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In Memoriam: Dell Staton

In Memoriam: Dell Staton

by H.E. Huttig

Originally published in American Lutherie #19, 1989

Miami has been hit with a number of losses just recently. Everardo Lopez, a fine Cuban guitar builder and Salvado Mayo, a performer and friend of Everardo died in a car accident. Then there was Marino, a fine performer of both folkloric and classical music. Jose Fernandez was another impeccable craftsman, a maker of concert grade guitars. I own a guitar made by Jose, and it is the favorite of Carlos Barbossa-Lima to use while visiting us. Lastly, there is Dell Staton, a terrific jazz guitarist, inventor, and repair expert.

The untimely death of Dell Staton is keenly felt in Miami guitar circles. I met Dell in the ’60s through Juan Mercadal. Dell was born on a farm and wanted to play guitar ever since he saw one from a distance. He finally got one, probably a Stella, and being left handed, he played it upside down with the bass strings on the bottom. He progressed so far that it was too late to change the strings when he found out about it.

Dell Staton with members of the Miami Guitar Society in the ’60s. That’s Dell with the guitarron and Marjory Morton playing the guitar. I don’t know the name of the lady at the left, but the others are (L to R) Hart Huttig, Chico Taylor, Juan Mercadal, and Dr. and Mrs. Bohn. Photo courtesy of H.E. Huttig.

Dell served with the U.S. forces in Germany and was billeted with a German family of guitar builders in Saxony. Though Dell was the enemy, the Germans took to him and he became like one of the family. When he was to leave, he tried to board a truck in the convoy, but being the last man in line, he was told to take the next truck as they were too full. That truck hit a landmine and all the soldiers were killed. When Dell left, the Germans gave him one of their own guitars, a beauty made of flamed maple with the workmanship of the violin maker.

Beside being a greatly talented artist, Dell made inventions and did repairs. He took the bass pedals from an electric organ and played bass accompaniment with his feet. He bent a wire coat hanger and put it between the guitar strings behind the bridge to make the first vibrato device. Dell was a consummate jazz artist but he also played classical music well despite the handicap of the string arrangement.