Elaborate engraving, breathtaking pearl or exquisite inlays, the
creations of Tony Zemaitis attracted more famous players than any other
UK maker. You could say that Zemaitis Guitars are England’s Glory.
of the UK guitar industry has been established in a tradition of 'small
makers', rarely having an impact internationally.
And Tony Zemaitis achieved all of this working as a sole craftsman
making only a few guitars each year and without advertising or
promotion! How did he do it?Tony Zemaitis was the one to buck the trend!
Antanus Casimere Zemaitis, or Tony Zemaitis as he was known, was born
in London, England in 1935. As a child he was constantly designing,
making and building - everything from model flying airplanes to handmade
Tony Zemaitis’ creative talents led him to take up an apprenticeship
as a cabinet maker; there he learnt invaluable skills in working with
wood, design and decoration which helped shape his future.
In the 1950s he became a keen guitar player but unable to find a
suitable guitar, he studied a friend's classical guitar and then set off
to build his own design - the very first Zemaitis guitar!
Tony Zemaitis’ desire to constantly hone his craft and improve on
each guitar led to him make more guitars which he sold on to friends to
fund his next project (sold at a low cost just to cover materials).
Indeed, throughout his career, Tony Zemaitis continued to experiment -
often making what he called 'Prototypes' to help him continually improve
his craft and his designs.
Following national service Tony Zemaitis devoted more time to his
passion of guitar making. He experimented with various shaped
sound-holes, string lengths and string configurations to get the best
Tony Zemaitis was an enthusiastic performer on the London blues and
folk scene and so Tony Zemaitis' guitars found many fans amongst fellow
guitarists. This is where his reputation started to became established
as 'name' guitarists like Davey Graham, Long John Baldry and Spencer
Davis, who loved the great sound and playability of his guitars, became
Tony Zemaitis’ success continued and by 1965 he decided to become a
full-time self-employed luthier.
His early work was
Zemaitis acoustic guitars and especially Zemaitis 12-strings, the
most famous being Eric Clapton's "Ivan the Terrible" (sold
recently by Eric at Christies for $253,000!). However, working in
the 'swinging sixties' with the British music boom going on, it wasn't
long before Tony Zemaitis produced his first full Zemaitis electric
guitar - built as a prototype and ending up in the collection of
George Harrison. It was for Zemaitis electric guitars that Tony
became best known.
Tony Zemaitis was always seeking to improve and a major innovation
was the now famous Zemaitis Metal Front ™. His original idea was to
shield the guitar and reduce the hum found in many mainstream guitars.
Tony's first Zemaitis Metal Front ™ guitar was made for
Tony McPhee of the Groundhogs and the idea was successful in more
ways than one. Not only did it reduce noise but also the
Zemaitis Metal Front ™ became one of Tony's signature models - the
highly decorative, individually hand engraved works of art so much
favored by rock's elite.
Tony was delighted with the popularity of his eye-catching
Zemaitis Metal Front ™ electrics and so to complement these, he
introduced the beautiful
Zemaitis Pearl Front ™ electric guitar. This was an exquisitely
inlayed front with a mosaic of abalone which twinkled and changed color
in the light. These top of the range guitar became another signature
model for Tony.
By the 1980s the reputation for workmanship, styling, playability and
tonal quality of Zemaitis guitar had made Tony Zemaitis a living legend.
Collectors began trading second-hand Zemaitis guitars for high prices
but Tony remained true to his ideals - still working by himself, only
producing a handful of guitars each year. But he didn't restrict his
customers just to the rich and famous; Tony Zemaitis was just as happy
dealing with enthusiastic amateur guitarists and even sold 'Student'
grade models to help players with low budgets.
No matter what grade of guitar Tony Zemaitis made though, he always
produced great playing and sounding guitars. Tony Zemaitis always used
quality materials and traditional luthier techniques such as 3-piece
necks and 3-piece bodies for strength and stability and only ever made
glued-neck construction to ensure the best possible sound.
It was the combination of quality, craftsmanship, innovation and
determination that won this British guitar maker fans from all over the
Tony Zemaitis passed away on August 17, 2002