Tony Zemaitis–Master Craftsman & Pioneer
Antanus Casimere Zemaitis, or Tony, was born in London, England in 1935. As a child he was constantly designing and building – everything from model flying airplanes to handmade bicycles. His creative talents first led him to cabinetry where he learned invaluable skills in working with wood, design and decoration.
In the 1950s, as a young guitar player, Tony was unsatisfied with the available guitars of the times. So taking cues from a friend’s classical guitar, he decided to build his own – the first Zemaitis guitar! From then on, it was a lifelong quest to hone his craft and experiment with new designs and materials in order to improve every guitar he made – a characteristic that would follow him throughout his life.
The Early Years
His creations first found attention on the London blues and folk scene where he performed alongside players like Davey Graham, Long John Baldry and Spencer Davis – all who fell in love with the great sound and playability of Zemaitis guitars.
Always working to improve his designs, he hit on a major guitar innovation with the now famous Zemaitis Metal Front™. The original idea was to shield the guitar and reduce hum. The first 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 the highly decorative, individually hand-engraved pieces became a signature piece of art favored by rock’s elite.
Next, he introduced the beautiful Zemaitis Pearl Front™ guitars—with an exquisitely inlayed front with a mosaic of abalone that twinkled and changed color in the light. These top of the line guitars soon became another signature model.
By the 1980s, his reputation for workmanship, styling, playability and tonal quality had made Tony Zemaitis a living legend. While highly coveted by collectors, Tony didn’t restrict his customers to just the rich and famous and always remained true to his ideals. Though he worked primarily by himself, producing just a handful of guitars every year, Tony was just as happy to work with enthusiastic amateur guitarists and even sold ‘Student’ grade models to those with lower budgets.
No matter what grade of guitar he made though, he always produced a great playing and sounding guitar. He 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 world. After 40 years of handcrafting fine guitars and having virtually created the ’boutique guitar’ Tony retired in 2000. He passed away on August 17, 2002
Carrying on the tradition
When he retired, we began discussions with Tony about the best way to pass on his craft to the next generation, and to continue the Zemaitis name and its reputation for quality and craftsmanship.
With the support of Tony’s wife and son, Ann and Tony Zemaitis, Jr., we’ve been able to make the rebirth of Zemaitis guitars a reality. We are honored to bear the Zemaitis torch and to pass along the craft and spirit of Tony Zemaitis to future generations. Carefully studying Tony’s original drawings, specifications, and guitars, our master craftsmen and luthiers are faithfully reproducing Zemaitis instruments with the same superior quality as those crafted by the man himself.
Teaming Up with Master Engraver Danny O’Brien
A big part of carrying on the Zemaitis tradition can be attributed to the services of Danny O’Brien, the master engraver who worked with Tony Zemaitis for many years. Danny’s tremendous skills and artistry have helped us ensure the continued authenticity and craftsmanship of this endeavor.
Danny O’Brien designs the unique and beautiful engravings for Zemaitis Metal Front™ guitars and all the other Zemaitis Guitar metal components, including the badge, truss rod cover, pickup mount rings, tailpiece, jack plate, and the rear plate. The work is then completed by hand by our team of shotgun engravers, schooled in the same techniques as Danny.
Danny’s new designs are helping carry out the history started by Tony Zemaitis. We welcome you to the next chapter in Zemaitis guitars.
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