Jim Dale–D’Leco Custom
Maurice Johnson with the Blue D’Leco Custom
Luthier, James Dale of D’Leco Guitars
D’Leco Guitars in Oklahoma City was a partnership of two guitar enthusiasts, James Dale and Maurice Johnson. Dale, whose father fronted a western swing band back in the early 1940s, was a luthier. Johnson, a graphic artist and musician, handles the marketing. Inspired by the musical passions of his father, Dale made his first two guitars as a high school project in 1953, and went on to pursue a career in cabinet making. Forty years later, after the death of his father, Dale decided to fulfill a dream he had shared with his father to build quality guitars. D’Leco was a spinoff from the name “Dale Company”, but with an Italian twist–which is in keeping with the dominance of NYC metropolitan area Italian luthiers who dominated the archtop market, like D’Aquisto, Monteleone, Benedetto, Buscarino, and Campellone. In this he was no different than many of the Asian companies, like Ibanez or the modern D’Angelico company, which made up a Spanish name and licensed a legendary Italian name, respectively.
The story of how the guitar came into the collection is a most unusual one. Jim Dale learned of the Blue Collection, and he contacted Scott Chinery to see if he could submit a guitar to be considered for the collection. Scott, while not encouraging him, told him the few requirements: it was to be an 18″, fully acoustic archtop that was to be blue. Armed only with that, Jim built “on spec” the D’Leco custom. We believe it was his first and only acoustic archtop, and since he was not given the specifications of the blue Mohawk stain used by the others, he used blue paint–which unlike most of the guitars in the collection, has not faded or changed color at all in the intervening years. When the guitar arrived in New Jersey at the Chinery House, Larry Acunto, the editor of “Twentieth Century Guitar” and a close friend and advisor to Scott, was present. The arrival of the guitar was a surprise–not only had it not been directly solicited, it was built much more like an electric archtop missing the pickups, weighing significantly more than any of the other guitars in the collection. At least one very eminent guitarist urged Scott to not include the guitar in the collection, but as Larry remembers, Scott was delighted, and thought that its inclusion was essential to show a “broader range of American guitars”…and we likely feel that Scott, himself an entrepreneur, was tickled to allow a fellow plucky entrepreneur his moment in the sun.
As mentioned, the D’Leco Guitar offering to the Blue Guitar Collection stands apart from the others in the collection: it is a far thicker guitar with a cutting sound deeper than what is usually accustomed to in more open instruments. The distinct bevel on the back of the guitar creates a comfortable ease of use and adds to the overall balance of the sound and feel of the instrument. The D’Leco Custom comes with a spruce top, maple back, sides, and neck. Ebony was used on the bridge, and fingerboard. The headstock overlay and tailpiece both feature a stained flamed maple design. The headstock is equipped with gold-plated Grover tuners with classic stair step style tuning buttons and an ebony truss-rod cover. While it is not as refined as the other instruments in the collection, it nonetheless shows remarkable foresight to the direction the guitar was to take–note the decorative carving of the soundholes, similar to the Benedetto, and even featured effectively a mini-sound port, something that was virtually non-existent before Scott brought up the topic to Monteleone, Manzer, Ribbecke and Benedetto.
We have never seen another D’Leco guitar, although Maurice Johnson, the co-founder of D’Leco, still plays an electric D’Leco. But we are tickled by this plucky story, which we thing reflects well on both the luthier and the patron.