I heard about what Nick was doing with Prisma Guitars through Charlie, the painter in my previous post. Needless to say, I was stunned to hear what he was doing. These things are beautiful, and you should hit up Nick for one ASAP.
How did Prisma Guitars come to be?
It started a year ago, as a real business, but we’ve been doing it since 2010, as a hobby.
No one knew we were doing it, and we were making furniture and all sorts of stuff, like skate ramps and stuff, and would occasionally make a guitar. Then people started finding out about it, and then we took it to the next level last year. It started in San Diego too. I made my first guitar in high school, and got into woodworking because I got hurt skating, and I needed to do something while I healed.
Did you take classes for it?
No I taught myself from Youtube, and Michael took a class and showed me stuff, and I signed up as an apprentice at this guitar guy’s thing. I did construction for a little bit too when I moved here, but only for like 3 months. It was all good to see how it was done, to see what tools those guys use, and try and get the same.
What woodworking education did you have prior to making guitars and where did you get it?
I actually took one woodshop class in high school, I didn’t do that much though, I made a cutting board and the class was over. Which is nothing.
I moved schools after that semester, and there was no way for me to use the shop at that school. Woodworking didn’t really strike a chord with me then, I took that class and thought, “Oh this is cool.” But I didn’t care enough to make it a full time hobby. But then when I got hurt, I have no idea what came over me to pick it up again. We were making skate ramps, I guess that was kinda like working with stuff, but it wasn’t like making a thing. It’s different to make a skate ramp than to make a thing, cuz a skate ramp is kinda like, “fuck it! Yeah, alright, it works.”
What did you guys make?
We made a whole skatepark in San Diego. It was pretty famous actually, to the point that I had people come from Sweden and they said “Oh my god I’ve seen this on the internet!”.
I guess, it was really just in my backyard where I had a big concrete area with a basketball hoop. Because I didn’t play basketball, I decided to just turn it into a skatepark. It was so insane dude! We had a fire hydrant we accumulated somehow. My trampoline broke and I turned the pieces of it into polejams. All sorts of stuff. I also got three ramps that were torn down in San Diego. The whole thing was almost free. We probably had $20,000 in wood and materials, but most of the stuff was donated.
It was pretty insane how big it got, an full basketball court size of skatepark, that flowed better than any skatepark in San Diego. It was private, there was music, there were barbecues, it was cool.
Tell me about how you make the guitars.
We get the boards from skateshops and skaters, other board recycling people.
We start with de-gripping. The number of boards we use changes. Sometimes its 4, sometimes its 10. Sometimes even 50. It depends on what we’re trying to do.
We’ll prep them all, and glue them, and then we use our special techniques to make the boards usable as material, and once that happens we pretty much have just a block of wood. Then the process is just the same as any other guitar. So we’’ll take the blocks of skateboards and just start going at it, cut the shape out and then rout it, all the cavities you know, drill all the holes you need, sand it a bunch, forever, and then you can finish it. Then you wet sand it, you spray the finish on, the finish has these little bubbles in it, it seems flat, but it’s really not, it’s close to being flat. Sometimes you spray it on so good that you can kind of see your face but it’s distorted, but when you wet sand it, it becomes a mirror. Then I can see my face in it perfectly. And that’s how most guitars are finished, with lacquer and wet sanding. So we spray lacquer, we let it sit for a few days and then we wet sand it, and then buff it, and then it’s a mirror finish. and then we put it together and make sure everything is good, and then that’s pretty much it. that whole process takes about 30 hours per guitar. Yeah (haha) and we do it all here.
Why do you make these guitars?
I don’t know! I made them for myself, because I thought they were cool, and they meant a lot to me because of skateboarding and I play guitar too. But why I make them now is just because the longest time I didn’t know people liked the idea of it, and then all of a sudden I started getting a lot of love for it, “Oh people are into this!”. It’s kind of cool to get emails from all over the world, and I’ve met big people at big companies for no reason other than just doing this. I’ve gotten at least 10 emails from people who are willing to move to SF to be an apprentice of mine, and I say, “Dude I don’t think you understand, this is in a garage, this is not like a legit thing.” It is legit, but it’s not that legit (laughs). I don’t want to disappoint you when you move 5000 miles here. Or people have emailed us to just say that we inspired them to start woodworking or something like that, and that’s stuff cool. It’s pretty fun to do this every day. Me and him were friends before we did this, so it’s awesome. I graduated college a few months ago, and I feel like I haven’t really done anything but I’ve been doing so much!
Sometimes a step of the process can take so long it’s frustrating, but once it’s all put together and it’s out of the shop, and you see it next to an amp, or someone’s playing it, you think “Yeah that was definitely worth it.”
Michael: I thought one of the most gratifying was that Anchor Steam show, watching people play them.
Nick: Yeah we did a show with Anchor Steam last week, and had two bands playing all our guitars. Man, we spent like two months making all those guitars by hand, and then we watched those professional musicians just going at it, and they sound super good. That was for sure super rewarding.
What influences the making of your guitars?
I get inspired by really random things.
Michael: Stevie Ray Vaughn.
I get inspired by really random things, that make me think of guitars or woodshop or furniture. If we’re out somewhere and there’s a cool piece of furniture it might make me think of the process of finishing or the type of wood.
Michael: I think you’re the most distracted person I know, but you’re constantly in a weird way focused and distracted from everything else but extremely focused on creating.
Nick: He tells me something, and I’m listening to him, but he’ll say one word that makes me think completely irrelevant to what he’s saying. One word he says makes me think of guitars, and then “Oh my god, I just thought of something, we should do this!”
Michael: I like it when he does that.
Nick: He hates it, but it’s really where most of our ideas come from, out of nowhere. That’s why I don’t really know what inspires it. But definitely shape wise, I just picked shapes that I really liked and changed them a bit to pay homage to them.
Name a couple.
They’re all kind of Fender style, some are Gibson style, but we’ll take them and I’ll draft it out and stretch it so it’s our own shape. When I see the colors come out for the first time, that’s our way of deciding what kind of guitar it should be. It’s hard to explain, but we can decided exactly everything we want to do with it, “Ok, lets put mahogany in it, some alder, the back should be blue. This is kind of a rock’n’roll style guitar so we should put these pickups in it.”
The pattern that emerges is what allows us to decide it’s fate.
What other hobbies and activities do you do outside of this?
Skate, play guitar. Really, this is my life, it’s all overlapping. I like going out with friends. Everybody likes that. I like drinking a lot.
I’m really into industrial design and business marketing. So it’s kind of perfect for this.
You like business marketing?
hahaha I don’t like business marketing, but I’m really good at it.
Industrial design is pretty cool, sometimes I can apply it to guitars, sometimes I can’t.
Messing around with stuff like that is super fun. For the longest time, I was 3-D printing shit for fun. I tried to make a volume knob for a guitar, but I wasn’t happy with the outcome.
So where do you see yourself 5-10 years down the line?
Michael: Maybe Tesla.
Nick: I’m hoping that we can have a real shop, with multiple employees, and just pump these things out. Not mass-producing, just up what we’re doing now. I think as far as brand-wise goes, that we can get people who have nothing to do with skating or guitar, but will still know about what we’re doing. Just having more recognition across the board.
It’s working, because we’re in unique magazines, like Inked this month, and Vogue Online once.
It’s kind of funny, because why would they give a shit?
How did that shoot with Toyota happen?
I don’t know. They just emailed me. It’s super random, I have no idea how they hear about me, I guess just through other things. We’ve had a few other interviews, one for Hypebeast, Colossal. People are definitely finding out about us.
Bloomberg wanted to do something. They’re random right?? I just don’t understand, it’s cool though, I can’t complain.
I think that’s already a step in the right direction, because what I expected when I started doing this was to be all over the skate mags, and this and that. But honestly, they haven’t shown much interest. Even though this is super related.
Have you seen your style change much when it comes to making these guitars?
The shapes are always changing a little bit, but style-wise we’ve kind of kept it the same forever, because early on I decided that it didn’t want it to be super focused on the skateboards. I know that it is, because that’s the business. I get a lot of emails saying, “Make skateboard knobs! Make skateboard this! Make skateboard that!” And I feel like you can do all that stuff, but you have to really think about it and do it as tastefully as possible, so it’s not like aesthetically busy, and in your face, literal. “This is skateboard!!” vs. “alright, the skateboards create a nice look and we’re gonna use it as our aesthetic.” Two different things. “This whole thing is made out of skateboards!” vs. “We use the skateboards to create our aesthetic.” We want the colors, certain effects, we try and stay true to guitar stuff as much as possible, so that it’s not in your face busy, so it makes more sense. So we’ve stayed with that since day one, and it’s working pretty good.
Really though, email Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org to get one of these now. This is gonna be huge.