Saturday, April 9, 2011

Rick Kelly Guitars

Rick Kelly builds guitars that are immediately vintage instruments, since he utilizes only old wood that he recycles, generally from demolished buildings and from other sources.  This is reminiscent of how the Larson Brothers made their fine instruments.  They too scavenged old wood from building teardowns and remodels.  Kelly is very particular about his wood supply.  The wood he uses is at least 100 years old and in some cases 200 years old, as with his Bowery Guitar project.

This one is called The Worm

No doubt about it, Rick Kelly is a master at building Fender style guitars, especially Telecasters.  Every instrument is handmade. The body and neck have never seen a CNC machine.  They are all hand-cut in his New York shop on Carmine Street.  All his instruments appear to be made in the 1950’s.  

He uses handmade pickups from Lindy Fralin, Don Mare, Seymor Duncan (Antiquity models) and DiMarzio.

Kelly offers four neck sizes, from fat to V shaped, with three different radius’, 7.5”, 9.5” and 10”.  He also offers medium to jumbo frets.  Headstocks range from modified Tele and Strat to Leo’s Tele prototype snakehead style, and a slotted snakehead style.  Kelly builds his own bridges.  

All Kelly guitars have a nitro finish applied by Mr. Kelly.

Kelly refers to the wood he uses as “the King’s wood”; white pine timber that were barged down the Hudson River to build New York City’s ancient buildings.  Kelly has also procured a supply of swamp ash and Arkansas rock maple from farm auctions he attended in the 1970’s.  This was from old farm buildings and barns.

Kelly claims that his guitars are superior to any factory-produced guitar, since the wood he uses has been air dried from the years it spent as building material.  Most factory guitars use green wood that has been kiln dried, which extracts the moisture.  

Aged air-dried wood not only is free of moisture, but the sap and pitch in the wood has crystallized over the years, opening up the woods pores, which causes the wood to vibrate more freely. 
Bill Kirchen with Rick Kelly baritone Tele

Due to the fact the moisture dissipated years ago, old wood is less prone to warping or cracking, plus its weight is lighter which is a plus for vibration.

Rick Kelly’s list of cliental is impressive.  It includes Bill Frisell, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, G.E Smitth, Bill Kirchen, Chris Whitley, Jim Campilongo, Poppa Chubby, Marc Ribot, James Taylor, Richard Thompson and many others.

A Kelly Tele and Kelly Strat
Surprisingly, a Rick Kelly guitar is reasonably priced, but do not be in a hurry to get your Kelly guitar or bass. 

There is a one year wait.

©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)


MSDos5 said...

That actually makes sense.

Marc said...


Anonymous said...

Rick does not make his own bridges, nor does he use nitro as his standard finish; he uses shellac.

Stephane Malric said...

Hello, first I hope you'll apolgize my English
I'm from France and someone is trying to sell me a Danocaster Rick Kelly ´´series'´ but I'm pretty sure that's a fake .I send you the link
Do you know where this guitar come from?
I've never heard about it !!!
With thanks

Jeph said...

I have a nitro painted t-style Rick Kelly guitar and it is an amazingly fine instrument. I hope someday I find another guitar as good as it.

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