Over the last few decades, we’ve seen many of the big guitar brands shift manufacturing overseas in order to produce more affordable guitars. Because of this, as consumers of the instrument, we’re pretty spoiled for choice! Great, high-quality instruments are cheaper and more widely available than ever.
But this has had the unfortunate consequence of pushing many smaller brands out of the limelight. Italy in particular has a lot of fantastic brands whose luthiers played a huge role during the ’60s during the big guitar boom.
So today we hope to give you some insight into Italy’s best acoustic guitar manufacturers. We’ll take a look at what makes these instruments so special and the incredible heritage that many of them have.
Top Italian Acoustic Guitar Brands
- Carmelo Catania
Enrico Di Pierro from Viterbo, Italia, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Carmelo Catania was a huge figure in Italian guitar manufacturing and luthiery. While no longer in business today, you can still occasionally catch their guitars cropping up on Reverb or eBay. Just be prepared to pay the price for one as they are highly sought after due to their heritage and prestige.
Carmelo was born in 1908 and started out as a violin maker. He very quickly took the luthiery fundamentals he learned through violin making and was able to find work in a shop called the ‘Mandolinaio Finocchiaro’. By the time he was 17 he had already built his first harp guitar and was considered a full-blown professional in every measurable sense of the word.
Eventually, he reached a point where no one was able to help him improve anymore. Prompting him to seek out other places to work and increase his knowledge, all with the intention of taking those skills and eventually starting his own company. He continued to work and by 1936 he registered his company and was able to begin manufacturing guitars under his own name.
Over the decades that followed the company would slowly increase its range of guitars, offering everything from cheap beginner instruments to the most premium of guitars intended for the working professional. They even hit a peak sales record of over 10,000 instruments sold in a year after the second world war, which is no small feat. They would distribute all the way across Europe, Asia and even reach as far as Australia and New Zealand.
After his passing in 1970, the company’s popularity waned as other, new companies began to take the spotlight. But as we mentioned, if you hunt around enough you’ll still see these guitars being sold and find whispers on guitar forums of people praising their top-tier construction and beautiful tonal qualities.
Another company that was pivotal in Italian guitar manufacturing during the early 60s.
Originally the company’s founder, Sante Crucianelli, was an accordion manufacturer who saw a ton of success throughout the first half of the 19th century. Italy was considered the center of accordion production and between Crucianelli and their main competitor, Eko, they were considered industry leaders.
He received many of Italy’s top honors including the Cross of the Cavalier of the Italian Crown.
However, as years passed the popularity of the accordion waned. By the 60s we were firmly in the guitar era, largely fueled by the massive popularity of bands like the Beatles.
So Crucianelli decided to branch out into guitar manufacturing to capitalize on this so-called ‘guitar boom’. Eko and Crucianelli quickly found themselves in hot competition with one another and were directly competing for business.
Vox would end up making both Crucianelli and Eko an offer to release their instruments under the Vox name as subcontractors. It was at this point that Eko leaned more into more traditional acoustic guitars and Crucianlli leaned heavily into acoustic hollow-body guitars.
Crucianelli went on to produce several unique instruments which flirted with the idea of large-bodied acoustic guitars combined with elements you might find on something like an ES-355 such as pickups or vibrato bars.
In addition to that, they also produced a line of traditional acoustic guitars which include the popular Crucianelli C100 which was a fairly standard acoustic guitar designed for the non-professional.
It’s not clear why, but these acoustics were distributed under 3 separate names in the US which were the PANaramic brand, the C. Renella brand as also as Crucianelli. So if you’re interested in one of these instruments you should try to search for all 3 of these as they were all manufactured by Crucianelli during that period.
Eko is one of the more well-known Italian guitar manufacturers thanks to their numerous ‘copycat’ style guitars that are essentially just more affordable versions of guitars from more popular brands such as the Fender Jaguar.
As a company, they’ve always had a close link to Crucianelli (see above) as they competed fiercely during the 1960s for the largest portion of the market during the ‘guitar boom’. Eko was the single largest European exporter of guitars over to the United States and ended up producing instruments for Vox with their Mark III, Phantom, and Ultrasonic models.
In the UK, Eko’s instruments were distributed by Rise-Morris, and in Australia, they were re-branded as ‘Eston’ guitars and distributed by Rose Music.
Eko still manufactures and distributes guitars today, making them one of the few Italian companies to make it into the 2000s.
Their best-selling acoustic guitar is the ‘Ranger’ series (they also claim this is the most successful European manufactured guitar ever too), which is available in both a 6-string and a 12-string version. The model has been re-issued a number of times, but the fundamentals of it have always mostly stayed the same.
Later models have a bolt-on neck and an aluminum bridge saddle making it one of the few acoustic that could be adjusted ‘on the fly’. The ranger series is really their bread and butter and many owners have said that they would place it on the same level as a Martin or Taylor acoustic.
While the original 60s models cost quite a lot nowadays due to their significant heritage. You should be able to find many of their more recent Ranger reissue series (pictured above) for a much more reasonable price.
Prior to rebranding as EROS and having their instruments produced in Japan for distribution to the Western market. E-Ros guitars started out as a small acoustic guitar company based in Recanati, Italy by the Fuselli Brothers (owners of the Fratelli Fuselli company).
They were primarily known for making a wide range of high-quality acoustic guitars which included flat-top dreadnoughts. Popular models would include the 606 Dakota, Arizona and there was even a 12-string model called the 612 Nevada.
It’s also rumored that E-Ros produced Eko’s very popular ‘Ranger’ series (see above) for a while after the Eko factory was burned down in a fire. Most of these guitars were distributed to the UK during the 1970’s so it’s actually possible to find E-Ros made guitars with the Eko logo on them.
As mentioned, the company was later re-branded to EROS and would produce both acoustic and electric guitars that took heavy influence from Gibson and Fender’s own range.
Excelsior is a unique company in so much as it first began in New York, USA in 1924 primarily manufacturing organs. After the war, they had a stellar reputation and were considered a ‘must’ for every great orchestra.
Fast forward a little to 1948 and they had a factory built in Italy where they would increase production volume and begin to distribute their guitars all over the world.
Making heavy use of their brand and pre-established connections in America to kickstart this new endeavor.
While they never achieved commercial success when compared to the likes of Fender or Gibson, they did produce several great Hollowbody acoustics that were considered solid alternatives to their American counterparts.
Masetti was a big influence on Italian guitar manufacturing back in the 1900s.
Winning numerous awards between 1920-1930 for their high-quality harp guitars.
In 1942 Masetto went on a hiatus due to the war but was able to re-open the shop later in 1951 after taking inspiration from Gibson’s newer semi-acoustic jazz archtops. Over the following years, they expanded their range to include everything from harp guitars, mandolins, banjos, and of course classical acoustic guitars.
Needless to say, a Masetti guitar is incredibly rare to come across in the modern day. But their presence in the history of Italian guitars is undeniable.
Unlike every other company we’ve mentioned so far, Meazzi was one of the few that didn’t only produce guitars. They were actually a giant company that produced other musical items such as amplifiers, pedals, and drums all the way to complete non-musical items such as watches and batteries.
But when it comes to the guitar, they made just about everything. Electrics and basses which had heavy nods to Fender. But their acoustic lineup, particularly their Artex model, was also one of their best sellers.
Not to be confused with the Gibson melody maker. This was a small company founded in Italy in 1961, most probably with the intention of capitalizing on the big guitar boom of that decade.
While they were not particularly innovative with their designs, many players noted that they shared remarkable similarities to the likes of Crucianelli and Eko guitars.
Although they are credited with a unique neck adjustment system which they called the micro tilt neck. However, it would be Fender who patented the technology almost 7 years later after Melody invented it.
Over the following decade, Melody would also produce guitars as a subsidiary of Eko and many of their instruments were re-branded with the Eko logo up until 1969. After which Melody would sporadically produce instruments with their own brand name on them to assist in liquidating Eko’s inventory of instruments they weren’t able to sell.
Eko eventually stopped business in 1983, but melody actually remained active until 1988 thanks to a new production manager making them one of the longest-running active Italian guitar companies ever.
Like many other companies, Polvernini started in the 1940s with a primary focus on accordions. But by the 1960s they had almost fully switched to guitars as they introduced a slew of electrics clearly trying to capitalize on the styles laid out by other companies.
But in addition, they also introduced 2 quite popular acoustic guitars called the ‘Alone’ series and the ‘Kay’ series which feature a very nice burst finish and a unique walnut saddle.
They also do quite a lot of work as a supplier and would provide guitar parts and inexpensive necks to other companies. They produced some very inexpensive classical guitars which would be sold by Caldironi, Meazzi, and some other companies who would take these guitars and put their own branding on them.
Much of their production models are exported to the US with only 30% of their stock being distributed within Europe, of which France is their biggest market.
Some of the instruments that made their way to the US were also rebranded.
The company was dissolved in 1985 and now continues to operate under the name Polverini Musical Instruments.
Welson guitars are a subsidiary of Bartolini, while it’s not known exactly how this relationship works, it’s thought that Bartolini may be a component supplier or partial owner of the company.
Like many others, Welson started in accordion production until the early ‘60s when they would shift into electric solid-body guitars.
Despite this being their main bread and butter, they also had a fairly substantial range of successful acoustic guitars with every possible body and bridge type you can imagine. Their Orpheum series also features a steel tailpiece and electric pickup system.
Popular guitars include their Welson and Wurlitzer models.
Whether you realize it or not, Italian guitars have had a huge impact on the acoustic guitar world throughout the 19th century. In fact, the first classical guitar was developed in Italy by the Italian luthier Gaetano Vinaccia in 1779.
With so many instruments being manufactured and then re-branded for sale in the Western market, it can be difficult to get a good overall picture of just how pivotal Italian guitars were.
Keep an eye out for any that come up for sale from the companies we have mentioned here today, as they are quite rare and are part of an important era of guitar manufacturing.