SHALL WE HAVE A CUP OF TEA? By Paolino Canevari
This article was written specifically and published in the section devoted to the memory of Roberto Pistolesi in the brochure distributed on the occasion of the Second Hand Guitar Show in November 2006, the first one organized after the luthier from Santa Croce had left us.
On re-reading it, and being the author, I corrected a couple of little things (mostly related to some dates) and changed one part by updating it, the one related to the first “Spacecaster” guitar body.
"Shall we have a cup of tea?....". This was the typical phrase with which Roberto started a break from work at about five in the afternoon. How often I'd heard him say this while I was his guest, and frequently I was anxiously hoping he would say it (... after some of the lunches, in no way light or dietetic, the desire for a tea or coffee became a necessity).h
The afternoon tea ritual, when there were no customers waiting or urgent jobs to deliver, was not just a break from work but a moment of creative discussion.
While holding a cup of tea, in the studio behind the workshop in Santa Croce sull'Arno, stories and anecdotes about the '60s and '70s as well as buzzing stories about musicians and friends, but also projects (my Spacecaster for example or the Slide Master that unfortunately has never been realized) could come to light and proposals that were often abandoned would sometimes materialize, an example above all: the VooDoo pickups.
One afternoon in the autumn of 1996 while we were enjoying the usual cup of tea (accompanied by the inevitable "cavallucci " – typical biscuits of the region ... so as not to lower the caloric level) and when browsing a copy of Vintage Guitar Magazine, I pointed out the advertising page of Peter Florance, the maker of VooDoo Pickups to Roberto, saying that I was curious and that it might be interesting to try them out.
Roberto, after giving a glance, replied "No problem ? we'll order a set for the Strat and one for the Tele and then try them ... if they are good we'll use them ... if they don't convince us we'll use them for some replacement on lower cost guitars”.
That said, he immediately sent an order by fax (in those days he did not yet havean Internet connection).
After a couple of weeks, my phone rang in the evening, and a voice in an unmistakable accent, that did not need any presentations, said: "Those pickups are good, really good, bring the guitar down and if you like them we'll put them on".
At this point you will have already understood everything; as soon as they had arrived the VooDoos had been immediately tested on the "test body" and carefully compared with various other types; they had passed the test so brilliantly that Roberto decided to use them as standard equipment for his production guitars.
What could I do, after a few days I was on my way to Santa Croce with what was then my "almost" Spacecaster ready for the change of "pickups".
I say "almost" Spacecaster because the guitar or rather one and a half guitars I own has a fairly complex story that started out, as I said at the beginning, over a cup of tea taken in the workshop's backroom.
At that time (late 1996) I used a rather under the weather reissue '62, to which I had promptly changed the pickups and replaced the frets.
As the neck continued to create stability problems, I asked Roberto to build me one ... the answer was: "OK, but why not all the guitar?" and, while longing for an instrument built by Roberto, I had never defined the order discouraged by the long waiting times, but by now the die was cast ... even if it meant waiting.
During those days I had the opportunity to visit the laboratory of Marco Caroti, already a student and collaborator of Roberto.
Speaking of the Spacecaster I had just commissioned, Marco told me that during the rough shaping of the "Strat-style" bodies (an operation that in those days Roberto and Marco performed together in the laboratory of the latter) one had been damaged during the process and therefore, since it no longer met their quality standards, it was discarded.
They said, if I wanted, they would give it to me, otherwise it would end up in the fireplace.
Of course I immediately accepted, in the worst case I could use it as an accessory to the furniture in my, then quite bare, flat.
The damage consisted of the mark of a circular saw in the rear contour.
When I got home I started working on the body with a wood file and glasspaper. Eventually the damage disappeared, but the contour turned out to be extremely pronounced, but all in all fairly good and quite acceptable.
Luckily, Roberto intended to evade a few back orders and work intensely on the construction of some necks.
During my subsequent visits to Tuscany, I saw the necks of future Space and Skycasters being roughly shaped (the wood had been cut earlier and then left to rest).
I myself spent a few hours sanding my future neck under the expert and critical eye of the Maestro.
In August 1997, the neck, despite the expected long waiting time, was ready.
With the idea of trying it on the reissue body, I also carried the body "saved" from the fireplace with me, now adjusted and painted in Transparent Blonde.
Roberto took just one glance, "the neck won't fit the body of the re-edition, we'll fit it on that other one, it will not have the right contour, but at least it is made by us ... with good wood ... or , can't you hear that this other one is muted and doesn't sound well? "
A more than convincing claim, wouldn't you say?
The guitar, once assembled, played well and Roberto was satisfied (can you imagine me!).
The next question he put to me, glancing artfully over his working glasses was, "What do you want to put on the headstock?" ... classical tricky question.
To my "nothing, or a false decal that we will take off when the two-tone sunburst body is ready!", I heard him answer: "For the body you will have to wait quite a while ... it will be better to put one of my decals on it and then we will see".
That was the start of my love story with the Spacecaster that, believe me, made me forget my desire to own an original '50s "maple neck" that I could not and still cannot afford, and above all it did not make me regret the "vintage" instruments that I had recently, very reluctantly, done away with.
For more than a year I didn't ask for any more news on the "two tone sunburst", but towards the end of 1999, at the same time as Igor's Spacecaster "Irish Green" order, I got back on the attack.
Roberto, jokingly, told me that if I wanted the body I would have to earn it by giving him a hand.
I have never had a more welcome "blackmail" and it marked the beginning of a long period characterized by me continuously "fleeing" down to Tuscany to work on the bodies.
My technical contribution was very simple: first of all, I cleaned the floor then, with the vacuum cleaner, I picked up the shavings and sawdust that were produced during the milling work, but above all I was sandpapering and sandpapering while Roberto frequently threw amused glances my way.
It was in the summer of 2002 that, sanding some thirty bodies, I chose the one for my Spacecaster.
In fact, to avoid this responsibility, I asked for intervention by Roberto, who replied "…by sanding them all you have to handle them over and over again ... sooner or later you'll find one you fancy... or maybe it will find you."
Once I'd made my choice, Roberto held the alder body in his hand, carefully testing the resonance and smiling, but without saying a word, he penciled my name in the neck slot.
That will remain in my memories as a unique and unrepeatable period, I took holidays to spend some time in the Santa Croce workshop to pick up shavings and learn a whole lot of things.
Robert was someone who loved to talk, tell things and listen.
We alternated the work with sessions in the attic trying and comparing guitars and amplifiers, listening to music, making recording tests, or simply talking.
A phone call at the end of November 2003 advised me that my new Spacecaster body and Igor's "Irish green" were ready or almost.
In short, it was finally time to assemble the guitars.
Immediately I asked for holiday leave and in a blink of the eye I left for Tuscany.
The two Spacecasters were completed between the afternoon of Thursday 27 and the night of November 28, 2003.
Before screwing on the necks, Igor and I asked Roberto to put his autograph inside the guitars, beside the branded mark that characterized his products, he did a lot more, he added two short dedications.
Then, turning to me, he said, "What are you going to do with that other body now?" (the blonde one, with bridge and electrics but no neck).
I simply replied, "I'm waiting for you to do me a rosewood neck."
It was 5 o'clock in the morning and the answer was, "But didn't you have to leave and go back to work? Are you never satisfied? Come on, let's have a tea with Cantucci biscuits“.
Over the years, the then "almost - Spacecaster" (not having the brand inside) had seen a wide variety of necks, some good quality ones, others super industrial ... some quite satisfying, others completely disappointing ... but the original sound had gone ... the guitar no longer sounded as it did before!
To be precise, the neck with rosewood keyboard that was destined to this was later identified (I was sincerely honored) as the one fitted on the Fiesta Red Spacecaster number 4, Roberto's personal one, built when the " Wizard of Santa Croce Sull'Arno”, not having yet designed and built the "Neck Machine "(his bench with a milling machine specially designed for neck shaping), used rough Warmoth necks shaped later to customer specifications.
Roberto, in fact, had a pair of necks characterized by the particularly beautifully figured wood, destined for his two personal Spacecasters, in line with the other necks awaiting to be worked on but clearly marked in pencil with the word "MINE!".
Unfortunately, fate didn't allow this project to be completed.
In 2009, again at the Second hand Guitars Show, I met Marco Caroti again, we had always kept in touch but we hadn't had the chance to meet again personally.
We had already spoken about that "orbital" Spacecaster without a neck on the phone and how, despite all my changes of necks and pickups I hadn't been able to find a sound that completely satisfied me.
And on that occasion Marco suggested two necks, still in a rough state, which he had held back for himself, from a production run made with Roberto some years before.
I immediately chose one (they were both in bird's-eye maple with Brazilian rosewood keyboard), agreed the fret and paint specifications and I waited ...
In the summer of the following year, the neck, with the "Mac Guitar Spacecaster" decal (and a small decal on the back with “specially made for PC”) was mounted on the old body that was equipped with a nice set of Voodoo pickups as it had originally.
It goes without saying that this "Space" immediately became my number one “Strat” for live shows ... the two tone sunburst is pampered at home or on occasion I take it to play in the recording studio.
Part of me knows that I'm doing wrong ... that I should use it more often ... but I can't hide the fact that for a few years, just pulling it out of the case, bought a lump to my throat ... but then this guitar, for me, has a very big affective value ... it is unique ... not replaceable ... so I cuddle it with affection and a lot of attention ... this I couldn't do on a stage.
I have often found myself thinking of Roberto as a renaissance man, who in addition to the technical and professional skills we were aware of, he had knowledge in many other cultural areas that often left us gasping.
He knew the various types of wood thoroughly and also how to handle them; when he had any doubts about the electrical engineering and mechanics side of things, he would get documented and study.
During a chat, he was able to describe about how to build a good transformer, or quibble over the gearbox of his BMW motorbike and maybe finally move on to how a Garand M1 rifle works (him who, if I remember well, had not even done Military service), then ramble on about the technical details of Leonardo's plans on the flight of birds.
Roberto had a big heart and a character sometimes a bit "abrupt" (never personally experienced but often seen in "action").
He treated me like a younger brother and besides having taught me so much, he gave me the great gift of his friendship.
Since he's been gone there is a huge sense of emptiness.
THE LUTHIER... AND THE MAN by Sergio Guerra
Although I had heard about him for a long time, I only met Roberto Pistolesi in 1993, who on that occasion accompanied his friend Elio Vallini, to whom I had sold a Fender Stratocaster.
At the Second Hand Guitar Show, where I decided to go for a look around, wanting to sell an instrument, I was lucky to have been able to watch him live while he held a demonstration on how to replace various strings and carry out settings and it was then I realised that I was watching a man way out of the ordinary.
At the end of the demonstration, I introduced myself and we spoke no much more than five minutes before I had to leave him, as he was being literally overcome by the requests of the enthusiasts, but not before promising to go and visit him in his workshop in Santa Croce sull'Arno, in the province of Pisa, to have a more peaceful chat with him.
Less than a month later I went there with two guitar necks to be refretted and soon realized that my impression of Roberto wasn't mistaken and the mix between his Tuscany character, his colourful expressions and great competence had a huge magnetic effect on me and from then on I lost count of the half hours spent on the phone and as soon as I had the opportunity, I went to look him up, just to have a chat and observe his enormous skill, in everything, often taking him some obsolete, but still boxed electronic components, that made his eyes pop out, as well as to have some repair work done, although being afraid of not seeing the part again for a few years, due to the many requests and the long waiting list at that time.
I was impressed by the machines that he had handbuilt, most of all the machine he used for refretting guitar necks without using a hammer ... and the photocell coil winding machine for rewinding broken pickup windings with new wire, with the original specifications, giving voice back to the old pickups.
I realized that another genius had flourished from these lands and like those who were certainly more famous than him in the past, he had great intelligence, inherited from his father, which enabled him to literally invent, from scratch, instruments and devices that would prove to be unique.
I was in Liguria on holiday with the family and he had just published his controversial (for the rumpus that was subsequently triggered by enthusiasts) and wonderful book "That Sound", a masterpiece of research and experimentation on how to obtain the sound of “The Shadows”, above all that of the soloist Hank Marvin.
Having never followed the Shadows until then, but as an enthusiast of those early fundamental sounds, I left the family on the beach and shot off to Santa Croce sull'Arno to go tohis place and of course buy the book which he, on my request, autographed with satisfaction and a beautiful dedication.
This went on for so many years and the journeys multiplied, often in the company of Paolino Canevari, so that our tours had become pilgrimages with various rituals right up to the end when in the early hours of a morning in late May, when Roberto had been hospitalized for some time in Pisa, after months of suffering that had weakened him physically but not spiritually, when I phoned for our usual short daily chat, instead of his voice, I heard that of Matilde, his only daughter, who told me in tears that her Dad had lost his battle.
We knew that he had been fighting a terrible illness for a long time, but knowing his character we would never have imagined he would leave us so soon.
In that moment, thousands of memories, anecdotes, and moments spent in his company passed through my mind, with my head almost bursting due to this hard blow and the bitter awareness of having lost a great friend, who would be difficult to replace with another.
He had wanted to come back soon to my mountains for a stay, where I was renovating my Highland Farm in that period, above all to escape from the summer heat, and as I worked hard I already imagined the good moments that we would have passed together, with tranquility and in the peace of the wildlife, talking about music, playing and having fun like on other occasions when he had come to see me, but this was not now possible and I will always regret it.
Personally, for me, he was a model of life, seeing that in many ways, we had experienced very similar hobbies and ups and downs in our lives that the passion for instruments and amplifiers and “sound" has absolutely only increased.
During the 10 years since his early death, I have dedicated my time to looking after his legacy in the music field and I have lost count of the number of journeys, almost always with my friend Paolino at my side, carrying out the same rituals as always and chatting cheerfully with him during the trip about everything, but when we drive across the San Rossore Park at Massaciuccoli, and see the Maritime Pine trees it brings me back to that terrible day when we accompanied Roberto on his last trip from Pisa to Livorno and then I shoot straight on, because for all of us he is still sitting on the stool in his workshop, waiting for us and smiling, in the company of some friend like Dario Cioni, and always ready to tell an ironic joke true to his lusty character, typical of the people from these parts.
And when we arrive and he's not there I like to think he went to prepare himself a cup of tea.
Unfortunately there are many people who, after he left us, have failed to respect him either to increase their visibility or for other reasons and I can only say: let's not worry about them.
Nothing can damage the most brilliant diamond and we'll carefully look after him forever.
There are many more people all around the world, musicians and not, who have appreciated his great professionalism and immense sound research work.
Thanks go to Fred Gretsch III, American industrialist, last heir of the Gretsch dynasty, who received some copies of the "That Sound" book and enthusiastically returned a couple autographed with beautiful dedications.
If Roberto had not left us prematurely, a second chapter of "That Sound" would most likely have come to print but concerning amplifiers...
Thanks also go to The Grunge King, Neil Young, who has also received both the book and the Ariab Mk II, Larry Briggs his former guitar tech, George Gruhn of Gruhn Guitars from Nashville-TN (who proposed to Roberto a move to work for him), Walter Carter, emeritus historian of Gibson guitars, now Carter Guitars from Nashville-TN, Ing. Gary Stewart Hurst - the “Tone Bender” Inventor and Master, Jim Nugent and friends from England, France and all over the world and all those who were able to appreciate the immense musical passion that had allowed Roberto, although receiving some criticizism, to persevere with the demonstrations of his theory of “That Sound”, the Shadows sound, and also not least, to the architect and Web designer Ermanno Cappini, thanks to whom this website has come to light.
To Paolino Canevari with whom I have a fraternal friendship for many years; we often feel a little like two orphans, having been (mostly me), always very close to Roberto.
Very special thanks go to, Mrs. Livia, Roberto's sprightly mother, who, in spite of her 90 years, always welcomes us with open arms every time we return and her daughter Matilde and her family for making the material and photos of Roberto available.
Thanks also go to his "disciples" and friends, Marco Caroti, Alberto Dani, Giuseppe Orlando, all things considered, the lifetime companions of Roberto; to his childhood friends Roberto Boldrini and especially Giovanni Benedetti, for many years Roberto's sideman, who has kept Roberto's projects going and with extreme willpower found the energy and dedication to finish what Roberto had left unfinished; keep it going Giovanni, Roberto is there next to you in the lab and in the sound of these devices, Roberto is still here with us.