is what we do know. In 1932, first generation Italian-American guitar, violin, and mandolin maker John D'Angelico started his own shop in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York City. He had apprenticed under his Uncle, Raphael Ciani, for over a dozen years before Ciani's death. When he opened his own shop among his employees were Jimmy DeSerio, who stayed with D'Angelico until 1959, and Frank Forcillo whose tenure with the legend was a brief few years.
Frank Forcillo's name next turns up in the Blue Book of Guitars as the head of United Guitars out of Elizabeth, New Jersey, started presumably some time in the 1940s. The next concrete piece of info around Forcillo is courtesy of the United States Patent Office. On April 29, 1948, Forcillo filed a patent listed as an Attachment for Fretted, Stringed Instruments. This design is topped of by a finial that is remarkably similar to the same detail that D'Angelico used almost exclusively during the same time period.
Update: luthier Todd Cambio of Fraulini Guitars has confirmed that the finial on the headstock is a very old Neapolitan design used not only by instrument makers in Italy long before mid-century, but also used by John D'Angelico's uncle, Sr. Ciani, on several mandolins and guitars.
United States Patent 2,510,775 filed by Frank Forcillo, 1948
At this point of time (or very close to it at least) the Forcillo Guitar enters into the picture. An educated guess would put this particular guitar in right around this time period. Some of the details in addition to the aforementioned finial include Waverly open-back tuners and matching tailpiece, as well as a headstock shape and neck design that is very similar to contemporaneous D'Angelicos. The pickups are something of a mystery. Perhaps they are manufactured by Franz/Fransch/Fransche, another small New York are shop that provided pickups most notably for Guild guitars while that guitar-maker was in New York and later New Jersey.
Beyond the above, very little is currently known about Forcillo and United and even less than the instrument. The seller shared that it was purchased by his father in New York some time around 1953 and continued to use it for years in jazz and society bands. There was some vague memory of it being a fairly expensive purchase at the time, but the other details are long lost. Of course I would love to hear from anyone who knows more about any of these topics. Please use the comments section below or email me direct. I will update this post as I discover and verify more information.
Footnote: both D'Angelico and Guild continued to have connections to Forcillo's United Guitars throughout the 1950s. When John D'Angelico finally caved into pressure to make "electric" guitars he chose not to make the bodies, but rather purchased laminate-top bodies from Forcillo's United company. John would then make the neck and complete the guitars - again using Franz pickups for the most part. Obviously they remained on good terms. According to Hans Moust's excellent and highly recommended The Guild Guitar Book, in the early years Guild used craftsmen from Code Guitars in New Jersey to finish their instruments. Many references to United Guitars make reference to Code in the same breath. The connection has yet to be fully explained but it is worth mentioning here. It should also be noted that the finish on this Forcillo guitar looks very similar to the finishes Guild used during it's first year or so (1953-1954).
Forcillo archtop guitar, New Jersey, circa 1953
Great post and great guitar. Thanks. The finial at the top of the headstock is a very old Neapolitan design. Raphael Ciani, D'Angelico's uncle, used it on some of his mandolins and guitars and builders in Italy used it as well. So Forcillo wasn't the first to come up with it, but perhaps the first to try to capitalize on it.
Thank you very much for the insight Todd. I will revise above and credit you accordingly. I will also send you an email direct to follow-up.
IT LOOK NEAR A EASTMAN JAZZBOX, WITH THE EXCEPTION,
HE PROCEEDED EASTMAN, BY SEVERAL DECADES... IS HE
STILL LIVING OR?...... GREAT CRAFTSMANSHIP AS WELL,
ALSO PRECEEDING THE "GOD FATHER" OF ARCHTOP
MAKING, ROBERT BENEDETTO... WHAT CHA THINK
ABOUT "THAT", BOB?!?!?!?!?!?!?.... [RHETORICAL]
Thanks for the comments. I am nearly sure Mr. Forcillo has long left this mortal coil.
This is great! I was not aware that Forcillo made his own instruments. The pickups are nearly identical to the earliest Guild pickups, which may or may not have been United made or imported from Franz. Not sure. Thanks for writing about this!
Thanks for the comments Deke. Yes, those pickups do remain something of a mystery, although they are very similar to early Guilds and/or something from the Franz/Fransch operation. I am still trying to compile more info on the latter, as there is no doubt a really interesting story behind those.
I have a Forcillo arch top dated 1949 no s/n, man that sold it to me in 1974 said it was 1 of 5 at the time.
Thanks so much for leaving the comment. I would love to hear more. Please feel free to contact me through any of the methods provided on the blog.
I have a very old flat top (1940'S)? that that has United Guitar inlaid on the head stock. The headstock is of the exact shape of a D'angelico New Yorker. The body and bridge are reminiscent of Ciani designs. The woods and craftsmanship look as though John D;angelico had a hand in it"s construction.
Thanks Rick. That is very interesting. If you care to share any photos, I certainly would love to see them. My email address is on the right hand side of this web page.
I would like to send you a photo of the united flat top guitar, but I am unable to access your email address from the area notated on the page.
The Pickups sure look like early Franz's to me
I am very interested in information on Code, United or Code/United
I have a mid fifties Archtop branded "Orpheum" that looks in every way almost
exactly like my Gretsch Archtop from the exact same period, with Franz pickups
I believe that there may have been a lot of back and forth in the Italian
Guitar building industry in the New York area during that period of time
Beautiful Guitar, Interesting article, Thank You
Norm in California
Hello! I am writing from Southern Italy on behalf of a distant family member of the famous Frank Forcillo. His name is Domenico Forcillo. Does anyone have any information about the Forcillo family....if they still live in New Jersey...any info will be helpful...Thank you!
frank forcillo is my maternal grandfather. we still live in nj. you can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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