We first met James “Jimmy” Carbonetti when his band, Caveman, played a show at Dr. Martens SOHO earlier this year. The New York City native and skilled guitarist is also a skilled craftsman; when he’s not touring with Caveman, he’s building custom guitars from scratch. After years of perfecting his craft, Carbonetti opened The Guitar Shop alongside master luthier, Mas Hino, and La Bella Strings. Carbonetti invited us into his workshop and spoke with us about his mentors, current projects, and wearing Dr. Martens while working.
How did you get started building guitars?
When I was 18, I started working for this amazing man, Giorgio Gomelsky. He was a music legend and he would always tell me the best stories of musicians from the ’60s and ’70s. He always pushed me to be a better musician and helped me get a job at Dan’s Chelsea Guitars; that’s where I really became obsessed with vintage instruments.
During that time, I had a band with Matt Iwanusa (Singer of Caveman) called The Subjects. We toured a lot so I was playing guitar frequently and having to fix things on the road. I got really into repairing instruments and dove right in. A couple years later I started working at another amazing guitar shop called 30th Street Guitars. The owner and main repairman, Matt Brewster, trained me to become one of the repairmen. After a couple years at 30th Street, I left to open my first shop in East Village. I met Mas Hino there, and he taught me about making guitars from scratch; that’s when I started to build guitars.
How did you meet the La Bella team and start working together?
I met Eric Cocco (of La Bella Strings) around the time I met Mas Hino and we instantly became family. Eric has a great vision with helping musicians and instrument makers. His family business has been around for over 100 years in NYC so there is such a special vibe around them. We always talked about collaborating with the shop and instruments. Over the next couple years, we did a lot of projects and really put our minds together. We opened The Guitar Shop in Sunset Park, Brooklyn and it became our clubhouse for musicians and artists from around the world. People come to hang out, see the instruments we make, see other amazing instruments made by people we respect, get repairs done, and hear music from our crazy record collection.
What guitar model is your favorite to play on?
The guitar I’ve been playing most is one I made about two years ago. It’s a hollow body guitar with single coil, a humbucker pickup, a thin cedar top, mahogany body and neck, and a rosewood fingerboard. In Caveman, a lot of my sound is a Bigsby tremolo with some echo so most of my guitars all have Bigsby’s on them. This guitar model is the W.R Model.
Tell us about a project you recently completed.
I just finished a new guitar I made that I’m very excited about. It’s actually the same model as the one that I play but a solid body guitar instead of a hollow body. I’ve been getting into using a lot more aluminum for pickguards and pick up rings as well as doing some detail around the guitar like an armrest or some other touches. I also cut all of my logos out by hand with either aluminum or brass depending on the vibe of the guitar.
How do you feel when you wear Dr. Martens?
My transition into wearing Dr. Martens has been great. I’ve always been one to buy vintage boots but since I’m on my feet most of the day working at my shop, my back and feet haven’t been too happy. Now having Dr. Martens, I’ve been really pleased with how they feel and look.
What is next for you?
Right now I’m working on 10 custom guitar orders and new designs that I’m very excited about. One, in particular, is a really special project for me that is still blowing my mind. We are also working on new songs for the next Caveman record so it has been a very fun, hard-working, and inspiring time in my life.