Lorraine Cademartori, 12.03.10, 06:00 PM EST
ForbesLife Magazine dated December 20, 2010
Anibal Mistorni is an intrepid sourcer of found materials--from scrapyards, building demolitions, and random good luck. He has to be to create his one-of-a-kind guitars, crafted from objects ranging from motorcycle carburetors to vacuum cleaner frames. "I am here whenever I can be," he says, extending his arms to symbolically embrace his subterranean home workshop. "I like to create something new all the time."
A carpenter and contractor by trade, the Buenos Aires–born Mistorni came to the U.S. in 1972, following Palmira, the Portuguese woman who would later become his wife. Settling first in Yonkers, New York, he built a lucrative home-renovation business and became friendly with fellow Argentine Rudy Pensa, owner of the guitar meccas Rudy's Music in Manhattan. Pensa hired Mistorni to build the amp room in his Times Square showroom and later to renovate a new space in Soho. When Mistorni took a trip to Rome, Pensa asked him to check out a guitar he'd been approached about buying from a mysterious seller there. "I realized, I could build this," Mistorni recalls. "So I started just building regular wood-frame guitars, but then I thought, Why copy everybody else?"
That was in 2005. Working primarily on weekends--Mistorni considers himself semiretired but somehow still winds up putting in prodigious hours--he has completed 48 of his AM Guitars to date, sold through Pensa's stores. Before that bug bit, Mistorni spent his free time welding the arresting metal sculptures that adorn his elegant, self-built home in Pound Ridge, New York, and making and refurbishing clocks (there's a large room in the house devoted entirely to his collection). "I see parts, then I figure out what I can do," as he puts it, and his workshop overflows with possibilities: the frame of a golf bag, a pile of small green pieces of scrap metal from old Boeing planes he picked up at a local junkyard, parts of a BMW engine. "I can use all of this," he says, though an onlooker is hard-pressed to figure out how.
"Over here," Mistorni continues, moving toward his welding area. The walls and rafters are literally crammed with nuts, bolts, nails, and screws of every conceivable size, reminiscent of a cramped, old-style neighborhood five-and-dime hardware store. He points to a heavy-duty Grizzly drill press, then shows his latest work in progress, a purpleheart-and-maple-frame guitar. He's sliced the wood into three thin layers and cut them into a pattern, which he'll press together and hand inlay with tiny bits of abalone. Wood is a relatively new medium for Mistorni, who usually works with metal--aluminum, sometimes silver--and not surprisingly, he often opts for atypical woods such as cedar and sequoia (from fallen trees). He also crafts instruments in more traditional shapes, echoing the well-known, classic silhouettes and f-holes of Rickenbacker, Stratocaster, and Gibson Les Paul models, but his artistry is most clearly apparent in outrageous creations like the Black Hole, which features inch-wide steel pounded with a hammer and anvil into a tube shape; the Bag Boy 2, using parts from a golf bag frame and perforated aluminum; and the V-Wing, which resembles what it once was--an upright vacuum cleaner.
"He's taking inanimate objects and turning them into sculptures and then musical instruments," notes Robert Kantor, a customer of Rudy's who collects guitars and is himself a luthier (his Swarovski crystal–inlaid guitars are being played by Lady Gaga's lead guitarist, Kareem Devlin, on her current tour). Kantor purchased a Mistorni creation at first sight. "As soon as I saw it I had to have it, basically--it has a sort of metal back sculpted with mesh and a marbleized finish on the wooden part of the guitar." Kantor points out that AM Guitars' appeal isn't mere design fetishism. "Anibal's work baffles me; he's able to create something with industrial design appeal and impressive sonic quality. And the level of detail--he engineers down to every rubber fitting on a control."
Mistorni doesn't consider himself much of a guitar player. "I prefer to make the instrument rather than play it," he says, though he schooled himself in the finer points of the instrument along the way. "The sound is all in the pickups. If you don't have good pickups, it doesn't matter what your guitar looks like; it will never be a great guitar."
Meanwhile, the window of Rudy's Music in Soho has become a draw in itself, and on a recent afternoon, dozens of passersby slowed down or stopped, or took pictures of the difficult-to-ignore AM Guitars window display. A curious few came in to inquire further about the instruments' provenance. Pensa chuckled. "I tell people the truth: An artist makes these."