10 Questions We Ask Everyone

by Ketar

Paolo Lardera and his brand - BlackBeard Guitars (name that directly takes inspiration from Paolo´s long black beard) - constitute one of the most beautiful novelties in handcrafted guitars that the Italian market has seen in the last five years. A novelty that was born in the social media when one day Paolo shared his idea of turning his passion into his day job in a famous social network. This is still alive at Paolo´s Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/paolo.lardera), which is still frequently visited and has turned into a place to exchange jokes and make virtual friends that become real. However, Paolo is a shy modest person, now that his guitars, simple but brilliant at the same time, are admired everywhere, he doesn´t let success go to his head. He doesn´t describe himself as a Luthier, but as someone who builds guitars and a craftsman who has invented himself... Paolo looks at the guitar´s world with great practicality, dispelling myths and calling things by their proper name. It is not a coincidence that he had selected the Telecaster as base model. As he tells us it is a guitar´s prototype: its essential, fundamental and still surprising incarnation. A guitar that Paolo plays masterfully developing different projects. Everything was created with his own hands: bodies, necks, pickups, and even the famous metal pickguards, all of them gathered in a research based on sound and a precise idea of materials and finishes. Paolo is, somewhat the anti-Paul Reed Smith: the shiny varnished contrasts with its roasted finish, the flaming top with pine, polished and shiny metals with iron. Up to his Root Telecaster, guitars made with old poplar boards where knots and cracks are evident. Objects of desire where the aging process was not done by men but by nature itself: time sculptures that turn into sound and which are also beautiful.


1. GUITARS EXCHANGE: How did you end up becoming, or start out as, a luthier? 
Paolo Lardera: As a kid, I was always very curious about how things worked. I would spend hours disassembling anything I could get my hands on and sometimes managed to put it back together. Deciding to build something from scratch was the natural evolution to my inclination. But, assembling a car, motorbike or camera from scratch requires too much ability so I got into electric guitars.

2. GUITARS EXCHANGE: What inspires you to design and manufacture a new guitar?

Paolo Lardera: I decided to use the Telecaster as base model revising tonewoods, aesthetic and sound. In fact, I only decide the shape of the guitar and later I let myself be guided by the tonewood I find: each type of wood evokes a path, a route I try to find.

3. GUITARS EXCHANGE: Do you look for a given sound for any particular reason?

Paolo Lardera: As I said before, materials often guide you to a special sound. When you build an instrument you may choose direction and then you try to take the helm to maintain it but, you do not always manage to get where you want. I have my own method to evaluate a guitar´s sound. I take a guitar and if after 15 minutes I keep playing, it means that it has a nice sound, regardless of its voice. A guitar´s voice is a combination of sound, feeling and playability: each guitar has a voice and every guitar player is looking for a specific one. When a guitar and a player find each other it means I made a good job.
4. GUITARS EXCHANGE: Select one and talk about: soul, jazz, blues, rock, pop…or other.

Paolo Lardera: Blues, everything I know and love about music started there. Soul, jazz, rock are respectively and `simplifying a lot´  the ludic, intellectual and pissed off versions of blues. Let´s leave pop apart.

5. GUITARS EXCHANGE: Are you a jobbing artist or a solitary artisan?

Paolo Lardera: I am a lonely hermit, extremely solitary. Behind BlackBeard there is only one person who does everything ….myself. All the instruments are handmade by me (pickups included) according to my personal taste. Fortunately, more and more people appreciate my stylistic choices. I believe this is due to the fact that whoever wants a handmade instrument is looking for something exceptional, unique, a result of their intuition but also of the artisan´s view. Sometimes, the person who is looking for an instrument like this may have unclear ideas….in that case it is the artisan who interprets and guides the customer…when this happens it is very exciting for me because I will have to do the job. If I have to put a part of me in what I do, I will do it better, right? and in the end the customer will be happy. There is nothing sadder than taking a look at a corner of your home or studio and see a forgotten instrument under a layer of dust. I would like each of my guitars to be played, lived, used. After all they are made for that.

6. GUITARS EXCHANGE: What was the last record or CD you bought? And listened to?

Paolo Lardera: The last one I bought was Three Men by ZZTop because I found it on vinyl. The last one I listened to was The Dark Side of The Moon by Pink Floyd. It is one of those records you put on at the start and then let it play until the end.

...ONE BODY...

7. GUITARS EXCHANGE: Electric or acoustic?
Paolo Lardera: Electric, undoubtedly although, in the end the sound source is always in the wood vibes.

...ONE NECK...

8.  GUITARS EXCHANGE: What is the secret behind your choice of wood?
Paolo Lardera: There is no secret: I believe every piece of wood has its own personality. The ability, or originality if you prefer, is to get out and make the most of each. I also believe that it is important to use “simple” materials where simplicity is understood as easy to find and work with. I have nothing against African padauk nor abalone bindings. They simply aren´t for me.


9. GUITARS EXCHANGE: Why should we consider luthier-crafted guitars as a viable option to guitars made by the large manufacturers?
Paolo Lardera: Major brands use economies of scale to minimize costs and increase profit margins. Nothing wrong with that, ethically speaking since nowadays you can find good instruments in the lowest price ranges. But it is also true that production is largely industrial, although some of these processes are manual. Manufacturing lead time has to be low and each element must be manufactured on an assembly line. A luthier also has to take profit of his work, but in our case the main element is passion. Ours is not an industry of factories and factory workers but a few craftsmen workshop. In my case only one: myself, sometimes with the help of an external co-worker in some works for which I do not have the right tools. He helps me because he likes what I do, not because it represents a great source of income for him. In the end, I believe that this dedication, love for wood, metals and magnetos pervades the finished instrument. The person who values all these things can feel it when he picks a hand built guitar up.

10. GUITARS EXCHANGE: Who plays your guitars? Who would you like to have play your guitars?

Paolo Lardera: Among the clients of BlackBeard you can find some professionals and many passionate ones…and lately also, collectors. The guitar players or bassists I would like to build and instrument for are dead! I really feel lucky to have this job and I just hope that each guitar or bass I build, make its owner happy. Each time I sell an instrument I feel different emotions: I suffer for the separation, thinking about how many hours I spent working on it but I am very satisfied with every sale since we should not forget that this is my passion but it is also my job. I am pleased by the confidence I have earned, but what encourages me is the fact that I will build a new guitar and start all over again.    

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