This week’s superfluous conversation took place Tuesday October 16th, 2012 at the Carbonetti Guitar Studio in the Lower East Side at about 10:00PM. Master guitar crafter Jimmy Carbonetti had just returned from playing Austin City Limits with his band, Caveman, and I was eager to catch up and see what otherworldly instruments he’s been working on. As I enter his studio, navigating the maze of stunning handmade guitars and bases, Jimmy greets me with a hug. He is dressed in a variation on his usual garb (patterned shirt, thick tie, striped blazer) all courtesy of Robert James, whose menswear shop is just downstairs. Insanely humble and kind, one would never guess Jimmy is in a band that appears poised for instant stardom. Below we chat about his work both onstage and in the shop and the mythical Gauntlet (a drink Caveman invented that may just be the downfall of society as we know it—just don’t ask what it consists of).
How was Austin?
Austin was amazing. We were there for Austin City Limits and we played on Saturday on the Honda stage. It was great. It was one of the bigger stages but we played early. We started it off, set the bar and then just hung out all day and got to meet new people. It was really fun.
What was the best performance you saw?
Neil Young was amazing. You can’t really go wrong with that.
From my home country. Are you tired?
Nah. I was pretty beat yesterday though.
But not too beat to go out.
Never. The office is going out. Going out in New York City is like my retail space. This is where I make instruments and then going out is promoting them and making new friends and just spreading the world. Spreading the gospel.
What are you working on now?
This guitar, this black hollow body, I’m making for Robert. He’s my friend who makes clothes, called, “By Robert James.”
Of course, right downstairs.
Ya, and it’s great just to have that collaboration. It feels good to give back something to him and give him a guitar, because he doesn’t have one.
Does he play guitar?
It’s just a showpiece.
It will be lent out to friends and it will be, you know, just the shop guitar. People can borrow it or use it for photo shoots.
It will hang out downstairs, with the dog.
How many articles of Robert’s clothing are you wearing right now?
Everything. Except for underwear and socks.
Well you’re looking sharp and dapper as usual.
This guitar I’m actually making for Josh from Skaters.
Thanks. Lucky bastard.
It’s pretty late. Where are you going from here?
Probably go out, have some drinks. Maybe a Gauntlet.
You know what a Gauntlet is.
How long does it take to make a guitar?
Between a month and a few months. It all depends on touring and other jobs that come up. Sometimes the inspiration isn’t there right in the beginning. Each one of these guitars has its own personality and they kind of find their own home in a sense.
What comes first: someone asking for a guitar or you making one and knowing there’s someone that it’s for?
A bit of both. A few of them I’ve had just, “make me a guitar, this is kind of what I want.” Here’s a base I made for Jeff [of Caveman]. I put a 1946 penny in the headstock.
Where did you learn?
I learned a lot of building from my dude Mas Hino who has sat next to me for the past two and a half years. Also just working at vintage guitar shops in the city, I worked at Chelsea Guitars for a long time and I learned a lot from Dan the owner and Doug the old manager, just about vintage guitars and what makes guitars special, kind of feeling the vibe of it and the personality of each guitar. Then I moved to 30th Street Guitars and I apprenticed under Matt Brewster, and I did a lot of repairs and kind of assembled a lot of guitars with him and learned a lot of that stuff. I feel like Mas just kind of took it to the next level. He taught me how to line pickups and carve necks and basically do everything from scratch. So ya, he’s amazing. He’s an amazing musician too, so we have that in common. We just love working on guitars and we listen to vinyl all day and hang out.
You exist in a scene of people that is so collaborative.
I think that’s really special about New York City and where it’s gone. It feels like even a few years ago it wasn’t the same. The whole vibe of the city has turned. I remember reading an interview with Joey Ramone and he was like, “man, we’d play shows and people would rip down our posters, we’d rip down other people’s posters,” it was a war. And now I feel like the war is against…
Yes, it’s the team. We’re all pirates and we gotta have each others backs and collaborate. Like me and Robert, we always wanted to collaborate on a shop and now we’re lucky enough to do it.
You’re the guitar maker that lives in Robert’s attic.