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John Buscarino Reflects On Working With Gene Bertoncini

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Luthier John Buscarino shares his experiences of working with the legendary jazz guitarist Gene Bertoncini.

John Buscarino: I met Gene through his good friend Dr. Frank Forte who is a jazz guitarist and enthusiast and has done much to help and promote the jazz community. Frank had ordered one of my Cabarets after playing one at the Classic American Guitar show around 1996. Over the course of the build he told me about his good friend Gene Bertoncini and felt that my Cabaret would be a perfect fit for Gene’s style of playing.

Gene Bertoncini and luthier John Buscarino

The introduction was made and I sent a Spec Cabaret for Gene to play so he could get a feel for it and then we could collaborate on a design that would work for him. He wanted a wider neck more like his Takamine and a thicker neck more like a conventional Classical. It’s important to note that my original design for the Cabaret is a carved back with a lattice braced top. Gene decided that he wanted the traditional fan bracing on the top and a flat back as that is what he was used to. I was happy too oblige as my goal as a custom luthier is to please my customers. While I was building the guitar we designed for Gene I decided to build a second one according to his specs except I used the carved back and the lattice bracing on the 2nd one.

Once both guitars were finished Gene and Dr. Frank came to my shop to pick up Gene’s new guitar. I had both guitars on display so Gene sat down to play the original Cabaret we built to his specs (the one with the flat back and fan bracing) and Dr. Frank , an accomplished Nylon String player in his own right, sat down to play the 2nd guitar. Gene commented to Frank how great that guitar sounded too. We let Gene take his guitar back to his hotel room to play and get accustomed to his new instrument so he could come back the next day and we could make any last minute adjustments like action height etc… When he returned I had a few things to tweak so while he was waiting Gene picked up the 2nd guitar which had the carved back and lattice bracing and started to play. The more he played it the more intrigued he became and Frank commented to Gene “you sound better on this one”.

Long story short, in the end he looked up at me with a sheepish smile and said “you’re probably going to kill me but I like this one better…would it be okay if I took this one instead?”

The answer was yes of course, the year was 1998 and he’s been playing that guitar ever since. We have developed a wonderful friendship over the years and I am humbled by all the incredible music Gene has produced over the past 24 years on an instrument I built. 


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