Norwegian Wood: Ridgite’s Scandinavian roots help him build custom guitars

Valhalla: Gurbo has a pantheon of guitars — some he’s made and some he’s acquired. Here he is holding one of his latest creations.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

He’s got an axe to grind.

A Bay Ridgite descended from Norwegian woodworkers builds one-of-a-kind guitars in his Sixth Avenue basement using a mix of old- and new-school skills. Scandinavians notched a niche in Brooklyn by building docks and boats on the borough’s waterfront in the 1800s, and the luthier — a third-generation Ridgite — inherited the artisanal touch from his forbearers, he said.

“My dad was a carpenter, his dad was a carpenter who came over from Norway — all of them as far back as you can go are either craftsmen or artists,” said Victor Gurbo, who fashions axes under the name Voccoli Guitars — a nod to his mother’s maiden name.

But Gurbo also bucks wood-working tradition — saw jockeys typically prize flawless, new lumber for its visual appeal, but Gurbo opts for old, reclaimed wood for its superior sonic properties, he said.

“It’s not just environmentally friendly, it sounds better,” he said, explaining that planks’ resonance improves as sap and resin within dry naturally over time.

Gurbo shapes the lumber, routes out space for hardware and electronics, and finishes the bodies in vintage gun-handle oil. But he is no one-man band. He learned how to assess instruments from the old hands at Gowanus guitar shop Retrofret, gearhead said.

“He brings us beautiful, sad puppies, and we tell him if they’re worth saving or should be sent back to the pound,” said in-store instrument historian Peter Kohman. “He’s training his eye — he’s the next generation of musical archaeologist.”

And Gurbo tried wiring up one project and did a shockingly bad job, so now friend Salim Hasbini handles electronics, the carpenter said.

Tools of the trade: Gurbo uses his family’s old, belt-driven drill press on a guitar neck.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

“My brain is not wired for that,” Gurbo said. “I showed Salim an early guitar, he opened it up and said, ‘If you’re gonna sell this, just let me do it from now on.”

Hasbini and Gurbo met at Brooklyn College and bonded over a shared love of vintage musical gear, and their passion for the classics is ingrained in their work, they said. Hasbini wires guitars using configurations from the 1950s — a sought-after setup for tone freaks — and he even uses cloth-wrapped wires found in old-school axes, though players won’t know the difference, he said.

“Most people never look at the inside of their guitar, but it’s a fun detail for Victor and I to know it’s there,” Hasbini said.

That hand-craftsmanship and level of detail set their guitars apart, Gurbo said. His creations run about $1,500 — roughly the price of an American, factory-made git-fiddle by big names like Fender or Gibson, but far less expensive than their custom rigs, he said.

“It’s a different animal when you get something from me — it’s one-of-a-kind,” he said. “And if you want to get something custom by them, it’s $8,000–$10,000.”

Next up, Gurbo plans to make a special line of guitars sourced from Bay Ridge using wood he saved from a Fifth Avenue florist’s demolition, he said.

“I haven’t started working on this yet, but there’s gonna be a series of all-authentic Bay Ridge guitars,” he said.

Voccoli Guitars (www.voccoliguitars.com)

From good stock: Gurbo used his mother’s maiden because her family comes from a long line of opera singers.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

Reach deputy editor Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.

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