A Century of Stringed Instruments
My great grandfather, Gaetano Francesco “Thomas”Puntolillo, came to the United States from Potenza, Italy in August 1892. He traveled here with his sisters Rosa (age 19), Concetta (age 14), and Adelaide (age 9) aboard the SS Italian Bermania, and joined his parents, Gerarda and Vincenzo, and brothers Savino (age 5) and Nicolo (5 months) in New York City.
My Aunt Yolanda told me that Gaetano used to stop on his way to school to watch a man who made musical instruments. He was always late for school because of this so the teacher told him that he had to make a choice: Either he was going to come to school or stay with the man. Gaetano went home and told his mother that he would rather work with the instrument man than go to school so she arranged for him to apprentice there. Unfortunately, no one in my family knows who this man was.
1900s: Tone Ring Patent
On August 30,1919, Gaetano filled out the application for a patent on a tone ring he designed which allowed sound to resonate through it. Patent #1,345,104 was granted to G.F. Puntolillo on June 29, 1920 which is the same date found inside many Majestic banjos.
My grandmother (Gaetano’s daughter), Constance Marchitelli, told me that he ran a factory at one point which could be where a lot of the more mass-produced Majestics I’ve seen came from. She remembered the name S.S. Stewart and Weymann. She also remembered him making frequent trips to Philadelphia.
Michael Holmes of Mugwumps thought maybe the metal parts and rim assembly were contracted out to Wm. Lange Co. and the necks and resonator were made and assembled by Gaetano (Thomas) Puntolillo. According to Holmes, “The tooling to make the big parts for the Majestics would have been too expensive for a small shop to own. Possibly, the parts were contracted out to Lange, and maybe even the finished rim assembly.”
It’s been speculated by people, including John Bernunzio, that Gaetano may have made the necks for S.S. Stewart on some of the higher end model banjos of the teens and twenties. In the book, One Thousand and One Banjos: The Tsumura Collection, there is also a Wurlitzer catalog in the beginning section on Majestics. My grandmother remembered him getting an offer from Wurlitzer to go to England to make mandolins for them but he didn’t want to move the family.
1920s to 1930s: From New York to New Jersey
I have three addresses in New York for Puntolillo’s Famous Banjos and The Majestic Musical Instrument Company—from a business card, a receipt form, and the motorcycle picture (above). The addresses are on Broome street, Bleeker street and Fourth Avenue at 12th Street, respectively. The Broome street receipt is from the 1920’s and has the same logo as the motorcycle.
Around the depression, Gaetano moved to Lyndhurst, New Jersey where he began making instruments out of his house. This is where I believe the highest quality instruments were produced. I believe most of the fancier Tsumura instruments (but aren’t most of the M.O.T.S. banjos from the late twenties and thirties) were made in Lyndhurst as were most, if not all, of the guitars.The guitar at left has a shredded label with the words “lillo” and “hurst, N.J.” I also have card from a round holed archtop guitar with the address where he lived until his death in August of 1946 at the age of 73. His daughter, Helen Puntolillo-Rago, lived in the same house with her husband James until his death. The house was sold soon after.
2000: Majestic Guitars
In 2000, I registered the name Majestic Guitars to continue my grandfather’s legacy of building fine stringed instruments. I started Majestic Guitars in Hoboken, NJ, and currently have my shop in Caldwell, NJ.