Secondhand News: Hyattsville resident turns art background into handcrafted guitars
By Lauren Flynn Kelly
Pete Malinoski doesn’t want you to know what he does for a living. Flying under the radar for the last two decades in Hyattsville, the skilled craftsman has been making one-of-a-kind electric guitars. They might even be made with remnants of your home. But rather than answer questions about why he doesn’t make acoustic guitars or why he won’t build something to your specifications, Malinoski just says he’s “retired.”
Luckily for me, he pretended not to be retired one day and gave me a tour of his workshop. It’s just your “basic woodshop,” he modestly told me, pointing to the table saw, sander, planer, joiner and numerous intimidating tools. Hanging above us were hundreds of templates, many of which were made from IKEA particleboard shelves he found on the curb. “When you’re making a guitar, you have to have a lot of accuracy,” he said. “I can’t just whittle ’em out on the fly.”
Malinoski’s passion for building guitars began in college when his work-study job cleaning floors afforded him a key to the woodshop. Though he wasn’t a guitar player, he picked one up and said, “This is basically a boat paddle. I could make one of these.”
He eventually obtained a Master of Fine Arts degree in wood (his second master’s degree), but after stints in teaching and museum work, Malinoski quickly realized he just wanted to make stuff for a living. He said he approaches building a guitar much like tinkering with a car or making furniture. “What I’m making is closer to a chair than anything. It’s just basic woodworking.” But with names like Hornet, Saturn and Tattoo — and boasting sinuous shapes and striking patterns — these guitars are anything but basic.
Building a guitar requires certain types of wood — like African mahogany or North American maple — for what Malinoski explained is essential “structural rigidity.” But Malinoski said he’s always been a bit of a dumpster diver and likes to incorporate found materials in his work. In a stack of materials in his shop, he showed me a few rafters he salvaged from a nearby house and marveled at the tight grain of the old-growth Douglas fir.
Malinoski said he prefers to work with found objects because they are what he considers loaded materials. “They have a lot of meaning to begin with — what they are, how they are used, all the baggage we give them from our own idea or memories of what they are,” he explained. “I like to use these found objects in ways that they were not meant to be used or just as raw materials, which manipulates the expected loaded understanding of these things. This gives the viewer a more personal experience.
“The trick for me is how to use them in a manner that takes advantage of that power, and also to mix them with normal raw materials like wood, metal or paint and make it all work together as a composition,” he continued. Examples of other found objects he said he’s used include upholstery, animal hides, horns and bones, fake fur, blue tarp, signs, vinyl banners, stamps and “paper detritus of all types.” Malinoski even showed me a few lamps he made using thrifted items such as a toaster oven and a bowling ball.
At busier times in his career, he’s made 40 guitars in one year, but they each take several weeks to make, and it’s easy to get burned out with the process. In recent years, he’s scaled back the operation a bit while fixing up old guitars for resale, too.
Malinoski’s handcrafted guitars start around $2,000, and his customers are typically collectors “who have gone through the phase of picking up old Fenders and Gibsons and want something unique … people who just love to play and collect,” he said. He crafts each guitar to his own liking, and he doesn’t take orders or custom requests. Having played one of his creations at a friend’s house, I can tell you firsthand that they feel and sound great.
You can see what’s new or in the works on Malinoski’s Instagram and Facebook pages, but he conducts most business through his Reverb store, which he described as “a concentrated Etsy for guitar collectors.” Check out his guitars and other works at www.petermalinoskiart.com.