By Jessie Ian Hopkins
It takes guts to follow your passion—your calling—or whatever you want to label that which, in your heart of hearts, you know you must do with your life. It takes, even more to do it on your own and especially when your vocation doesn’t fall neatly within traditional parameters. Therefore, it is worth paying attention when you stumble across someone who is doing all of those things and is willing to give you an honest look at some of the inner-workings. Claudio Pagelli has been crafting and repairing guitars since the late ’70s. Currently, he and partners Claudia and Eliya Maria build instruments that are just as beautiful as thought-provoking. Claudio has graciously taken the time to tell us a little more about his endeavors, and you should take note.
Guitar Connoisseur: What first inspired your non-traditional approach?
Claudio Pagelli: I guess it was our local guitar hero who has cut the two horns off his ‘Strat; I was 13 years then, and I realized that guitars could be done differently (laughs).
GC: Have you found, over the course of your career, that it is necessary to explain and convince people of your creative vision to sell them on your guitars themselves?
CP: I don’t convince anybody—it’s speaking for itself! Love it or hate it (laughs). Of course, some designs, like the one we licensed to Eastman, are based on an ergonomic idea, and those things need to be explained.
GC: How long did it take for you to develop a following? What do your customers like most about your guitars?
CP: I’m still developing the followers. It’s a hard business to make a living, and when you are weird, it’s even harder (laughs). But, I guess with the Internet, things are spreading, and now we have people from all over the world that loves our stuff. We have thousands of visitors every month to our site. I guess 99% are guitar makers and the industry. Our customers like the uniqueness, the sound, playability, and many turned into friends. Most of them are open-minded people.
GC: Are players in Europe more accepting of non-traditional shapes, etc.? Also, who are some of the artists using your guitars, and what do you think drew them to your work initially?
CP: I guess the Europeans are a little more open regarding design, but just slightly. There are some builders over here that are trying to break out of the traditional corset. I guess there; we had an influence.
GC: What is the most radical thing you’ve built or even just worked on, and what projects are currently on your bench?
CP: The golden fretless bass was a thing that was just way out of everything (and influenced many bass makers), the Louis Christ archtop, the avantair with built-in airfx, the splashbass, the jazzability guitars, the Vieng model bass/guitar, recently the convertible—gosh, nearly all we built (laughs). I guess the strangest are the ones we are making for ourselves—for showing at fairs—there we have no boundaries.
GC: What lead to your work with Cort and the development of the Cort/Pagelli model? Were there certain constraints that you had to work within?
CP: They have seen a model we made and asked us to license that; unfortunately, they never made it exactly as we wanted. That was the reason we stopped our relationship.
GC: Do you think that large guitar companies will become less relevant as smaller independent makers become more prevalent?
CP: The big ones get the ideas from the small ones, but people don’t want to spend big bucks on a guitar, so the big companies will stay relevant. But the innovative ideas are coming from the small and independent luthiers—but not all the time (laughs).
GC: Who are some of your favorite guitar makers?
CP: Hmmm…there was an Italian guy called Antonio Pioli, Wandre guitars—he was just unbelievable. People traced me to his work because they said that our stuff is reminded them of his work. So I Googled, and now I’m a fan of him (laughs)! Unfortunately, he died a few years ago—it would have been fun to get in touch with him. Other builders I like are, for example, are Fred Carlson—that blew me away when I saw one of his guitars 30 years ago, and a Japanese man called Michihiro Matsuda—he’s like a brother in soul, and also a very nice person, my friends Uli Teuffel, Bob Benedetto, John Monteleone, Richard Hoover, Harry Fleischman, Michael Spalt, Trussart, Nik Huber, and so on. In general, the good ones are great people you would love to hang out with and have a few beers together! I’m sure I have forgotten a few…ah…Paulino Bernabe, Steve Klein, the Steinberg bass in the ’80s was unbelievable, of course, Ken Parker…ah…Michael Dunn, Charles Fox—also a nice guy. You see, I grabbed the “hand-made, hand-played” book (laughs). I’m delighted that I had/have the chance to know all those people, but I guess the one I feel closest connected is Wandre—Antonio Pioli!
GC: Fifty years from now, what would you like someone to think when he or she picks up one of your guitars or even hears your name for the first time?
CP: That this guy, together with his wife, made great work—in all respects—and that they have a smile on the face when they see my work.
GC: If you had one piece of advice to give to all the young luthiers out there who want to become successful in this craft, what would it be?
CP: 1. Be prepared to have no money 2. Be unique; do the best work you can do 3.Be polite 4. Give respect to other builders 5. Don’t sell the guitars too cheap (it’s hard getting higher with the price when you realize that you can’t make a living from what you have asked until now) 6. Treat the girlfriend of a customer always as good as the customer himself—she’s the one that will give the OK for the money (laughs).
GC: How necessary is it to have big-name players using your guitars, and who are some of the artists (famous or otherwise) using your instruments?
CP: I don’t have many big-name players, but big players! Big names are good to have, if possible, especially as a beginner. Unfortunately, there are no more big guitar heroes without a contract—bound to a big company—and also, in general, who/where are the big guitar heroes? I guess it’s the time of the singer (laughs).
GC: How long is your waiting list/period?
CP: The waiting list is around one year.