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Henry Kuhrmeyer's Patent (S-V Era) US1932975 [3] Filed on April 7th, 1930 Renewed March 2nd, 1933 Patent Granted October 31st, 1933 This...

The 'Zorzi' Adjustable Neck Joint

Henry Kuhrmeyer's Patent (S-V Era)


US1932975 [3]
Filed on April 7th, 1930
Renewed March 2nd, 1933
Patent Granted October 31st, 1933

This 1930 patent from Henry 'Kay' Kuhrmeyer during his time at Stromberg-Voisinet shows the early version of the adjustable neck joint as seen on a banjo. The core features are visible including the countersunk screw that passes through a hole in a mounting rod that connects to the body. 

Surprisingly there isn't any mention of a Joseph Zorzi in the patent documents. 

Stromberg-Voisinet Co. banjo label [2]
Image Credit: BanjoHangout - beezaboy

The Patent (Kay Era)

1930s Kay Deluxe with the Zorzi neck joint

Stromberg-Voisinet eventually became Kay and was headed by Kuhrmeyer and the neck joint began appearing on more instruments including the famed Kay Kraft line of 'venetian style' instruments.

The new joint featured a radiused, dyed wood block with a raised center rail that was secured to the body of the instrument with three small finishing nails. The end of the neck is radiused to match the body block and has a channel which slides along the rail on the block. A bolt protruding from the neck fits through a hole drilled in the neck block and is secured with a wing nut. That bolt is held in place by a wood screw driven through the heel of the instrument.

Instruction Sticker
Image Credit: Facebook - Thom R
The mounting hardware used in the Zorzi neck joint seen above


Who is Joseph Zorzi?

Joseph Zorzi is a difficult man to pin down and attempting to match his life story to the evidence that we have available has proven to be quite confusing. For a man of his reputation and accomplishments, he dodged appearing in any contemporary news or literature during his lifetime and digitized census records bring up little. Everything we know about Joseph Zorzi comes from the Michael Wright's 2000 book, The Histories of Cool Guitars - Guitar Stories Volume 2

Timeline of Zorzi's Life according to Michael Wright's book, The Histories of Cool Guitars - Guitar Stories Volume 2

  • 1878
    • Born in Messina
  • 1894
    • Began apprenticeship with Milanese luthier Leandro Bisiach
  • 1898
    • Recruited by Lyon & Healy and moved to Chicago
  • 1899
    • Promoted to production chief of Washburn instruments with L&H
  • 1924
    • First meeting of the American Guild of Luthiers of which Zorzi was one of the founders
  • 1926 
    • Zorzi advertised a Guild meeting at L&H and was fired
    • Zorzi was then hired at Stromberg-Voisinet
  • 1929
    • There exists, according to Wright, a 14 fret Kay Kraft guitar with Zorzi's signature and dated 12/29 
  • 1934
    • Joseph Zorzi leaves Kay to start his own private shop

How do we know Zorzi?

Michael Wright's book is a wonderful resource but lacks citations for much of the information. He does credit George Manno for providing a photograph of Zorzi which helped establish Manno as the key figure in this story.

The earliest reference to Joseph Zorzi is in a 1987 book from the Illinois State Museum entitled "Tuning the Wood" which documented contemporary Illinois luthiers and the exhibition at the Illinois Art Gallery. No reference to Zorzi appears in the book until the very last page, among the references, where a citation for a book is given. "Mandolin Making in the Classic Italian Style" is attributed to Joseph Zorzi and claimed to have been published in Rome in 1935. I reached out to the Museum but they had no record of such a book and unfortunately were not able to locate anyone who was around at that time.

The second reference to Zorzi is an article in The Southtown Star, a newspaper in Tinley Park, Illinois. The article is an interview with luthier George Manno, owner of Manno's Violin Shop, in Chicago Heights and but one singular paragraph mentions Zorzi [4].

Manno mentions his purchase of a 1927 guitar built by Joseph Zorzi
c. 1988 [4]

In March of 1993, George Manno wrote a two-page article for Guitar Maker Issue #19 where he described the life and accomplishments of Joseph Zorzi. At the end of the article, Manno mentions that he met Zorzi in 1972 when he was 92 and the author was 19.  


Timeline of Zorzi's Life according to George Manno in Guitar Maker Issue 19 from 1993
  • 1878
    • Born in Messina, Sicily
  • 1894
    • Left for Milan to study lutherie with Leandro Bisiach
  • 1897
    • Zorzi had completed eleven violins and two violas
  • 1898
    • Jobbers from Lyon and Healy arrived at Bisiach's shop to purchase instruments to take back to the states
    • They decided to take Joseph Zorzi with them
  • 1899
    • Joseph Zorzi was made production chief of the factory
  • Few years later
    • Zorzi was promoted to the head repairman position for L&H's Old Violin department
  • 1924
    • Joseph Zorzi founds the first lutherie guild in the United States
  • 1927
    • Zorzi was fired from Lyon and Healy for advertising his guild
    • Joined Kay Musical Instrument Company and was tasked with building arch-top guitars in the basement
  • 1924
    • Zorzi left Kay and opened his own business as a violin maker
  • 1935
    • Joseph Zorzi and Angelico Boselli opened their own repairshop
  • 1947
    • Luthiers guild was revived and named "The Midwest Guild of Guitar and Violin Makers"
    • Zorzi and Boselli would both be elected president of the guild
  • 1972
    • Manno meets Joseph Zorzi while apprenticing with Boselli
  • January 1977
    • Joseph Zorzi died
    • His collection was sold to an English businessman and all proceeds went to charity

What doesn't add up?

Joseph Zorzi does not appear in a 1916 Lyon and Healy Employee List

I purchased an original 1916 copy of Everything Known in Music which was published by Lyon and Healy. There is a page dedicated to their employees and mentions every employee, by name, who had been with the firm for 10 years or more. Joseph Zorzi does not appear in this list.

Also missing from the list are: Philip Gabriel, Fritz Brunner, John Abbott, Angelico Boselli. The only name from Manno's article that appears is Jay C. Freeman, sales manager and the man who supposedly brought Zorzi to America.
Of course, the list is available on Archive.org which I did not know until after I purchased the original
Image Credit: Archive.org

Zorzi does not appear on the neck Patent (US1932975)

An oddity considering his name is so closely attached to the invention but Kuhrmeyer is the only name that appears. He was the head of the company at the time but he was also a builder so it wouldn't be outrageous to assume he invented it.

Who isn't Joseph Zorzi?

None of these people are Mr Zorzi but I spent the time to verify their life stories and so I figured might as well include them.


Sources

[1] https://patents.google.com/patent/US542788A
[2] https://www.banjohangout.org/archive/368246
[3] https://patents.google.com/patent/US1932975A
[4] https://www.newspapers.com/image/537618444/?terms=%22joseph%20zorzi%22&match=1


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