The Bones of Old New York: Rick Kelly’s Carmine Street Guitars
If only these old bones could talk! Well, in the case of Rick Kelly and his amazing craft, the old bones can indeed talk, or sing, if you will. Rick Kelly is a luthier who crafts bespoke guitars from the reclaimed wood that once belonged to buildings around the city. Rick’s guitars are like having history in your arms.
Carmine Street Guitars at 42 Carmine Street is the place where the magic happens. Kelly scours for wood that has been removed from historic New York buildings and creates the guitars in his shop. He has scored materials from numerous famous sites including the former Bedford Street speakeasy Chumley’s, which was once a hangout of, among many others, Dylan Thomas, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner and Edna St. Vincent Millay. He recently crafted a guitar for Bob Dylan whose body was made from the wood recycled from Chumley’s and the neck was made from the wood of the Chelsea Hotel. Patti Smith, Lou Reed and former Hall & Oates guitarist G.E. Smith also have owned and played guitars made from New York buildings, according to Kelly.
As with most things that are amazing, necessity was the mother of invention.
“I started collecting old wood in college because it was free,” he recalls.
He started making Appalachian dulcimers, stringed instruments sometimes used in folk music, from reclaimed wood and sold them at craft fairs to help pay his way through art school.
Kelly made his first guitar with wood from a New York building three years ago, after director Jim Jarmusch renovated his loft on the Bowery and gave the wood to Kelly. He turned the wood into two guitars for Jarmusch.
“After I made that first one that was so amazing, I thought, ‘I’ve got to keep doing this,'” Kelly said.
Reclaimed wood makes superior guitars because it’s already cured and seasoned. “The resin in the wood crystalizes and opens up the pores for vibration, creating resonance,” Kelly said.
Much of the wood that Kelly harvests is called the “King’s Wood” – white pine timber that was barged down the Hudson River 200 years ago from the forests of the Adirondacks. This framing wood was used in most of the New York City buildings constructed in the 1800’s.
Rick Kelly – Luthier who works to preserve history – one guitar at a time. Nowhere but New York, folks!
PS: Carmine Street Guitars was a GVSHP Village Award winner and is located in the South Village extension of the Greenwich Village Historic District which was designated in 2010 due to the efforts of GVSHP.