What do Lou Reed, Walter Becker, Bill Frisell, Bob Dylan,
Patti Smith, Marc Ribot and Lenny Kaye have
in common? What unites this handful of
Rock nobility, a famous Manhattan hotel, the Chelsea, as well as the equally famous pub, Chumley's?
No, no…don’t say that they were merely clients: perhaps they were,
obviously, but that’s beside the point. Besides, both places are now closed:
nearly demolished, waiting to be reborn anew from its glorious ashes. And what
does all of this have to do with what some call, “the bones of New York”? And who is that man, prowling the rubble
and courtyards of old houses in that part of the demolished city?
The secret of this little, quintessential New York mystery—which Woody Allen would be more than happy to make a film about— is in a small shop in the West Village, located at 42 Carmine Street. Make your way to the shop, pop into the dimness: you may find yourself welcomed by an old, elegant lady with pleasant manners. You will discover that she is in fact the elderly mother of the man who wanders through the worksites of old buildings. You will discover that, in the back of that small business, you will find “the bones of New York”.
The man's name is Rick Kelly and despite all reasonable suspicion, he is in fact, not a serial killer. What he calls, without exaggeration, “the bones of New York”, literally in the back of his shop, meticulously stacked and sorted, numbered and labelled with care: are carpenter beams—some over a century old—that Rick has accumulated from his wandering around the oldest buildings in the city, which gradually are being demolished, among which were found precisely at Chelsea and Chumley's.
With these extraordinary woods —which have been subjected to a wonderful natural aging, dry, controlled environment—Rick Kelly has built some of the most amazing guitars imaginable. Guitars that, according to him, and many of its customers—some as illustrious as the ones we mentioned in the beginning—have a unique sound: because they are made of cuts of wood that existed over a hundred or even a hundred and fifty years before the first electric guitar was ever imagined. It is clear that Kelly, who has been building guitars since the 70s, does not hide nor mask the age of these woods: in fact he praises them. If we look from the point of view of construction and conceptual, this refined gentleman invents nothing, preferring to choose to adhere to the rules dictated by Leo Fender rather strictly.
From the point of view of his aesthetic choices, he chooses to enhance all aspects of the wonderful material he finds in his hands. And if a beam of white pine will give birth to the body of a Telecaster, that same body shall denounce all its noble and venerable origin, showing all the nodes, cracks and holes in the bald wood. More 'vintage' than the traditional sense of 'vintage' Kelly Guitars— which often have large necks (they call them “baseball bats”) woods made so stable they don’t require 'truss rod' (a piece of metal that aligns the neck in order to stabilize it) thus increasing their sound—they have something so primitive; as original as sin.
However they sound as they should. “It’s the mystery of the molecules”, according to Kelly, “their ability to vibrate better than any other wood.” It is the result of a perfect breeding that has turned these woods from the forests of the Adirondacks to become, two hundred years later, into the material with which to build exceptional guitars. The waiting list to get one is long, it seems. But in the meantime, if you want to know how they sound, just ask one of the gentlemen we mentioned at beginning: they have a Kelly and know how they sound.
Official Rick Kelly site: www.kellyguitars.com