Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ermelinda Silvestri

Start press: she is a woman! Acoustic guitar with cartouche "Alaric Sgroi Silvestri". It is a descendant (son?) Of Salvatore Mancuso and Sgroi Ermelinda Sivlestri, husband and wife, who at the beginning of the 900 'unified the existing Companies Sgroi Mancuso and Ermelinda Silvestri. The guitar is the '60s. The rosette is typical of the company. From
Stop press: alas, Ermelinda is a man. But I like my story so much, I'm going to keep it here because it made me really happy for 24 hours.
This is a bit of a 'you couldn't make it up' story, I think.
About two years ago I was searching for a cheap parlour guitar on eBay and I saw one for £150 or best offer. I offered £50 and this little guitar turned up. It was almost unplayable, but looked OK. The problem was the smell- really weird, a bit fishy, and eventually I stuck it in the loft and left it there because it was too pungent for everyday inhalation. It joined a cohort of other loft-stuff that had been dumped there for posterity.
You can't do that with everything and I'm in the process of working out what to keep and what to lose, especially after seeing what two parents left behind in terms of a lifetime's collected stuff (and also after making a major move about 9 years ago, from a 4 bedroomed house whose loft was as big as the whole house I live in now).
So the little guitar was destined for eBay again until an internet angel told me a bit about it, and now I am going to find someone to restore it because it's a very old and very peculiar guitar.
Ermelinda Silvestri was a mandolin maker who was born in the 19th Century and who worked in the Rome area (I think). She specialised in inlaid work and often decorated her instruments with a butterfly motif. There are photos of her instruments on the internet and some vague histories- but isn't it a bit unusual for a female instrument-maker to have been so prolific at that time? I sense a research project coming; don't nick my ideas, you out there!
This guitar has no label, and no stamped signature, and I think it may well be one of the very early ones, although it was made for steel strings. What is unusual and what would, probably date it, is the inlays on the neck- the dots that help us poor guitarists locate the correct places to put our fingers, and which are usually central to the fretboard. Here, they're at the edge. By adjusting the bridge, I've managed to lower the action and the intonation's not bad although it resonates in quite a harsh way despite being made of old wood; this could be because of the metal the tailpiece is made of, I think.
Anyway, what a lovely project to accidentally have stumbled upon: I have in my possession a guitar made by a woman guitar-maker in the very early 20th Century that I almost sold for 99 pence.
And it doesn't smell any more, either.


Nick R said...

I think Helen has got her wires crossed on this guitar. There were clear Silvestri features on such guitars- the scalloped end to the fingerboard and a different headstock top- not pointed but what is known as an "open book" style. This guitar was almost certainly made by another Catania maker-Fratelli Indelicato in the 1950s not by S Sgroi Silvestri or Ermelinda Silvestri the earlier incarnation. I do, in fact, own an Ermelinda Silvestri guitar so I can see the clear differences.

Paul McAuley said...

Hello Helen, I have just retired from working life in Edinburgh and am in Catania, Sicily visiting my old friend Agostino Tilotta (we met as youngsters 42 years ago!) - a guitar 'nut', he is in a band here called Uzeda, (pretty loud!) Anyway he collects locally made guitars and would love the guitar you posted about, and asked me to ask you if you'd sell it (and me to buy it for him!!!). Do you still have it and would you sell it? Best wishes from sunny Sicily Paul McAuley ( jpmca2013 at )