Rudy Pensa’s musical journey started in Argentina when he was just 5 years old. Given the choice to play guitar or piano by his father, Pensa chose the guitar, learning not only how to manipulate its strings but also, later, how to design and construct one. In the ’70s, Pensa visited New York City for the first time and fell in love with Midtown’s iconic Music Row on 48th Street.
“There was a block full of guitar shops, and finally my dream came true!” explains Pensa, who moved there in 1974. After working on and off at the now-defunct Alex’s Music until 1978, Pensa went on to open Rudy’s Music Stop, which would eventually become Rudy’s Music, on 48th Street, and a second outpost in SoHo.
Legendary rock frontman Mark Knopfler (left) and Rudy’s Music owner Rudy Penza holding updated versions of the guitar they had designed together more than 30 years ago.
One day in February of 1979, Pensa was blasting Dire Straits’ smash-hit “Sultans of Swing” through his car’s speakers when coicidentally, none other than Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler walked by his store. The legendary rock guitarist was looking for a recording studio in the area and made his way into Pensa’s shop. “He was a little shy,” says Pensa of Knopfler. “He’s still a little shy.” The two hit it off and pursued a friendship that has spanned more than 40 years.
In 1984, while sitting in a coffee shop, the two sketched out the blueprints for Knopfler’s custom guitar, the MK-I, on the back of a napkin. “He said, ‘I like the shape of a Fender, but I want it to have woods, like a Gibson,’” recalls Pensa. So, sculpted like a Fender but with an arched top and mahogany back, the guitar they designed has been used by Knopfler for more than 30 years and is still a popular model with customers.
photo by Makoto noguchi
Last year, Pensa and his wife, Fran, decided to open a third location (the 48th Street location closed five years ago), tucked in the heart of Scarsdale, where they reside. Since then, Rudy’s Music in Scarsdale has become a mecca for local guitar aficionados and others from all over, who flock there to repair, sell, or purchase a precision instrument. Of the store’s countless alluring specimens, a particular draw is a double-neck Gibson EDS-1275 signed by Jimmy Page, which is valued at $45,000.
Now 70, Pensa has no plans to slow down. Having worked with some of music’s most iconic guitar heroes, like Clapton, Frampton, and John Mayer, Pensa attributes his youthfulness to his passion for the guitar. “I’m 70 going on 30. Well my wife says I’m more like 15 years old,” he jokes.