This article with originally appeared in AdHoc Issue 17. Download a PDF of the zine at this link, and look out for physical copies both at our shows and at record stores, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers throughout the city. (Those of you outside New York City can order a copy here as well.) Lee Ranaldo plays The Park Church Co-op with Steve Gunn and Meg Baird on January 22.
Lee Ranaldo was seven or eight years old when he got his first guitar—“That is, one that wasn’t a tennis racket,” he says. It was a pink plastic ukulele silk-screened with pictures of the Beatles, acquired after Ranaldo saw them play on Ed Sullivan in 1964. Later, during his high school years, he graduated to a larger-body, Japanese Martin D-18 copy, on which he would learn Beatles covers and folk songs. And although he would eventually come to be known for his work with Fender Jazzmasters and Gibson Les Pauls, Ranaldo has been collecting acoustic guitars ever since.
In recent years, the Sonic Youth guitarist has been revisiting his beginnings, eschewing the noise- riddled sounds of that band and early solo efforts like 1987’s From Here To Infinity in favor of acoustic-driven, Americana-inspired songwriting. Calling from his Manhattan home, he says he’s especially interested in the stories of the people who make them. Here’s one he told us about legendary luthier Michael Gurian.
Lee Ranaldo: A friend of mine recently started bugging me about this early ’70s guitar-maker named Michael Gurian. As it turns out, some of the best guitar-makers trained in Gurian’s shop. The shop was on Carmine Street in the West Village, and as far as I know, he began building guitars there. When he started to get a little more serious, he had a shop on Bedford Street, also in the West Village, and built guitars there for a while. He later moved to New Hampshire and built guitars there. But all in all, he built guitars for about 10 years, and then quit.