The Neapolitan Instrument Makers of New York

Jayson Kerr Dobney, Metropolitan Museum of Art

For more than a century, Italian Americans in and around New York City have produced a great variety of stringed musical instruments ranging from European-style violins, mandolins, and guitars, to American instruments such as the banjo, archtop guitar and mandolin, and electric guitars. The arrival of highly skilled Italian craftsmen around the turn of the twentieth century was in large measure driven by the American fad for the Neapolitan mandolin, and a great number of makers established thriving businesses during this time. In the 1920s, as interest in the mandolin was fading, some of these highly skilled craftsmen were able to make the transition to producing other instruments to meet the demands of changing musical styles. Jayson Kerr Dobney, Associate Curator in the Department of Musical Instruments at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, will trace this history from the first Italian makers who arrived in New York City in the nineteenth century, to makers from this tradition still active in the tri-state region. An exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, Guitar Heroes: Legendary Craftsmen from Italy to New York, runs from February 9 to July 4, 2011.