Wood resonates, as Ricky Kelly points out in this clip from the upcoming documentary Carmine Street Guitars, that’s why he chooses old growth and white pine in his custom guitars. You can hear the difference in the sound. Kelly makes his guitars from the “bones of old New York,” reclaimed white pine beams frame from buildings constructed in the 1800s.
Directed by Ron Mann, Carmine Street Guitars captures five days in the life of Carmine Street Guitars, where musicians like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Patti Smith picked, strummed and bought. The film doesn’t only capture the store: it encapsulates a passing moment in time.
“Once the center of the New York bohemia, Greenwich Village is now home to lux restaurants, and buzzer door clothing stores catering to the nouveau riche,” reads the official synopsis. “But one shop in the heart of the Village remains resilient to the encroaching gentrification: Carmine Street Guitars. There, custom guitar maker Rick Kelly and his young apprentice Cindy Hulej, build handcrafted guitars out of reclaimed wood from old hotels, bars, churches and other local buildings.”
Nothing looks or sounds quite like a Rick Kelly guitar. Kelly was born on Long Island and became fascinated with trees by watching his grandfather, who was a woodworker. Kelly was studying sculpture in college when he noted the tones of ancient woods brought deeper tones on the electric guitars he was building than factory-built guitars. Kelly first opened shop in Greenwich Village in the late 1970s before settling into Carmine Street Guitars in 1990.
Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch (Down by Law, A Night on Earth) gave Kelly some wood from his loft for a guitar he wanted built for himself. This introduced the guitar craftsman to pine which was lumbered 200 years ago in the Adirondacks’ virgin forests for the construction of the neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan, the Village, Bowery, and today’s Soho and Tribeca.
“You can’t buy wood like this in a lumber yard,” Kelly says in the clip. He used the wood in electric guitars based on the Telecaster design from Leo Fender.
You can watch this exclusive clip here:
The new documentary Carmine Street Guitars opens April 24, 2019. Want more stories like this? We have a full music section here!
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.