We came back to NY for the summer to work, and make some extra cash to keep going with our journey to the tip of South America. Lucky enough for us we had some time to spare and drive to Manhattan for a few occasions and just hang out with friends or wander around. It seems the East End of Long Island as well as the Big Apple itself its becoming more and more ritzy, pushing small businesses away, which leaves us with the average foofy store selling overpriced designer's cloth, furniture, food, etc.
But they are not all gone. There's still a few gems out there and we found one of them. Carmine Street Guitars is a small shop in Manhattan, its been there since the 70's. We came across this store by pure chance, just peaking in the window it looked interesting and as Matty is a musician, we had to go in and check it out. Little did we know that we were about to be blown away by Rick Kelly, the nicest luthier of all NY.
Rick is a soften spoken, friendly, welcoming man. His store is been in this location since the 70's and it survives because his landlord loves his trade and has not raised his rent to an unsustainable number. We had the pleasure of spending some time in this beautiful, old shop and learn about a luthier's trade. I found that the most interesting part of it all is where the wood comes from, Rick uses reclaimed wood from old buildings from all over NY, the Chelsea Hotel, churches, the Bowery, he has wood dated as old as the 1800s. And it seems that the energy of the wood translates into the new guitars, the vibration is carried through time and that's probably why these instruments are so special. We were specially interested in Ricks work because recycling is key for what he does and it's a beautiful example of sustainability in the manufacturing of new things.
Some classic rock and roll musicians of all times have guitars that were made here: Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, GE Smith to mention a few, and apparently they all come back for more. It seems Rick is very good at what he does, and it all started 30 years ago, his love for shaping things dates from back then when he was building surfboards, original Bunger shapes. I found about this when I asked if I could use the loo and there it was, a single fin OG Bunger, very retro looking, I had to ask about it. I guess moving from shaping boards to shape guitars was a natural thing.
Any good luthier must pass on his knowledge and so it is that Rick has two apprentices working with him and learning his trade. It's definitely relieving to know that this art prevails and more beautiful, handmade guitars will keep being made with so much detail and love. Cindy Hulej is one of Rick's apprentices and her custom work is just unbelievable, we were completely awed at the incredible detail she achieves on her creations. It was also pleasantly surprising to see a woman learning this trade, since it seems not as common.
We learned so much in so little time. Rick is an open book and he told us so many fun and interesting stories that we will cherish till next time we visit him. Which I hope is soon. Much of them happened in this building, which is a museum of its own. In the 20's this same place used to be a speakeasy , there used to be hundreds of them in NYC, once he mentioned it, it was pretty easy to imagine it all, the back building with the fake front, the late nights, people smoking and drinking all night long.
Times are changing fast, modern life takes over but it makes me very happy to see that some of the old school New York is still there, an authentic place with history and character. As we say goodbye to our new friend, happy and grateful for his openness, I really hope we walk by through this street again, maybe next year, maybe in many years, and that Carmine Street Guitars is still here for a very long time.
If you'd like to know more about Rick Kelly's custom guitars please visit his shop Carmine Street Guitars at 42 Carmine St. New York, NY 10014 or visit his site www.kellyguitars.com
You can also show some support on Instagram @carminestreetguitars @cindyguitars. And don't forget to share this story if you liked it!