When it comes to entering the compositional and interpretative world of Al Di Meola we have to make a clear distinction between his electric universe, based mainly on the sound of a Gibson Les Paul (we will go into more detail on which models later) and his acoustic universe, where we will also find many guitars with nylon strings, both classic and flamenco.
These two universes divide his style and his discography... and this comes in really handy for us to talk about a master like him in order to be able to talk a little about the flamenco guitar that hasn't been seen much in this section.
Let's start with his electric sound, the one that distinguished him in his first solo albums in which he faced his own compositional discourse with the influences of artists he had accompanied such as Chick Corea or those he admired like George Benson. On those early albums we heard mainly the sound of a Gibson les Paul.
There have been many models of Les Paul that have passed through his hands but to name a few: a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Custom, a 1965 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe, another 1971 Les Paul Custom... even Paul Reed Smith himself, besides having made his own Signature model such as the PRS Al Di Meola Prism, had to take the role of making a custom model for the Italian American with the measures and shape of a Les Paul but with the neck of a PRS. That model, along with a custom Gibson Les Paul Standard from the late 80's, is the one he has been using mainly on his tours in electric format in recent years.
As a curiosity, we can add that lately he hasn’t opposed to using pedals and nowadays in his pedalboard there are models as classic as the Fulltone OCD, the Diamond Halo Chorus or the reverb Good Vibrations.
All of these pedals are plugged into amplifiers that never face him from the front, there is no sound focus on the stage that points directly at him. Even his amps are turned around because Al suffers from super-high tinnitus (those annoying beeps that we notice in our ears when we expose them to many decibels) which makes him play with plugs with a fairly large DB's reduction. We take the opportunity here at Guitars Exchange to strongly recommend, especially if you are starting to play or rehearse a lot, that you take care of your ears as if they were a golden treasure because in this line of work they are literally your livelihood and they are always the first to show the collateral damage of always living in the middle of a real savagery of decibels. Volume is cool but it's cooler to keep your ears intact over the years.
That's why we like acoustic and flamenco guitars so much. They sound good without being plugged into anything. And Al di Meola has a great collection of guitars of this style. Very iconic in his career were the Ovation guitars, a brand in which he has his own Signature model.
But if there is any recurrent brand in his unplugged guitars (although to be honest there are many that are plugged in) they are the guitars of the Spanish artisan house Conde Hermanos among which stand out a cutaway model and a 12 string one of the same house. Many of you will know that Conde Hermanos guitars have passed through the hands of the best 'players' in history, from Sabicas to Diego del Morao through his father, Moraíto Chico, or Tomatito. The list is endless.
With this group of guitars this true virtuoso of the 6-string has transported us throughout the years through his world of jazz fusion with other world music, including flamenco, a style in which very few guitarists born outside Spain have dared to enter and which in the case of Al di Meola led him to share the stage, albums and success with the person who probably introduced him to Conde guitars, Paco de Lucía, the best of all time. The American must have been doing something well.