A profile of John Monteleone, one of the world’s greatest guitar builders. Known by many as a modern day Stradivari of the guitar, Monteleone is a living artist on permanent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A multi-faceted artist, Monteleone builds instruments that are admired not only for their incredible sound, but also for their visually striking and innovative designs. Though his archtop guitars are sought after by jazz musicians, rock players like Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler have also ordered custom instruments.
This feature-length documentary looks beyond the technical aspects of luthierie and examines the life, passion, talent and unique approach John Monteleone takes to his art. Starting with his early interest in the craft, when, at age ten, John repaired the dilapidated family piano, then smashed a cheap guitar so he could see what was inside, the film follows him through his realization as a young man that building instruments was actually a job, and on to his launch of a career repairing some of the world’s finest instruments.
Largely self-taught, Monteleone used his background in repair to begin building instruments, both mandolins and guitars, in the traditional style. Once he mastered this he began to innovate and design his own models. The film examines John’s influences including his father and uncle’s artwork, his own interests in Art Deco, architecture, cars, trains, and the work of industrial designer Raymond Loewy. Branching out further Monteleone drew on these influences to create one-of-a-kind themed guitars with names like the Radio City, Sun King, Orange Blossom Special, the Radio Wave and many others.
John’s family and creative roots are in Italy, where we follow him to the northern forests to find the perfect wood for his next projects, and then on to Cremona, known as the city at the heart of violin building. John takes us on a tour through the Museo del Violino where the violins of Stradivari and the Cremonase masters are on display, and explains what can be learned from the old masters’ approach to building, and what must be learned on your own.
Monteleone is paid tribute throughout the film by his musician clients, including Mark Knopfler, Ben Harper, David Grisman, Mike Marshall, Julian Lage, Anthony Wilson, Woody Mann, Julian Lage and others. Mark Knopfler’s performance of his song “Monteleone” includes Mark’s description of how John inspired him to write the song and how the lyrics, which start with “The chisels are calling / It’s time to make sawdust,” came about. Please email us for further information and press materials.
Charlie Phelps, a field hand in 1920s Mississippi, witnesses a crime that forces him to take to the road and pursue a living as an itinerant street musician. Facing homelessness, hunger and musical limitations, he begins his long journey to escape poverty and train himself to become one of the greatest blues guitarists and songwriters of his generation.
Charlie’s struggles are paralleled by the investigations of two 1961 blues researchers who believe that the legendary musician, who disappeared decades ago after being accused of murder, is still alive. It is their intention to exonerate him but they soon learn that they may be in over their heads. There are some mysteries that should be left unsolved.
This narrative feature film includes authentic locales, music, and cultural references from blues history, as well as cameos from a few of the genre’s greatest stars. Inspiration for this project was drawn from the music of Charley Patton, Skip James, Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Blake, Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt and other early American blues artists. The soundtrack will be written and recorded by Woody Mann.
Photos: Rod Franklin
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