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Benedetto Guitars celebrates 50 years of master craftsmanship

by Jeff Rogers

Bob Benedetto founded his archtop guitar company 50 years ago.
Bob Benedetto has come a long way from cuttng up family furniture to build his special guitars. 

When you learn Bob Benedetto's story, it's hard to imagine him being anything but one of the world's best at his craft. 

He seems born to it, backed by a close-knit family and a passion for music that are cornerstones of Benedetto Guitars.

This past month, his company celebrated 50 years of building archtop guitars favored by expert jazz players. We're so honored to have him as an EMI Supply customer that he is the first subject in our Customer Spotlight series. 

Benedetto, born in the Bronx in 1946, comes from a line of woodworkers. His father, Salvatore, was a second-generation cabinetmaker; his paternal grandfather, Antonio, applied his expertise at the Steinway piano factory. 
Damon Mailand, Benedetto's master luthier since 2006.Damon Mailand joined Benedetto in 2006.

Damon Mailand, Master Luthier at Benedetto Guitars

When Bob moved his production shop to Savannah in 2006, one of his first hires was up-and-coming luthier Damon Mailand.

In the years since, Damon has soaked up enough of Bob's expertise to be placed in charge of daily operations. He shared a few details about how he uses materials bought from EMISupply:

How did you get into this line of work?

I grew up playing guitar and learned the basics of guitar making and repair at a trade school. The rest of my education happened on-the-job under the direct tutelage of Bob Benedetto, our company’s founder.

On average, how many hours are spent sanding for one model?

The sanding never ends! I would estimate 10-15 hours per guitar.

Who would know sandpaper better than a luthier?

I can’t imagine! I try to surround myself with woodworkers just so we can have detailed discussions about sandpaper.

Given that, what do you look for in quality sandpaper?

Each grit needs to cut at a very specific rate. The weight of the backing can also make a big difference for certain procedures. Durability really sets high-end sandpaper apart from inferior competitors.
Great Uncle Luigi, also a cabinetmaker, eventually passed down his tools to Bob. 

The other key elements in the mix for Bob were his musical uncles, Mike and Frank.

Uncle Mike explained to Bob how his guitar made sound, a combination of tuned strings, fine wood and those alluring f-shaped soundholes in the arched top. Bob, 11, was hooked enough to start carving miniature guitars out of whatever scrap wood he could find. 

Uncle Frank taught enough Benedetto kids to form a family band, The Swingin' B's. Bob, of course, learned guitar, and by age 14 was able to pick up a fine Gretsch Chet Atkins 6210 through a family friend who worked for Gretsch.

Everything around Bob seemed to fall into place like an exquisite dovetail joint. He gigged as a teen and had access to seeing fantastic jazz musicians in the city. During a four-year stint in the Air Force, he literally whittled his spare time away on carvings.

Out of the Air Force in 1968, he decided to build a guitar he could play. He found fine wood for the top and back at a shop in the city, but he was stuck trying to find a sturdy, aged wood that would become the neck. 

Again, it was right under his nose. When he asked his father where he could find such wood, Salvatore knocked on the kitchen table where they sat. It was maple, and Salvatore could easily make a replacement. 

And so Bob built his first archtop out of the family table, and later cut up a bed and a bookcase, and Benedetto Guitars was born. 

It wasn't always easy as Bob and the other love of his life, wife Cindy, scrapped to get attention for Bob's guitars in a small market of players. But as you'd suspect, the best artists find each other, and Benedetto Guitars remain legendary among jazz players. 

In 2006, Bob moved his shop to Savannah, Ga. His first hire there was Damon Mailand, who learned enough from Bob to become the master luthier. Damon runs the shop these days, with Bob coming by to inspect the work.

To see the process of how these fine instruments are made, check one of the company's videos here

Congratulations to Bob and his crew for 50 years of providing exquisite tools for the best music-makers, and thanks for your ongoing business. 

This article was published on Friday September 14, 2018.