With a foundation and training in the classical art and traditions of luthiery – but a mind solidly fixed on the future and the ever evolving needs of modern players, Cristian Mirabella continues to push the envelope of electric archtop guitar design from a place of great experience and familiarity with the instrument’s roots.
1. How did your relationship with Henriksen Amplifiers begin?
It started in the early 2000’s. I grew up and was working in a shop at a time (80s /90s) when most guys were using Polytones, Roland Jazz Chorus, or a vintage Gibson or Fender amp. Players were always looking for a more reliable, easier to carry gigging amp. But the big trick was that it had to have a good sound and great tone. The Henriksens came along and fit the bill nicely!
2. What element(s) of electric, semi-acoustic guitar design pose the greatest challenges for you?
I think the biggest challenge or maybe concern is keeping in mind that it still has to be a great “acoustic” guitar. The amplifier is going to project whatever the voice of the guitar actually is.
A great amp is going to make an “ok” guitar sound “good”, but a great amp is going to make a great guitar sound “amazing”! So, a guitar designed to be balanced and articulate across the board, warm , rich and resonant, just like what’s expected from the strictly acoustic instrument, will be a “monster” as soon as you plug in the cord.
3. What do you look for in an amplifier, and which Henriksen model is your favorite?
I think the biggest thing to look for is a compliment to the guitar. Whether a vintage or custom made instrument, the characteristics of the guitar is what you want the amp to amplify and not distort and muffle the sound. I can get very sentimental about things so I’d have to say my favorite Henriksen amp is the Jazz Amp 10 because I’ve heard so many of my guitars played on them and seen personal guitar heroes use them. But I do have to say, I’ve really been digging the “Bud”. Killer tone and ability for any style of playing.
4. Tell us about some of your high-level design ethos and values in the instruments you build.
I believe that the design of the archtop guitar has to evolve as the players do, but without losing the key elements that make it what it is. The warmth and fullness of the great classic instruments, but with a better balance of the notes, greater clarity on the finger board, and a more responsive and driving box, to match the greater abilities and needs of today’s modern players.
5. What’s happening for Mirabella Guitars in 2019 readers should know about?
Well I thankfully have a full order list for 2019, so I’m looking forward to sharing with everyone some really special instruments as they are completed, as well as seeing them in use with the players who have ordered them. We’re also planning to host a few concerts and jams later in the year. And we have a few builders shows and hopefully some time with good friends we I don’t get to see as often as I’d like…
6. Tell us about apprenticing and being trained in a more traditional form of luthiery. What has changed?
It’s definitely changed a lot! I often get a bit of attention for that reason, in that I’m considered by many to be the “last to have learned in a traditional apprenticeship”. I grew up in a guitar shop! I spent my first year just sweeping the floor and polishing the guitars. You didn’t realize at the time but that gets you familiar with all the different models and parts, so when you finally do touch the guitar to work on it, you know what everything is. I spent 15 years at Ronnie’s shop and during that time was exposed to so many influences, but most notably Tom Marcell, John Monteleone and Jimmy D’Aquisto . As well as all the vintage guitars that weren’t vintage yet. Within five years, at only the age of sixteen, I had already seen and had my hands on at least a hundred D’Angelicos. It truly was a special time, place, and opportunity. Today you just can’t do that. Back then you could be a little kid with a paper route, which I was, and I left it to work at the guitar shop. But now you have all the luthiery schools. There was nothing like that when I was a kid. I think the schools have some pros and cons, but in today’s world it’s a good way to get started.
7. If you could step into the shoes of any musician for a day, living or not, who would it be?
That’s a tough one. But maybe Miles, Wes, or Jim Hall. To be that fluid where you no longer are playing the notes, they’re just flowing from you. I think in truth any musician, famous or not, that just can get lost in that perfect moment when you’re no longer a player and guitar, but just one perfect voice, and saying something! As a builder you look for that moment when you’re just part of the wood, knowing what needs to stay and what needs to be taken away to create a perfect instrument… that’s where and who I’d want to be, for a day, a year… always!