January 16, 2013

Crafting Custom Guitars

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"I call it my man cave," Tom Bono said as he led the way down the stairs. But the music room and shop in his East Hampton home is anything but dark and cavernous. It's a bright and tidy space, packed with records, cassette tapes, and CDs, plus recording equipment and tools lining walls decorated with photos of favorite musicians and memorabilia, and guitars. Lots of vividly hued, one-of-a-kind guitars.

A mechanic with East Hampton Town and chief of the East Hampton Fire Department, Bono doesn't just love guitars; he makes them. For about the last five years, he said, he's been using a kit that provides the basic components, then customizing the instruments with unique, glossy paint. His collection includes a guitar he made with his son Ryan, another rescued from a dumpster and rehabbed, and another painted to honor NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt. He says he's customized about 15 guitars in the last five years.

Bono worked at Plitt Ford for about 20 years in the body shop where his specialty was painting cars. "I got into music and started messing around with playing," he recalled.

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It dawned on him "Anybody can buy a guitar." He wanted to make his own custom instruments, using his painting skills to create designs, striping, and unusual color combinations. He also branched out to customizing amps and pedal boards. He made a custom bongo for local musician Mama Lee.

Bono worked with local musician and teacher John Hanford learning both how to craft the guitars and improve his strumming chops. "He's got the touch," Bono said of Hanford, who he still prevails upon to tweak his final products.

He doesn't play as much as he'd like -- "too busy" -- but Bono participates in the Sunday Jams hosted by Crossroads Music in Amagansett.

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Through Michael Clark of Crossroads, Bono's found his latest project -- repurposing an old electric guitar and amp into a shiny new set up that will be raffled off during the Gregg Rickards Memorial Scholarship Benefit Concert on February 1.

A 2006 graduate of East Hampton High School, Rickards lost his battle with cancer last August. A talented musician, he performed with the jazz band, fiddle club, and school orchestra. He earned a degree in music from SUNY Oneonta in 2010. Family and friends put together the scholarship, which will be awarded in his name each year to an EHHS graduate pursuing a degree in music.

This isn't Bono's first foray into charitable efforts. About two years ago he decorated a guitar with the puzzle piece symbol for autism. It was auctioned off to support Alternatives for Children, and signed by Bon Jovi guitarist Bobby Bandiera.

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More recently, Bono donated an instrument he customized to the Care for Cher benefit, designed to raise money for the family of local breast cancer victim Cheryl Bennett.

"I like doing this because it gets my name out there and it's a good cause," he said, displaying the current project, in pieces on his workbench. "The parts are donated by Crossroads, so it just costs me a little time."

Bono often documents the progress of his projects with photographs. Visit The Independent's website, www.indyeastend.com, over the coming weeks to follow the step-by-step creation of the guitar for the fundraiser.

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