Rick Kelly Builds Guitars From Fallen New York Landmarks

08.07.12 Andy Cush & Joseph Schulhoff

Carmine Street Guitars, the longstanding custom instrument shop run by luthier Rick Kelly, has seen a few stars in its 20+ years of business. Lou Reed owns a few of Kelly’s guitars, as does Bob Dylan. Patti Smith, whom Kelly counts as a personal friend, has been playing his axes for years.

The true gems of the West Village shop, however, are the instruments themselves. Built using wood salvaged from such iconic sites of New York music and poetry as the Chelsea Hotel and Chumley’s speakeasy—favorite haunt of Hemingway, Dylan, Kerouac, and Salinger—Kelly’s guitars resonate with memories from a nearly lost era.

“Building them is about the most rewarding thing I could ever have decided, as a kid, to do,” says Kelly, who studied his craft at Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art. “When I was down in Maryland, sleeping in the wood chips, learning to make guitars…I used to listen to Lou Reed and Patti Smith records because they reminded me of New York and home. Never in a million years did I think I’d actually meet them and become friends and make them instruments.”

Music: Steve Kaplan