7 Questions with Ty Danco, of the Archtop Foundation
Ty Danco is an exceptionally interesting man to research! With a background that involves Olympic level athletics, finance, entrepreneurship, cryptocurrency, and a ubiquitous online profile image of him revealing a NOFX T-shirt under a button down in Superman-esque fashion, he now gives all his time and focus to the Archtop Foundation and their recently acquired “Blue Guitars” collection.
Ty, with all that you had and have going on, describe your involvement in the Archtop Foundation for us and how you find time for music.
Well, I’m deeply retired now, so the Archtop Foundation takes up a lot of my time. Working on guitar-related activities, especially archtop-related activities gives me great joy – and you can’t put a time limit on joy.
Clearly, there’s so much to appreciate in each of the Blue Guitars, but do you personally have a favorite among them?
Well, I might, but I wouldn’t want to offend any of the other luthiers! But there is one I like best. I can give you a couple of the more interesting stories about the guitars as a group, though. Few of the Blue Guitars – say half a dozen out of the 22 – are actually still really blue. The reason is that the dye that was specified for these was notoriously unstable. And while they specified the specific stain, the company that made the stain itself changed the formulation because it was so flakey. So when you look at them as a group, there are blueish guitars, there are green guitars, there’s one sort of brown guitar, there’s a sort of plum colored one. That last one, when the luthier that made it presented it to Scott Chinery (who commissioned the Blue Guitars), he said, “oh please, let me refinish it – I had a bad batch of dye; I’ll sand it down and I’ll do it again”, and Scott said “Hell no, I like it this way even better!”. And I agree. I kind of like the quirky ones.
There’s one guitar, made by Božo Podunavac, that looks like the inside of an Eastern Orthodox church. It’s got gold and fancy scrollwork; it’s way over the top. And then you have the original D’Aquisto guitar which is very spare, and there’s no real ornamentation to speak of, it’s just completely stripped down. So you run the full gamut from over the top to barebones.
How did you cross paths with Henriksen Amplifiers and the Archtop Festival in Colorado?
My guitar teacher had gone to the first one, and he loved the fact that it was like “his people” that were going to be there. When he came back, I’d never heard him so enthusiastic about anything. I was all set to check it out, and then of course Covid happened. So just at the end of last year, the Archtop Foundation acquired the Blue Guitars collection, and there was no question of where to go – there was only one place to anoint them, to bring them all out at once, and that was in Arvada at the festival. And truth be told, that was the first time that I had seen all of the guitars out in one place before, where I could see them in one glance! I’m very grateful to Peter for doing that. And with all the great players that he had there, he let us convert one of the hotel rooms into a little mini recording studio, and we got dozens of hours of those players showing off the guitars – we still have to go through it all.
When does an amplifier make you the happiest – what does it need to offer, do, and not do?
Most of the time, I use an amp with electric guitars for playing live. And I’m still sort of a neophyte – I played in bands, you know, 40 years ago. For me, I like when an amplifier surprises me. However, with the Blue Guitars, I want to have an amp that DOESN’T surprise me! For any acoustic instrument, the idea is to get the cleanest, purest sound; I want the acoustic experience, and even louder. So it was important for us to get a really clean amp with the best, perfect, purest sound we could. I had heard lots of good things about Henriksen amps but I had not actually heard them before Arvada, but when I did I knew – this was it. Now, for us to amplify the Blue Guitars, that requires microphones and preamps that have their own coloration in there, too. But as you can hear on the recordings we’ve put out, we wanted the ultimate clean channel.
I can also say: lugging around an 18” archtop in an old fashioned case – they can break your back! And we’ve got 22 of them. So to be able to have this little featherweight Bud Six that I can pick up with my pinky is a nice luxury!
Do you see analogues between your seemingly separate, former lives in the finance and business spheres, and the music world?
The Foundation is run by business people; or in my case, an ex-business person. And in another case, an old bandmate that had actually worked with my father, and then the third member of the board is someone who has an operating role in one of Canada’s largest companies. Running a foundation – that is a business. So it just happens to be that we’re three people that love music.
However, when I think of music, there’s no business in it. I know the poor folks that are trying to make a living in this business are having a hard time of it, especially not being able to perform the last couple of years. I can admire the business acumen of a musician like Dolly Parton, or Taylor Swift, or even the guys in Phish – they’ve all come up with their own models on how to be really successful. But I don’t think of them as business people.
I heard once, in reference to playing guitar, that your left is what you know; your right hand is who you are. You may or may not agree with that statement! People may or may not know how to run a business, and most musicians and musical companies are effectively entrepreneurs. There are large companies, but for example, Henriksen Amplifiers is a family business. Musicians are essentially entrepreneurs. And all but one of the guitars in the Blue collection was built by one single person; an individual – the exception being the Gibson Super 400, which was the first 18” archtop and was included in the collection for that reason. To succeed as a musician or to succeed as an entrepreneur – you’re not doing it for the short hours.
What performing artists, living or deceased, would you most like to sit down with at a dinner table?
I would probably say Louis Armstrong. Now there’s a guy. You know he’s fun, and you know he’s deep, and you know he’s seen things you can’t even imagine. A current artist that I think would be fascinating would be Kaki King – she’s out there in Devo land! There are artistic ideas going through her that are so far beyond. But actually, number 1 for sure is David Byrne! There are really a thousand people that’d be good for this.
Ron Carter would be another one. I’d just watched a documentary about Ron Carter, who incidentally just liked a Facebook video that we’d put up that tagged Chico Pinheiro, whom he was playing with in that video! It was like, “Whoa! Ron Carter liked it!” And it was just because I’d tagged Chico in there, had nothing to do with the Blue Guitars, but that was a thrill.
What instrument or music-related endeavors are on the horizon for you in 2023 and beyond?
There are a couple of interesting projects, one of which I just posted on Instagram today. One of them involves Tom Nania, whose IG handle is @houseofluthiery, who’s taking old D’Angelicos and D’Aquistos and guitars like that and putting them through CT and laser scans, and sort of giving them the full colonoscopy. With the idea being to try to figure out how these things work so well. We at the Foundation are really in support of that and similar projects.
And there’s another involving WPI (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) and V.J. Manzo, who’ll be looking at the Blue Guitars as part of a program called Fretology. It’s a program that sees Manzo working with Ken Parker and John Thomas on a very similar product, and we hope that all their findings will be open source so people can make better and better instruments. The guitar in this form is still only a hundred years old, and violins have been tuned in for quadruple that, so there’s still a lot to learn. We would love to support those luthiers and players with the resources we have at our disposal to continue to elevate the art. And anything that we support, we will be publishing. And to that extent, if a player wanted to cut an album (with one of these instruments), or a luthier wanted to take measurements, we’re all for it – tell us how we can help.
Learn more about the Archtop Foundation and the Blue Guitars at https://theblueguitars.com