Rick Kelly only makes guitars from repurposed wood: he specifically uses building wood, with some coming from 200-year-old trees. In order to get this material, he sometimes has to dumpster dive and look for things that construction crews are throwing away.
“Recently, I have started a new series of limited-edition ‘Bowery Guitars’ which are all built from recycled lumber,” said Kelly’s website. “I call this wood ‘The Bones of Old New York City.’ It is the ‘King’s wood’ — white pine timbers that were barged down the Hudson River 200 years ago from the great virgin forests of the Adirondacks.”
Once back in the shop, he “de-nails it, surfaces it, cuts it to shape with a bandsaw, sands and smoothes it and finally uses a shellac finish,” according to Kelly. This may sound like a gimmick, but this process has attracted countless famous celebrities and musicians, including Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Roger Waters, Steely Dan and filmmaker Jim Jarmusch.
Great Big Story recently did a video about the famous guitar maker, which shows the detailed process. There is something special in seeing these historic guitars made. It also helps that the craftsman narrates, describing why this process is so important to him.
The opening line of the video really sets the tone: “Yeah, every guitar has a story.” It certainly does when it is made from 200-year-old wood, which is filled with New York City history and goes into the hands of some of the most famous musicians in the world.