Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open - 83
A lba nus g uitars are ma ny
things. One they are not is cookiecutter.
Billy Cook, who apprenticed
with Barker and now operates Cook
Guitars, has seen a lot of Albanus
guitars and speculates Johnson used
few templates. In fact, based on instruments tracked down to date, it appears
Johnson was highly experimental. His
top-bracing patterns include parallel, X,
and a single diagonal brace similar to later
Strombergs. Scale lengths range from 24"
to a 261/2", lower bouts from 17" to 18", and
body depth from 31/ 8" to 33/ 8".
Some guitars were designed to accommodate the playing style of the owner.
When he visited the shop, Ferreri would
often play for Johnson. Johnson was impressed by how Ferreri used the full range
of the instrument, and wanted to build one
pitch-tuned to fit him. If a player focused
on chord voicings using the lower strings (a
(LEFT) The headstock on this circa-'69
Albanus has Johnson's script logo and
fleur de lis headstock inlay. (RIGHT) The
headstock on this circa-'73 Albanus has the
broken scroll pediment and inlaid stars.
'69 Albanus courtesy of Skinner, Inc. 1973 Albanus courtesy of Gary Dick.
Johnson's shoulder while
he was working. After
months of "bugging him
out of his mind," Barker learned enough to
begin making jigs and
templates of his own
designs. Circa '61, he built
his first guitar.
Johnson continued to make
guitars into the '70s. In '74, he
was diagnosed with chronic
pancreatitis which over the next
two years evolved into cancer.
By September of '76, the cancer
had spread to other parts of
his body. It's not known when
Johnson's final build was completed, but he was still taking in
work as late as October, when
he returned a questionnaire
to Susan Caust Farrell for her
book, Directory of Contemporary
American Musical Instrument
On June 9, 1977, Johnson
passed away after a short stay
at St. Francis Hospital, in Evanston. Barker estimated Johnson built approximately
75 guitars during
la Freddie Green), Johnson
would build the guitar to
resonate at the note G. If
the person played in
a more-modern st yle
focused on higher chord
voicings, it would resonate at the note A. In
Ferreri's case, Johnson
adjusted the pitch midway between, and the resultant guitar served as his
primary instrument until it
was stolen several years later.
Johnson's ex perimentation was not limited to body
design. His earliest employed
a standard Kluson trapezestyle tailpiece, but by '56 he'd
designed a one-piece unit with
four cutouts and an X-shaped
center. In '57, he introduced a
violin-style tailpiece consisting of an ebony or rosewood
façade with a brass inset.
The inset extended beyond
the façade and attached to
the body. Each string passed
through an opening in the
wood, but the ball-end secured
against the metal portion. In
addition to aesthetic appeal,