Our Musical Mission—It’s Your Guitar!

This summer, Rocco and I—with the help of his sister and the uneasy support of his mother—embarked on a new venture: Starting our own guitar business! Below is the Mission Statement of our company, ItsYourGuitar.com. Surf on over to our site and check out what Rocco and I are up to. Join our mailing list for a chance to WIN A FREE GUITAR!

I’m the father of a 15-year-old son with severe autism.

Buddy Club—our two-man band!

At this age, educational goals are focused around “life skills.” Educators asked my wife and I, “What did we want our son to ‘be’ when he grew up?” There aren’t many jobs for people with special needs—un-employment rates for autistic adults are close to 90%
I wish I had a craftsman’s skill to pass on to my son—carpentry or cabinet-making. But the best I can offer him is my knowledge of guitars and basses. I’ve been taking guitars apart and putting them back together since I was a teenager, and I’ve made several instruments for friends and family. It may/will take years, but I think I can teach my son to do the same.
Guitar-building (I wouldn’t call us luthiers yet!) is about precise adjustments, something my son, and other individuals with autism, excel at. It also requires hours of repetitive work—sanding, buffing, polishing—tasks that you or I might find tedious, yet can be calming to special needs individuals. Music. Patience. Mindfulness. Purpose. These are things I want to foster in both myself and my children.
TK drying

Watching paint dry…and stain penetrate

It may take a while, but, with luck, my son will not only learn a viable skill, but our business will grow to a point where we can hire additional special needs employees to craft instruments along with us. I think of the young men and women my son plays hockey and baseball with—what kind of jobs will be available to them once they finish school? What about the kids in my son’s class? What about all the special needs kids he doesn’t go to school with? That’s a lot of young people who need a place to work. I want them to come make guitars and basses with my son and I, and fill the world with art and music!

That’s what It’s Your Guitar is all about—unique, one-of-a-kind instruments, hand-crafted by unique, one-of-kind individuals! Maybe my son will land a job in a music shop some day, the quiet guy in the back who does expert set-ups and repairs. Or maybe he’ll run a vast, guitar-making empire! Either way, we’re creating beautiful musical instruments—ain’t nothin’ wrong with that!

Guitar Built For Baby Boy and Grown Man

Roc jams, 13 months old.

Roc jams, 13 months old.

I built an electric guitar for my son.

It wasn’t difficult –- it came in a kit and cost about $100. I spent another couple bucks on stain and sealant. Once I finished the body and shaped the headstock, it took less than an hour to put together, the only tools needed were a couple of screwdrivers.

I got the guitar kit shortly after my son was born, but I wasn’t motivated to assemble the instrument until recently, when I became aware of a terrible injustice among musicians, an injustice that has been prevalent for years, but about which I only recently took notice.

It started when a co-worker asked my advice on buying an electric guitar. He didn’t know how to play, but he wanted to learn on something good. He had a budget of $1,000. I told him he didn’t need to spend that much; he could buy a decent guitar for $200-$300.

Roc jams, 13 years old

Roc jams, 13 years old

“No, I want a good one,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. “If I was going to spend that much, I’d buy a vintage Strat or a Les Paul.”

“No. I want a new guitar.”

I wondered why he even asked my advice in the first place. Our company’s vice-president overheard our conversation and tossed in his two cents. He owns an early ‘70s Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, a classic guitar worth several thousand dollars.

“It’s sitting in a case in the back of my bedroom closet,” he said. “I haven’t touched it in years.”

A few days later, my co-worker bought a brand new Gibson SG. It’s a beautiful instrument, and he’s getting pretty good at rudimentary chords. But I wonder how long it will be before that instrument is sitting in the back of a bedroom closet, too.

I conveyed these thoughts to a friend, who teaches guitar in Westchester County, NY. The majority of his students are young teenagers toting $1,500 guitars bought by wealthy parents. Most of these instruments will undoubted end up stowed away in closets and stuffed under beds, unplayed. Meanwhile, my friend plays a Frankenstein Strat, pieced together from various Fender parts for a total of around $400.

The pattern of injustice became clear: The people who can play and appreciate a fine musical instrument can rarely afford one. Good, quality instruments are not priced for working musicians, the guy who earns a couple of hundred bucks playing bars and wedding bands on weekends, maybe another $75 during the week giving lessons. That guy can barely afford toilet paper. The musician who already has a record deal and sold a few albums probably has an endorsement deal, too, and gets his instruments for free. Meanwhile, a vintage 1970 Gibson Les Paul sits in the back of a closet, a forgotten memento of some CEO’s youthful folly, its strings silenced, its shiny Goldtop shut away in darkness. It’s not fair.

That’s when I decided to build Rocco a guitar of his own. If it gets relegated to the back of a closet so be it. It’ll still always have his name on it, still be a one-of-a-kind instrument made just for him.

And if he actually does take an interest in playing his guitar, we can swap in better parts, or upgrade to a new instrument all together.

Sure, Rocco’s only 16 months old and hasn’t even mastered holding a spoon yet. But he’ll grow into it. Someday, a decade or two down the road, he’ll develop the finger dexterity needed to tackle the subtle variations of a G chord. His guitar will be ready when he is.