NICK POURFARD of Prisma Guitars

I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon in the workshop of Nick Pourfard, Founder of Prisma Guitars, which are beautifully handcrafted and made from recycled skateboards.

Nick is from San Diego, but he’s currently based in San Francisco. He’s incredibly kind and very cool.

Cordtangler: How did you get started building guitars?

Nick: In 2010, friends and I built a DIY skate spot down the street from my house. Right when the concrete dried we went to go skate it. We had to go to school, it was one of those classes that I couldn’t miss, I think I had a test. I just remember saying, “last try” and then I rolled my ankle. I made my friend drive and get me crutches at Rite Aid. He dropped me off at school and then I crutched in. I was sweating because I was in so much pain. I was there for 4 or 5 hours, and by the time I got home and took my shoe off my ankle looked like a grapefruit. A cankle.

Since I couldn’t skate, I needed something to do for like 6 months. I found some old tools of my dad’s and had a little workbench in his shed. I started teaching myself how to build chairs and furniture watching YouTube. And as a guitar player, it was a natural next step to build a guitar! The skateboard thing was really a way to make it unique; I didn’t want to build something that you could buy. The first time I built a guitar it worked because I really thought about it for four or five months before I really started working.

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CT: What are the challenges in working with skateboards versus your standard planks of wood?

N: It’s rewarding but it sucks to work with. It’s a material that you really need to get to know and it takes a lot of fucking up. You have to do so much that you wouldn’t have to do normally. It’s a temperamental material. It doesn’t like to be cut a certain way; it doesn’t like to be routed in some ways. If I used a virgin material, my job would be a thousand times easier. But I like the end result so I put up with it.

CT: Aren’t skateboards made of pretty cheap wood?

N: Everyone thinks skateboards are just plywood. I guess they are. Plywood from Home Depot is pretty cheap but skateboards are made of hard rock maple veneers. Guitars are made of hard rock maple already so it works out. It’s just a little more glue and they end up sounding great. I mean, even a Les Paul is a maple top with a mahogany back. I’ll also do skateboard top and a mahogany back and that’s the same idea. It’s cool to experiment.

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CT: How many skateboards go into making one guitar?

N: It’s more about what I’m trying to do. I can build a guitar and it’s just four skateboards or I’ve made one that used more than 50 skateboards. It all depends on what I’m going for. I don’t really have rules. I’m not winging it and I have an intention when I start, but I try and up the ante every time, just to challenge myself and not get bored. It’s kind of like skating in that way. In skating there are no rules at all. That’s the whole reason skaters are in love with it. You get on a board and you can take it wherever. You can go to one spot with five dudes and every person is going to have his own take on how to use it. You get a certain mind flow in just being a skateboarder.

CT: Are any of your guitars made from skateboards that are sentimental to you?

N: As far as sentimental value goes, my first guitars were made only from my boards, my brother’s boards and my friends’ boards. I will never sell those guitars, they’re a huge part of my life – my childhood and the time I spent with my friends and my brother. A lot of people will keep their boards in their closet as a nostalgic thing. I get that but the thing is you’ll keep it but you’re never going to look at it, you’re never going to hang it up. This is a way for me to keep the nostalgic value but turn it into something that you’ll look at and use every single day.

These days, I make boards that I collect from random people, shops, skaters and distributors. I don’t use anything new. It’s cool to see the wear in the board. I’ll take a board out of the stack and see that a board has blood on it. Another one might have a crack running down the middle from the pressure or chips and stuff. It’s cool to look at the board and imagine the story.

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CT: What kind of music do you like to play?

N: When I first started out, I did a lot of finger picking, classical, Spanish nylon acoustic kind of stuff. After a while, I decided I wanted to do just straight rock and roll. Then I got into heavier jam, rock stuff. I jump around. I’ve started to figure out songs that I really dislike for some reason. If everyone is around it’s fun to play songs that everyone hates. I think it’s pretty funny. Everybody has a secret reason for things, it’s a guilty pleasure I guess (laughs).

CT: How in the world did you end up building a bass for Steve Harris of Iron Maiden?

N: I know someone who’s close with Steve’s daughter. One night, I went to a bar with both of them and I didn’t know who she was. Steve’s daughter wasn’t interested in talking about her dad. She did though really like my guitars and asked if I was interested in making her dad one. When I said sure, she asked if I would put his strings on it. I was like ‘This guy has his own strings? Crazy.’

It was a cool little experience. I wanted to make sure that I captured all that I could. I looked at a lot of photos and watched his videos. I got his strings and I bought a badass II bridge. Steve is from West Ham. For the face of the bass, I worked really hard to find and use red and blue. Red and blue are the primary colors of his football (soccer to us yanks) team, West Ham United. I don’t know if he even noticed or it goes through his mind when he plays it but that’s what I was thinking when I made it.

He has this off-white bass with these two black pinstripes around the body. I added a pinstripe binding on my bass and painted the back that same off-white color. I tried not to be really out there with the skateboard thing and show that I did my research. I got creative with it and really hoped he’d like it.

CT: What was his response?

N: He loved it. When I started building guitars, I never thought I’d come close to something like this. I’m still in college, so this was a pretty significant achievement for me. It gave me more confidence in moving forward.

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CT: Any other builders out there that you respect?

N: I’m really into everything Doug Kauer makes. I’ve never actually held one of his guitars but everything he makes looks incredible. I’ve talked to him and he has offered to have me down to his shop. For sure one day, I’m going to cruise out to Sacramento and hang out with him. Then I’ll be able to really go off on one of his guitars.

I like the mastery bridge guy. I bought one for my jaguar and it sounded amazing. Everything he does looks really clean. It also doesn’t look mass produced. Half of our shop is a metal shop so we try and dabble in machining. We’ve been working on machining our own knobs. It’s cool to see the mastery stuff because it looks machined and handmade. I’m not sure if it is, but it has that vibe for me.

Also Tim Marcus of Milkman Sound. I’ve been to his shop a few times now. He knows what the fuck he’s talking about. Tim’s amps sound super nice. I don’t know a lot about amps but I know they sound a thousand times better than my amp does. One day I’ll get one of his.

CT: Aren’t you doing a partnership with Milkman?

N: It’s been hard with school and stuff but so far we made a skateboard faceplate that worked out. We are going to make one matching amp and guitar and sell it as a set. It’ll be cool and I’m excited for that. There’s no rush but I’m eager to get it going to see how it turns out.

CT: Haven’t you also been doing stuff with McNelly Guitars?

N: Yeah, it’s a little teamwork effort on those. Obviously, he makes amazing pickups and I’ve been buying from him for the last year of so. He had the idea to do it. In the back of my mind, I always had the idea to do it but it’s something that I don’t have the knowledge to do. I just asked him what he needed, cut out the wood and tossed it up to Canada. He came up with this cool pickup that he calls the “stagger swagger.” It’s a noiseless humbucker sized pickup that’s pretty cool. We’ve also done a Tele pickup and he just did one for a Jazzmaster. He’s also done some commissioned custom stuff that’s so sick. Myself, I just started a Tele style guitar that will have a stagger swagger humbucker in the bridge that’ll be super cool.

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CT: What music have you been listening too?

N: I like Witchcraft. Wicked Lady is one of my all-time favorite bands. I also like Curtis Harding. He just sounds cool. He has a smooth voice and I like everything he does. I’m also into this Iranian psychedelic guitar player named Kourosh Yaghmaie. He is amazing, it’s 1970’s, Iranian revolution, psychedelic rock. It’s so cool, and very Western influenced. I love every single song that he has.

CT: What’s the most memorable show you’ve ever seen?

N: Seasick Steve at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco. It was so much fun. I went with a bunch of people who didn’t know him, and even I barely knew who he was – maybe I knew two songs. But he really got the crowd going.

I didn’t think of it at the time but he also recycles his stuff. He makes these cool lap steels out of garbage and stuff. Also, John Paul Jones came on and played with him. That was unexpected and really cool. And the fact that the show was free made me think that maybe San Francisco has it right; San Diego never has anything like that.

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CT: Who has better Mexican Food: San Diego or San Francisco?

N: I feel very, very strongly that San Diego has the best Mexican Food I’ve ever had. It’s the one thing that any San Diegan who’s moved away can agree on. It’s depressing that there is no place to get that here. I’ve had the San Francisco Mexican food grow on me a bit, but it’s not the same thing.

When I go to San Diego I eat Mexican food the whole time to catch up. Here in San Francisco, there’s rice and beans and you don’t have that down there. In San Diego, they have the wrap right. You can walk around and hold the burrito with nothing on it but here you have to take the tin foil off as you eat it. A lot of places will toss up the tortilla and ask what kind of beans you want and what kind of rice you want with the ingredients already made. That’s just not a thing in SD; they make it to order. This isn’t a Mexican thing but a San Diego thing but I love the French Fries in a burrito (laughs).

CT: I forgot about that!

N: You know what’s funny, I pretty much go to Home Depot everyday. I’m not a good shopping list person; I always need something it seems. The Home Depot in Colma, CA has a little shop outside and they sell a lot of stuff along with California burritos! You have to ask for it and tell them what you want in it but by far, even though it’s not on the menu, that little shop in front of Home Depot does such a good job. They even have the wrap right. That’s the only place I can go to get a good San Diego California Burrito. 
I’ve literally driven to Home Depot just to eat there. Everything else they have there is good too: hamburgers, sausages, hot dogs. I feel like a man when I’m eating in front of Home Depot (laughs), all covered in sawdust and paint with a hot dog in hand, sitting on the red curb with a Coke.

CT: Thanks so much for your time.
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