Chef Mike Decker originally moved to New York City to open a restaurant. Six years later, above Mulberry Street in Little Italy, the Louisiana native has turned his knife skills to handcrafting custom wooden guitars.
His tiny apartment has become a workshop packed with rosewood and spruce, and woodworking tools made from old chef’s knives. The air is full of the smell of sawdust and naphtha, and his stove is more likely to be used for melting hide glue than cooking up a meal.
With the help and advice from local experts, he built his first guitar earlier this year, and rebuilt his girlfriend’s cello. He has ambitious plans to build more. The next three are taking shape, and the stack of wood in the corner of his apartment is to be crafted bit by bit into a range of unique guitars.
His most prized possession is a rare set of sheets of antique Brazilian rosewood. Many of the world’s most sought after guitars are made from this South American hardwood, but it is no longer legal to harvest. This set will have to wait, though, Mike is still learning his craft and is cautious to even touch the Brazilian rosewood until he has built the rest of the guitars, and fine tuned his skills.
Meeting Mike Decker was an accident. In search of someone doing an interesting job, I went to meet guitar expert Ric McCurdy. Mike was on his way out the door, out of instinct I gave him my card.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The first time we met we talked about nothing more than wood, for over an hour. I was gripped.
I moved to New York City in 2006 from Louisiana.
I’m a chef by trade, and a guitar builder at night.
I’ve always been into working with my hands through working on cars or working with wood.
I was starting to get into the guitar. I wanted to learn how to play the guitar and one thing lead to another, I walked into a really good guitar shop.
Picked up this really nice handmade acoustic guitar, it was beautiful it just made you want to play it. You appreciated every piece of it
And I was like, OK, how much is this? I turned it over and it was like almost $12,000.
And I started to just really kinda look at what I was really holding in my hands.
Did I really think it was going to be that hard to build? Yeah I do, but am I willing to put forward the effort to do it.
And then also have something that I’ve built myself. That’s what I needed to do.
I am at that point now where I can create the entire guitar.
Whenever you’re selecting the woods to actually make a guitar you want to try and match everything as well as you can. Kinda just wanna make everything compliment itself.
That is beautiful.
That’s why Brazilian rosewood is the diamond of woods. That’s why people pay stupid money for it.
This is what I use to actually split my braces with. This is a great knife for cutting big fish heads off.
In order to split this brace you wanna find the natural fault line of that wood. Obviously you wanna be careful, but I’m pretty comfortable working around knives.
This is the first one I did. This is a pre-World War II, X-bracing pattern, Martin-style, Triple-O, 12-fret acoustic guitar.
This is a eastern maple, all finished french polish, shellac. And the actual main colorant in this shellac is saffron.
I really wanted the color of southern sweet tea. That looks like to me a glass of tea.
I’m just at the beginning of this journey. This is going to be the craziest, greatest thing of all. By the time I spend 25 years doing this, I’m gonna be 65. Dude, I’m gonna be pretty freaking good at this. I will have a guitar in somebody big’s hands.
Hand me the Decker. I’m gonna play that one on stage tonight.