The design of the modern electric guitar is based on tradition. The smooth curves, cutaways and balance of today’s instruments look remarkably similar to the original electric guitars of the 1930s. Pop music has boldly evolved since Big-Band era musicians began experimenting with electrically amplifying their guitars to be heard above uproarious horn sections, yet the modern electric guitar’s design has remained surprisingly time-honored.
However, Argentinean guitar maker Ezequiel Galasso and pro skateboarder Gianfranco De Gennaro aim to change that by building guitars out of reclaimed skateboards. Together, they have formed Skate Guitar.
At first glance, retired skateboard decks cracked and chipped from slamming against concrete-walled skate parks do not appear to be the ideal material for guitar manufacturing. But Galasso is fascinated with industrial design, and Skate Guitar, he says, is an extension of his passion to distance himself from replicas of established brands.
“Ever since I began constructing guitars ten years ago, I’ve had a fondness for industrial design. I constantly search for new ways to infuse industrial design into the construction of instruments,” says Galasso through a Spanish interpreter. “During this time period, when Giani came to the shop and we became friends, the idea of reusing the decks made from maple (a wood commonly used by luthiers) to make guitars began to make more and more sense.”
The individuality of each skateboard deck provides unique design opportunities for each guitar, Galasso says. Rather than shy away from the cracks and scratches of the reclaimed skateboard decks, Galasso and his team of builders embrace the attributes of each piece.
“We usually try to arrange the decks in a way that makes use of their wear-and-tear to increase the guitar’s own character,” says Lewita Malizia, Galasso’s assistant and guitar builder at Skate Guitar. “Each one of them is carefully matched with a corresponding neck to create a sound and visual impact that shows both the history behind the decks and the design that went into it.”
However, the unique character of each hand-built guitar also creates a manufacturing challenge, explains Galasso. Skate Guitar uses two repurposed skateboard decks to build each instrument: one for the body, and one for the neck. Developing a process for building such a non-traditional guitar required the veteran luthier to consider new ways to design and fabricate these instruments.
“By reusing these all-wooden, maple decks that otherwise would end up hanging on a wall, or in the trash, a new way of thinking about the guitar-building process was born,” says Malizia.
Each skateboard deck is different, so the Skate Guitar team had to devise a step-by-step plan for each part of the manufacturing process. Figuring out how to build the guitar neck from one skateboard deck was especially challenging, says Galasso, who called it “a long process of trial and error before reaching a desirable result.”
Galasso and his team appear to have achieved the result they desired. Currently, they have more orders than available Skate Guitars. They are, however, resisting the temptation to mass-produce the instruments. Instead, they plan to continue employing their handcrafted method from their small shop in Buenos Aires. This philosophy runs counter to the mass-produced guitars of major brands. For Galasso and crew, design and adherence to Skate Guitar’s original handcrafted philosophy are more important than profit. In some economic circles, this might be viewed as a lost opportunity. For Galasso, it’s about staying true to his original plan.
Considering the way that Galasso explains Skate Guitar’s ethos, it’s easy to draw comparisons to skateboarding’s rebellious counterculture and rock music’s defiant personality. Skating and rock music share an emotional, visceral intensity that’s been further immortalized by pop imagery. We’ve all seen the iconic photos of rebellious rock stars destroying their six-string instruments on stage: Jimi Hendrix lighting his Stratocaster on fire, Kurt Cobain pummeling his Mustang into a stack of amps, Pete Townshend windmilling a Gibson Les Paul to the ground. Maybe someday we’ll see tomorrow’s rock god ollying on his Skate Guitar before kickflipping it into the crowd.