When you say Nick Lucas in the acoustic guitar world, most people think of the Gibson model that bears his name, the deep bodied flat top that was first issued in 1927, in the shape of an L-1, then an L-00. Few people remember that Nick Lucas was the person that replaced the tenor banjo in 1920’s dance bands with the guitar, or that he had the first solo guitar record that sold a million copies. His 1922 record of Teasin the Frets and Pickin the Guitar was a huge hit that influenced players like Eddie Lang, Merle Travis, and Chet Atkins. He was a pioneer and an innovator, an early jazz guitar hero, and those were the reasons the Gibson Company offered him his own signature model.
I like to remind folks that before Gibson poached him, Nick Lucas was playing a guitar that was much cooler and more unique than his factory made signature model. It was a one of a kind piece made in the New York workshop of Raphael Ciani, and that was the guitar on which he cut a new path. It was a big guitar for its day, measuring 15 1/2″ in the lower bout, with a long 26″ scale. The guitar had many unique features including an unusual bulbous headstock, an oddly shaped inlaid pickguard, and a large ebony mustache bridge. It had flamed maple back and sides and colorful red and green purfling around the top and rosette, something which doesn’t show up in black and white photographs.
The earliest photo of Lucas with the Galiano is from around 1920, with the Vernon Country Club Orchestra. The band is lined up to the left of the piano, with all of their instruments laying on the ground in front of them, the most prominent being the big Galiano, which stands out like a beacon. Nick is on the right hand side, leaning on the piano. In another photo from 1922, with the Don Parker Trio, Nick poses with his banjo, which he played on all the trio’s records, while the Galiano leans on the piano. In other undated photos, the guitar features much more prominently, in Nick’s lap, with him making a C7 chord.
I have long marveled at the photos of Nick Lucas with his Galiano. Over the years I’ve owned a few Galianos that had some similar elements to his guitar, and I’ve worked on several more. I’ve made notes and drawings and templates of those various features and have waited for the opportunity to make a copy of the guitar. That opportunity finally came, and I was very excited to dig into it.
I gathered up all of my notes and all of the various photos of the guitar. I scaled out the guitar from on the different photos and picked out all of the various elements that each photo highlighted. I had to make all of the purflings, rosettes and backstrips based on guitars in my collection. I hand cut all of the inlays, based on drawings I’ve made of other guitars that have come through the shop. I even made a custom case for the guitar.
I combined all of these various pieces to make what is the closest copy to Nick Lucas’ Galiano that I am able to make at this point in my life. Maybe someday the original will show up and I can see how close or far off I came. Nobody would like that more than me.
A very special thank you to John Maniaci for his wonderful photos. To Gary Selufsky for helping with pieces of the puzzle, and to Loren Tilley. If you’d like to learn more about Nick Lucas, I highly recommend the book “The Rise of the Crooners” as well as the very informative website nicklucas.com.