Petillo Masterpiece Point Body shape; one 200 year old piece of Oregon
curly walnut back with sunburst dark blue and orange electronic cover
and it’s pretty flat. On new guitars, the tops
are rocking a half an inch. We also see laminates coming apart on newer guitars.
Do you have an opinion regarding the vin-
tage guitar market? Specifically, the high
prices some instruments command?
If you have a real old thing that you can’t
play, why have it? We have guys who come in
here and they bring in old Esquires and Les
Pauls that are rotted out, have frets worn out
and machine heads hanging off. I ask them,
“What are you going to do with that? If you
can’t play it, what’s the sense in having it?” I
knew Scott Chinery. He had millions of dollars
worth of guitars. I must have sold him thirty
D’Angelicos and Strombergs. Scott would
pay anything for them.
He was almost singlehandedly
…for causing the increases in price. Vintage
guitars have been taken out of the hands of
players and put into the hands of doctors and
lawyers and into glass cases. There are people around the world who call us up to have
instruments made for forty to fifty thousand
dollars, and then put them in their trophy
rooms. I’ve had that happen a lot of times.
They hire musicians to come and play the
guitars. They’ll fly someone in from England
or France to play their instruments. We built
a guitar for some guy in China, and he called
us back and asked us to make another one;
a matching pair. Those were $48,000 guitars.
What musician do you know who can afford
expensive vintage guitars? Most of them can
barely make the rent!
How long does it take to build, let’s say,
an archtop guitar?
I think we’re back logged two years now. I
was at five years for a long time. I stopped
taking orders for eight years. David started
working with me when he was little and
has gotten to the point where he’s making
instruments and doing great. He has his own
designs and ideas which are working out fine.
What do you see as the future of
the guitar in music?
The future of the guitar is growing, and it’s
getting more and more popular as we go
along. More and more people, both young
kids and older people, want to play. A doctor
friend of mine says that playing guitar is better than taking Valium, and he’s right.
Guitar for Steven Van Zandt
Any words of wisdom for our readers?
In 1966, I started my business in my parent’s basement, and had people telling me,
“You’re going to build guitars? You’ll never
make it doing that. It’s impossible. You’re an
engineer, you should be building bridges.”
But I didn’t want to do that. When I became
nationally known and was on the TV news
with Peter Jennings a bunch of times, and
Nova, it was a different story. They all said,
“We knew you’d be successful.”
Body shot of Nil’s Lofgren’s guitar after a refret
I used to do lectures all the time in colleges,
and I’d hear kids tell me, “I don’t know what
I want to do.” I’d say to them, “What do you
like to do?” They’d tell me, “People tell me
I can’t do that.” I’d tell them that God gives
everybody a talent, and it usually turns out
to be your hobby, and if you pursue that,
it’ll work for you. It’s your obligation to go
do that. If music is in your heart, do that. I
thank God that I have been able to make
a living, raise five boys, two of whom have
Doctorates, support my family, and work on
things besides guitars, in the medical field
and alternative energy. To be able to help
develop things that have save people’s lives
is a great thing and I thank God for it every
day. It was a dream come true; the kid from
nowhere who became world-known.
We send our kids to school. I call it the “brain
laundry.” They teach them everything you
don’t want them to know. It’s done in the
name of education and fairness and righteousness, and the things of common sense
and how things are done, are never explored.
You get a piece of paper with your name
on it, if you follow the instructions. I got a
Doctorate not because I wanted the piece of
paper; I got the Doctorate because my professor said to me, “You know more about this
than I do and I’m the professor.” I wanted to
know why things occurred. I always say that
creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.