Rudy’s Music is a must-see historical shop in NYC, and Rudy Pensa, its owner and founder, is one of the most passionate guys in the business. Since the late 70s Rudy has met some of the finest guitar builders and players, and has also designed beautiful guitars under his own name, the “Pensa Custom Guitars”, that have contributed to define what we call “Boutique” instruments nowadays.
Rudy’s become good friends with our own Francesco Balossino, and the two recently partnered to restore some of Rudy’s Vintage Guitars with our ToneTeam Luthiers here in Italy.
Today here at Vintage Vault we’ve asked Rudy to answer to a few questions regarding his story, passion and future expectations. Rudy speaks with a thick Argentinian accent, which has been partially left intact in these transcriptions, but edited for brevity and clarity.
(Vintage Vault) Good morning Rudy and thanks for being here today with us! So let’s start with the (only apparently) easiest question….What does “Vintage” mean for you?
“Vintage means a lot of miles, a beautiful journey from different places, different things. When I say vintage I think about wine, cars, guitars, everything. Vintage is a beautiful word because it represents the history of the instrument or whatever it is. I don’t call myself an old man, I say, ‘I’m vintage.’”
(VV) When did you buy your very first “vintage” guitar? Which one was it?
“My first vintage guitar was bought in Argentina, it was a 1964 Jaguar, and that was in 1966. I find it not too far away from my house, I remember it was my first encounter that I had with a vintage guitar, and it happened to be a Jaguar, which is why I love Jaguars so much. And I don’t have enough money, and the people in my band all chipped in. I say, ‘I can’t believe it, a 1964 Jaguar!’ I never forget.
(VV) When did you realize that those “old guitars” had something special?
“Well, like everybody else, I was always looking at the bands, different bands from Europe and America, and of course I knew it was something special because- well at that time it wasn’t vintage, I’m talking about the 1960’s, the guitar was from the 1960’s, they become vintage through the years.
And I realize, it’s something about the wood that was old already at the time, like in my 1964 Jaguar, I knew the wood was twenty years old already. Talking to carpenters and people who work in wood, everybody used to tell me, ‘We never use wood that was just cut.’ Everybody had old wood. That’s one of the reasons they sound so good, the vintage instruments. Today the demand is so high, they usually cut trees right away. Now they try to accelerate the process with ovens and stuff like that.
I remember, I used to go to a place with a friend of mine that had a lot of wood, and I remember big pieces of Brazilian Rosewood, I’m talking about thirty, forty, fifty feet long, and five or six inches thick, maybe two feet wide, and I made beautiful steps for my house which are still there, twenty-four steps of old Brazilian Rosewood. I can’t believe I’m still alive, because I could have died, you know, if I had a problem with the fumes and the dust.
But anyway, I remember, I used to say to the guy, ‘You leave the wood outside?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the best process, to get wet, with sun and to go through the seasons, it’s really good for the wood.’ At that time people had a ton because there wasn’t too much use for it. Today it’s so much. But that’s one of the reason it sounds so good, the old instruments.
(VV) What is your approach to Restoration? I recall seeing a beautiful spare D’Angelico neck on the bench when I visited you last summer, that now is going to be part of an incredible project! Tell us more!
“Well it was funny because, Chris Mirabella , I know him for over forty years, he’s a great guitar maker, great repairman. Maybe thirty five years ago, on 48th Street, this guy come from the street with a (guitar) neck in his hand, and his other hand he has the tailpiece.