When Mark Knopfler, Lou Reed, and Chuck Loeb reach for their guitars, they might very well be grabbing for the work of Scarsdale guitar maker Rudy Pensa. Instruments from the Argentinean native have a devoted following, and many “Pensa Players” go on to become collector favorites. “I have one customer who has twenty-nine of my guitars,” the lauded luthier says. “He’s a complete fanatic.”
Pensa got his start building guitars when he was just 13 years old. “In Argentina, when I was playing in the late sixties and early seventies, it was difficult to find good instruments,” he says—so he started building his own. He opened the famous-among-music-geeks Rudy’s Music Shop in New York City in 1978 and has been commuting there from Scarsdale for almost three decades.
What makes his guitars so special? “Wood selection is so important,” he says. And, he adds, “With all the technology out there today, anyone can make a guitar with a nice sound. But we make sure the guitars also have a playability for the musicians.” Since most of the building is done by hand, the shop produces only about 60 to 70 guitars and 30 basses per year.
Pensa even collaborated with Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler on a model of the guitar the Pensa MK. The way Pensa tells it, Knopfler walked into his music shop almost immediately after it opened. The two realized they had a lot in common—especially a love for guitarist Hank Marvin from the British band the Shadows—and formed a fast friendship. “We had a great time just talking about music,” he says.
Now, Pensa is in the midst of opening a second guitar shop in SoHo. Just don’t ask him about playing the Guitar Hero video game. “I tried it only once. I was terrible at it.”