Mario Maccaferri by Dick Boak

I had the pleasure of meeting Dick Boak in person at the Fretboard Summit Chicago in August of 2022.  Dick has been extremely generous with his time and talent.  The following article is a version of  “An Unabridged Visit with Mario Maccaferri” that first appeared in guitarmaker Magazine published 1992. -Gene Reese

My first contact with Mario Maccaferri was through two of my friends and fellow instrument makers, Michael Dresdner and John Monteleone. Through casual conversation, I had learned of their relationship with Mario, and with their assistance, I had invited him to attend and address Symposium ’85, a national gathering of stringed musical instrument making and repair, which I had organized in June of 1985 in Easton, PA. John Monteleone offered to drive Mario to the event since his age made the trip from his home in Rye, New York difficult. He enjoyed the exhibition of handmade instruments and introduced himself to most of the participating artisans and vendors. Mario particularly enjoyed his visit with C. F. Martin III and Manuel Valezquez. The three “elder statesmen” of the guitarmaking field conversed for several hours together in a small waiting room adjacent to the auditorium, and one by one each of them was called to address their fellow instrument makers as honored speakers.

Mario’s speech is laced with a French/Italian flavor and he is mildly self-conscious about his accent. As a result, he enlisted the assistance of Michael Dresdner to read a historical review of his remarkable career to the audience. 

After the Symposium, Mario and I developed a warm friendship and phone relationship. I was managing the wood division for the Martin Guitar Company at the time. He depended on me for special pieces of wood from time to time. He was looking for consecutive sets of German spruce for tonal experiments as well as fine quartersawn spruce bracing billets and I always went out of my way to accommodate his needs. He had offered me an open invitation to visit his shop and eventually, I made the 2 1/2 hour trip into the heart of the Bronx, just north of Manhattan.

As I came off of the Webster Avenue ramp of the Interstate, I was instantly accosted by a group of alcoholic panhandlers and I remember being surprised that Mario’s factory would be located in such a rough neighborhood. As I found out later, that was not always the case. The Bronx had gradually changed from a somewhat pleasant ethnic residential and manufacturing area into a rather dismal drug infested slum, and Mario’s “Maestro Industries” had eventually been surrounded by crime and disruption.

I had a great visit with Mario that day. He gave me a complete tour of his operation, showed me some of his tooling ideas and explained the reed making procedure in some detail. I took the opportunity to present him with a framed certificate for “Lifetime Achievement In The Field Of Stringed Instrument Making” which had been awarded to him by the Board of Directors of the Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans (A.S.I.A.). We had a wonderful lunch together. He insisted on treating me, as is his usual style, and he knew everyone in the restaurant by name. Mario has been around for a very long time! After lunch, we returned to the old Webster Street building for a look at some of his guitars. I left that day extremely pleased that I had had the opportunity to meet with and befriend this wonderful legendary man.

At one time Mario had occupied the entire large industrial building, but after the liquidation of his die injection business, he had retained only about one fifth of the space, which was still substantial. Several break-ins had occurred at that location and among the items stolen were one of 12 guitars that Mario had made with John Monteleone’s assistance. A solidbody electric with an original Selmer neck complete with unique enclosed gear tuners was also taken.

The old plant was recently bought up by the Bronx School District for conversion into classrooms, and Mario was forced to relocate in the mid-summer of 1991 into a new facility about fifteen miles north in Mount Vernon, which is a much nicer, more secure neighborhood. It is also within closer driving range of his home in Rye, New York. 

Mario was born on May 20th, 1900 in the small town of Cento, in the Provence of Bologna in central Italy. Cento was a quaint farming town with such an abundance of wetlands around it, that the towns people circumscribed a large river around the town walls to control the water and protect from invaders. It is the sight of one of the best hospitals in Italy, largely because there was a good deal of disease in the area. 

The name Maccaferri literally means “to MARK IRON”.  He was the fifth of seven children in a hard working family. His mother, Demetria, baked fresh bread daily for eight men and his father, Erminio, performed carpentry and did odd jobs like shaping barn beams and separating hemp fiber for rope and burlap. They were simple people with lots of humor and personality.

Mario entered the world of music and musical instruments at an early age. When he was eight years old, a master luthier and concert guitarist named Luigi Mozzani opened a school in Cento that offered courses in the making of guitars, mandolins, cellos and violins and at the age of eleven, Mario enrolled as Mozzani’s student. For thirteen years, he engrossed himself in instrument design, construction and performance eventually supervising Mozzani’s instrument production.

In 1916, Mario entered the prestigious Conservatory of Music in Siena. Mario left Mozzani in 1923 to pursue his musical career with a series of concerts in Italy, Switzerland, France and Germany. Press reviews of the era described him as an artist of the highest degree, and of the caliber of his then young friend Andres Segovia. By 1926, Mario had received his diploma as “Professor of Guitar and Music” from the Conservatory.  Mario offered a full catalogue of violin family and other assorted stringed instruments during this time, which included 9 guitar models, 7 unique mandolin family models, plus the full assortment of violins and cellos. He won top prizes in the violin and cello competitions that were held in Rome, Fiume and Monte Catini, but he was as equally persuaded toward performance as he was toward instrument making.

By late 1927 Mario was performing regularly throughout Europe and had temporarily set aside his instrument making career. The depression made economic survival difficult, even for a talented musician and Mario began to miss the craftsmanship that he had so painstakingly developed. In London, he struggled to earn a living playing guitar, giving lessons, and eventually he set up a workshop in his apartment where he began working on several guitars. He became fascinated with the idea of making a harp guitar with seven playing strings on the neck and five bass strings for accompaniment,  and he performed with that instrument for some time after its completion. Eventually he decided that the six string guitar was difficult enough, so he designed and constructed several more guitars that were later to become the Selmer Maccaferri models. Mario presented one of these guitars to Ben Davis, the director of Selmer in London, who was so impressed that he called Selmer in Paris to arrange for the production of the guitar. Selmer had previously been involved with the manufacture of brass and reed instruments only, and had no prior experience with guitars.

Mario returned to France and began work in the new Henri Selmer Co. plant at Mante La Ville near Paris, which was to be dedicated to the production of his guitar. He personally constructed all of the jigs, fixtures and machinery necessary for the new factory, built the first production prototypes without assistance, and hired skilled Italian labor for the manufacturing operation. 

The first Maccaferri guitars to bear the Selmer name appeared on the market in 1930. The guitars were innovative in several respects including the unique cutaway shape (the first production cutaway to be offered) and the sealed geared tuning pegs (the inspiration for today’s quality enclosed tuning machines). Mario’s design intended to minimize the amount of resonance damping effect created by contact of the guitar back with the player’s body. This was accomplished with Mario’s legendary freely suspended interior resonator box.  Between 1932 and 1933, approximately 300 instruments were constructed. Another of Mario’s goals was to improve the tone by making the outward reflection of sound more efficient. The interior labels read: Made in France under the technical direction of M. Maccaferri for Selmer and Co. of Paris.” 

There were four standard versions: the “Spanish” and the “Concert” models had conventional classic style bridges. The “Orchestra” and the “Hawaiian” models had movable bridges and the Maccaferri-designed tailpiece. The twelve-fret cutaway steel string “Orchestra” model was the instrument that earned Maccaferri his reputation as a major innovator in guitar design.

Djanjo Reinhardt, legendary jazz guitarist of the thirties and forties, required a guitar that would project a loud and brilliant tone, and the Maccaferri “Orchestra” model fit the bill perfectly for his unique down-stroke hard picking style. The combination of a relatively long scale length, a steep string to bridge angle and the unusual internal sound chamber created a bright crisp treble response with a strong well balanced bass.

The Maccaferri guitars were constructed primarily with laminated rosewood sides and back, though some models utilized solid birdseye maple. A simple bracing pattern ran perpendicular to the strings. Tops were always of bookmatched solid spruce, the fingerboard and bridge were of black ebony, and necks were aluminum reinforced walnut and were shaped to a very low classical flattened oval. Far and away the most unique aspect of the design was the internal chamber. The patented design provided for a curvilinear wooden rim glued to the underside of the top fairly close to the rear block. That rim extended to within about an inch of the back and supported another spruce soundboard which was suspended toward the sound-hole and affixed to the sides with small wooden ledges. A wooden dish directly underneath the D-shaped sound-hole directed the vibrations of this secondary top out the sound-hole. 

In 1931, Mario was named technical director of the Selmer plant, and in the spring of 1933, after guitar production had reached the capablility of operating without him, Mario (by prior arrangement with Selmer) resumed his concert tour with an aggressive schedule that included recitals in Antwerp, Brussels, Cologne, Hamberg, Berlin, London and finally Paris. He had had an on-going contract dispute that caused his inevitable split with Selmer. Selmer continued to make a visual replica of the Maccaferri models, but they gradually dropped key features like the internal sound chamber and the D-shaped soundhole. The bridge design and bracing pattern were also altered.

Mario took a small part in the French film ”La Fille du Lak” (The Daughter of the Lake) which starred Simone Simone. His job was to play guitar during a canoe scene and the July heat forced them to take a swimming break. Mario and another swimmer collided underwater, and Mario came up with a broken hand, rendering him incapable of playing the guitar. Faced with the apparent end of his concert life, Mario decided to purchase machinery to produce saxophone and clarinet reeds. Reed making had been profitable for Selmer, and Mario, no doubt enjoyed the competition with his former employer; thus was formed what was to become the French American Reed Company. Maria, his young wife, had become very proficient in reed manufacture and she worked side by side with Mario until their first child was born in 1938. The likelihood of war eventually forced their emigration to the United States in 1939.

Mario’s original guitar designs for Selmer survived until 1937 when Selmer switched to a 14-fret neck to body joint. The sound chamber was abandoned at this point since it was felt that the necessary modifications to the secondary soundboard would no longer provide any benefit to the tone created by the new body shape. A fourteen string tenor guitar called the Eddie Freeman model was added to the line at that time, but it only survived for one year. Approximately 1100 of the Selmer Maccaferri guitars were constructed between 1930 and 1940. This estimate includes quite a few customized and non-standard models, upon which Mario felt compelled to ink out his name from the interior label and remove the Maccaferri headstock insignia.

With the ever increasing threat of war, the Maccaferri family departed for New York in April of 1939, but by August, war fears had subsided somewhat and Mario (leaving his wife and child in New York) returned to Paris to check up on the reed factory. On August 15th, still in Paris, a friend working in the foreign office notified Mario to get out of the country as soon as possible. German warships were in the harbor. As the story goes, by the time he arrived at the docks, the last French boat was nearly ready to depart. There were hundreds of people waiting to get on board and very few seats left. Mario was desperate; he ran across the street to a nearby limousine stand, gave the chauffeur a hefty tip and instructed him to drive through the crowd right up to the front gate of the French line. Mario was well dressed for his departure and instructed the chauffeur to salute him when he exited the limo with his briefcase. The guards, thinking he was a government official, saluted him too and passed him through to the lobby. But it still cost him dearly to get on board, having had to bribe an attendant with his $10,000 life savings just as the boat sailed. He arrived back in New York with only several dollars to his pocket.

Shortly after he got re-established in New York, Mario went to see Benny Goodman at one of Manhattan’s grand hotel ballrooms. After the show, Mario introduced himself to Benny, and presented him with a handful of complimentary “French American” reeds. Benny loved them and came to visit Mario at his shop the next day. They remained great friends for as long as Benny lived.

During World War Two, the cane necessary to make quality reeds for musical instruments became impossible to import, and Mario, curious about the new technical process of die injection plastics, developed a plastic replica of the wooden reed that seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Benny Goodman loved these reeds as well and lent his endorsement at no charge to Mario, who did quite well selling them to the various bands and orchestras of the U.S. Armed Services.

He was always looking for new ideas and applications for the injection process that he had helped to pioneer and shortly after he developed the plastic reed, Mario patented the plastic clothes pin, an idea inspired by Maria’s dissatisfaction with the wooden ones. The plastic clothes pin was an instant success and his ever expanding plant manufactured close to a million of them a day for several decades. He also developed a line of acoustical ceiling tiles, tape dispensers, clothes hangers, and an assortment of toys, all of which were everyday household items in the fifties and sixties. With the advent of eight track cassettes, Mario’s company, Maestro Industries, manufactured the plastic cartridges for those tapes. One of the proud photographs on display in his office shows a banquet room full of hundreds of sales representatives who had gathered for their yearly sales meeting. These were the distributors that marketed Mario’s inventions to grocery and department stores coast to coast. The size and scope of the operation was incredible.

Mario had the good fortune of running into TV personality and ukulele player Arthur Godfrey in 1948. They had a lengthy conversation about musical instruments and eventually got onto the subject of ukes. Arthur explained to Mario that if only there were a ukulele priced under $5.00 on the market, he could sell a million of them on his television show. Mario smiled, said nothing, and went back to his shop the next day to begin work on the “Islander” ukulele, an ingeniously accurate die injected instrument fashioned after the Martin “0” size soprano uke. The instrument was introduced 1949 and was quite playable. It came with a well written “self-teaching” instruction booklet, and sold for the very marketable price of $4.95. Mario developed a clever accessory that clamped onto the neck, and through a simple spring loaded mechanism, eliminated the need for left handed chording by utilizing a concept similar to an autoharp keyboard. A series of standard chords could be played by simply pushing the appropriate button. The Islander ukulele was soon followed by a “Ukette”, designed especially for children, and soon after came the “TV Pal”. Over the course of less than one decade, Mario’s French American Reeds Mfg. Co. sold more than 9 million plastic ukuleles, many of them promoted to a receptive and freshly inspired Arthur Godfrey Hour viewing audience.

During the next decade, Mario engrossed himself in the design and manufacture of several patented and ingenious plastic musical instruments, including a saxophone, an early attempt at a half-sized violin, an unorthodox (and not very successful) travel guitar that folded up into a shoebox, plus several different versions of round-holed and F-holed guitars. All of these instruments drew from his vast experience as a musician and master luthier.

On the hang tag that accompanied many of the guitar models, a brief paragraph from the manufacturer, “Professor” Mario Maccaferri, boasted:

“All my life I have been associated with guitar playing and manufacture. My long experience, plus modern engineering techniques and materials, have made this instrument possible today. The Maccaferri Guitar has been thoroughly tested by many top-ranking guitar players, who agree unanimously, that no finer guitar has ever been produced. The Maccaferri Guitar compares favorably with instruments costing hundreds of dollars more!” For the unconventional materials utilized, the tone of all of these instruments is surprisingly loud and rich. They all lack a wooden sound associated with traditional instruments, but they were intended to provide a cost effective alternative for the learner. They certainly serve that purpose in an elegant and stylized fashion.

The “Romancer” guitar was a small student classical model with a simple neck design featuring frets that were actually cast as part of the fingerboard. The bridge was fashioned to accept either ball end or loop end nylon strings in a clever, almost Ovation-like arrangement. The Romancer was profusely illustrated across the entire top with guitar playing scenes: a teenager playing along with a 50’s style 45 speed record changer, a young guitarist singing to a group of happy friends, a soloist enjoying the guitar alone, a popular teen performing at a jitterbug dance, and of course a serenader wooing his girl friend. These images were connected with swirls of musical scores and dancing notes. The headstock depicted a red-sweatered strummer with three swooning female admirers with bursting romantic red starstruck hearts. Even the primary fingerboard positions were illustrated in sepia line drawings of musical imagery: a drummer on the first fret, a string bassist with bow on the third, guitar, violin, accordion, dancers, trumpet and clarinet… all exclaiming the joy of music.

The ”Islander” guitar was a steel stringed student model with a 23″ scale length. The top was flat with a round soundhole adorned with a raised cast black rosette. Features included cast friction pegs, the Maccaferri fixed brass tailpiece with special attachment grommets that could accept either ball end or loop end strings, a compensated bridge, blue and red silk braided strap, and a black pickguard. 

The “Showtime” guitar was the student classical version of the ”Islander” model with nearly identical size and features. The bridge was fixed without the Maccaferri tailpiece, and was once again fashioned to accept either ball end or loop end nylon strings. 

The “Maestro” 4-stringed electric 18 1/4″ scale tenor (certainly one of my personal favorites) was an extremely cute tiny electric guitar with its own battery powered Maestro Amplifier. Strings could be attached either to a simple brass tailpiece or to the notches in the bridge itself. Tuning machines were the geared open back variety. A simple soap bar magnetic pickup was affixed to the top near the bridge with a lead coming out to a small input box/volume control at the edge of the lower treble bout.  It must have been great to be a teenager growing up in the 50’s with such incredible props.

In 1953, Mario added the G-30 and G-40 to his instrument line. These archtop models represented the best of Maccaferri design and innovation. To quote the literature enclosed with these models, the neck consisted of “a formed metal shell covered with special plastic, and having a string-tension compensated and normalized wood core to guarantee permanent, true alignment. Arched fingerboard. Twenty-one heavy, metal, professional frets. Master fret and string divider and inlaid position marks.” The neck had an extension not unlike a banjo, making adjustment of neck pitch extremely simple by accessing an adjusting screw through a removable plug in the tailpiece. Both models featured the attractive Selmer-Maccaferri style cutaway. The tops were gracefully arched and made of specially high-resounding plastic, with radial bracing and “classical” F-holes. Tuning gears were Maccaferri patented planetary permanently lubricated and sealed assemblies with a 14 to 1 ratio.

The G-30 differed from the G-40 in its tailpiece and bridge design. The G-30 had a simple decorative die-cut aluminum tailpiece that rested against the back edge of the fully compensated saddle. The strings actually attached to the bridge itself, which was white in color and permanently affixed to the top. The G-40 had the classic brass Maccaferri functioning tailpiece (like the Islander), with a sliding rosewood colored bridge that was more of a traditional archtop bridge variety. Styling on both instruments was clean and elegant.

The guitars were not as successful as the ukuleles had been, but still many were sold. Mario had held quite an inventory of several models until most recently when the move from his Webster Street shop in the Bronx made it necessary to sell them on a limited basis for the purpose of recovering needed space at his new Mount Vernon.

John Monteleone first encountered Mario in early 1977. He had heard that Mario still operated a plastics manufacturing plant in the Bronx and he looked up the phone number in the yellow pages, called and arranged a visit. At that time, Mario wasn’t really doing much with musical instruments. He was in the process of liquidating much of his extensive die injection plastics business. An auction catalog had been published and the vast array of machinery was gradually being prepared for the sale. Mario was however still playing guitar on occasion. His was acquainted with many top classical guitar players who often visited. An old friend and concert classic player, George Morell, originally from Buenes Aires would often stop in to play over lunch and conversation, and Les Paul was also an occasional visitor.

John’s visits and resulting guitar related conversations brought back memories for Mario of pre-Selmer days when instrument making was more of a natural passion and less of a commercial chore. John suggested that Mario experiment with some guitar designs. After some discussion, Mario gave blueprints of an early Maccaferri classic guitar to John and asked that he fabricate the guitar. John followed the blueprints and completed the instrument, but when it was finished, the sound was not as “open” as they had hoped. Mario simply removed the back with a saw and aggressively reworked the braces, re-glued the back, and in less than two days the guitar was greatly improved. He had no qualms whatsoever about diving right in and changing something if he didn’t like the tonal result on a particular instrument.

After that classical guitar, John visited Mario at least one or two days every week. Mario had saved some exceptional instrument wood from his early instrument making endeavors and he had salvaged some nice 1940’s spruce cutoffs from the old Steinway piano plant which was nearby. Together, John and Mario undertook the construction of twelve guitars: six classical and six jazz models. They attempted to match the flitches from instrument to instrument so that the consistency of raw materials would allow tonal evaluation of some of the other variables like bracing and internal baffles.  

All of the jazz models had tops which were heat bent prior to joining. This facilitated a gentle longitudinal arch. The jazz models utilized tailpieces rather than pin bridges. All twelve guitars had D-shaped sound holes and consistent body dimensions. On six of the twelve models, backs were laminated from three ply veneers consisting of a rosewood exterior, a birch core and a birch interior. The three-ply laminates were glued with Tightbond, an adhesive which takes quite a while to cure, especially when trapped between airtight layers. The result of this was that some of the guitars sounded like “tupperware” to quote John, but over a six month period the glue expelled moisture and hardened, which livened up the tone dramatically. 

The classical models all had traditional flat tops and fixed bridges. The bracing patterns on all twelve guitars were altered, no two were alike. The entire process was one of experimentation. Not too many observational notes were taken, which is in contrast to the extensive scientific process that Mario undertook with his plastic violins and most of his prior projects.

John offers a “Maccaferri-esque” model now, which is a blend of his own bracing ideas with Mario’s body contour and cutaway design. Mario encouraged John to carry on the tradition of his guitar designs. The Monteleone model is a true flattop steel string with a fixed bridge, oval soundhole and asymmetrical bracing. The Maccaferri original was a jazz styled maple body with an F-hole carved top.

When Mario immigrated to the United States in 1939, he brought a trunk with him that contained some extraordinary European tonewoods. There were 4 sets of flawless spruce and an equal number of heavily flamed quartered maple sets. That trunk sat unopened for decades. John and Mario had a number of conversations about violin making, and eventually, Mario offered to teach John. Out came the trunk and they worked for several months on a few violins. 

One of Mario’s primary specialties is his incredible knack for designing jigs and fixtures. He is not one to waste time with tedious manual operations when through ingenuity, he can adapt a machine procedure to do a specific task. Mario used his Bridgeport milling machine to remove the bulk of the wood from the inside of the violin backs, finishing them off with more traditional carving chisels. 

His particular style of violin and cello making, for which he won top awards in 1926 and 1927, followed a lightweight design similar to that of Jacob Stainer in respect to the “fullness” or “bulbousness” of the top and back plate carving. His violin making method also demonstrated a sleek low “Ferreri-like” Italian profile. 

During his work with John Monteleone, Mario made a lovely cello, but he left it “in the white” (without a finish), at which point he became inspired and enthralled with the idea of producing a plastic violin.

Mario’s son Marco had moved to Louisville, Kentucky and with some business partners, had purchased much of the die injection mold machinery from Mario’s Maestro Industries business. The Fina Company assisted in the development of special plastics that were appropriate in color and hardness for the violin project, and through Marco, Mario produced extensive drawings and supervised the initial production of the casting molds for the violin project. A company in Canada worked on the molds, and there was apparently a good deal of mis-communication about how these molds were to be made. Mario had specific ideas about this from both a technical and tonal points of view, but the mold makers were not well versed with instruments and they missed a lot of important details. The top, the back and sides, and the neck were cast as three separate pieces, all colored in a traditional brown wood tone to give the appearance of a standard violin. Inlay lines were cast into the top so that a black pigment could be rubbed into the grooves thus giving the appearance of genuine purfling. The fingerboard, tailpiece, chinrest, and tuning pegs were cast in black to give the appearance of ebony. In the casting process, Mario was especially concerned with the direction of the flow of the plastic. He was attempting to simulate longitudinal wood fibers in the process.

On my first visit to Mario’s shop, there were several hundred of these plastic violin prototypes arranged neatly on tables. Each violin had a numbered tag, and several violinists had been participating in tonal experiments and evaluations in an attempt to identify which instruments were superior, which were substandard, and why. This lengthy process was followed by slight adjustments in mold design and assembly, until a degree of consistency and satisfaction was arrived upon.

On March 8th, 1990, a concert featuring the first plastic violin was presented at the Weill “Little Carnegie” Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. Concert violinist Dorothy Happel was accompanied by pianist Susanna Nason. Their repertoire included a diverse selection designed to show the tonal capability of the plastic violin with selections from Johann Sebastian Bach, Claude Debussy, George Gershwin and Aaron Copeland. I was fortunate to have been included on the guest list for the concert, and I personally loved the event, partly because it was a wonderful tribute for Mario. Many of his musical friends and acquaintances were in attendance, and the reception afterwards was a wonderful gathering of dignitaries. 

Although the New York Times review was critical of the plastic violin, it was my personal feeling that they missed the point. The plastic violin was not designed to out-perform handmade wooden violins. Mario would be the first to acknowledge the tonal limitations of synthetic materials. Like his other injection molded musical instruments, the plastic violin was designed to provide the learner with a viable student instrument at an affordable cost. It is true that Mario’s plastic violin lacks the deep woody bass notes. Plastic produces a subtle shrillness that is certainly discernible from the sound of a traditionally made instrument. His particular familiarity with the die injection molding process led him along a path of research that will possibly never reach its deserved fruition, especially with the extreme technological advancement of other simulated wood synthetics such as carbon graphite epoxy. But his works in so many different areas stand as a virtually limitless testament to the energy and genius that have become synonymous with the name Maccaferri.

A nice followup to the Carnegie Hall event was a full page ad that ran in major national magazines. The ad was run by Fina, who with DuPont, Monsanto, and Dow, was one of the chemical companies that assisted Mario with the development of special plastics for his various projects, especially the violin. The ad showed a Stradivarius next to one of Mario’s plastic violins. The caption exclaimed: “One of these violins played Carnegie Hall,” then went on to explain which one, why, and of course who. It was a very nice tribute to Mario, one that he displays proudly within the life memorabilia in his office.

His office staff consists of two old friends: Teresa, who has been a steadfast employee with Mario since 1948, and Murial who started work in 1963, took off for a while, then recently returned to her comfortable post. Mario’s granddaughter, Laura Rothballer, is currently working with Maria in the reed area of the plant, so now there is a heightened sense of family. Several other loyal workers help with reed making, while Mario is left to the geared tuning machine.

There is an incredible emotional satisfaction in encountering (and getting to know) remarkably talented people, especially people that have the where-with-all to to survive into their later years, and who wear those years like badges or war medals; people who have had the energy to keep chasing their particular set of dreams without ever letting up. Mario is such a person. I am proud to know him and extremely honored to help tell his incredible story.