Freshman merges art with craftsmanship

For freshman Brian Itzkin, the best of fiction is nuance, not suspense. Before pressing play on a movie he has never seen or opening a book he has never read, Itzkin prefers to read a detailed synopsis of the story from beginning to end. “I like to be able to focus on subtle aspects of books or movies that aren’t typically noticed,” he said. “There are a lot of things you’ll miss if you don’t actually pay attention.”

The history major’s knack for detail doesn’t end at his Netflix consumption, however. He shops for clothing almost exclusively at J. Crew for the “quality” and spends hundreds of hours crafting custom guitars by hand in his spare time. Itzkin started playing guitar 10 years ago during elementary school around the same time that he picked up the euphonium, a small variety of tuba that he plays in Geneseo’s Wind Ensemble. Since then, he has also added ukulele and lute to his arsenal of instruments.

While “mind-numbing” classical guitar lessons have given way to Itzkin’s affinity for playing casual blues and jazz, intricate guitar making has remained a constant in his life for roughly eight years.

He began making guitars “kind of professionally” five years ago and currently operates on commissions from interested buyers. Itzkin noted that his work has developed a following in countries on the Pacific Rim, like New Zealand. As for creating the guitars themselves, Itzkin is mostly self-taught. He got his start on a whim. “I was bored one day, I played guitar, it seemed like a good idea,” he said. He soon began reading guitar books, found a mentor and practiced frequently.

“My first few were really bad, but … just by doing it I’ve gotten better,” he added.

To Itzkin, making guitars is “more of an art than a craft, but it also encompasses a lot of general carpentry.” He performs every step in the process, from purchasing and treating the wood to sculpting and finishing the instrument.

Itzkin sells two guitar models on his website along with ukuleles, all made entirely by hand without the use of power tools.

He cites his inspirations from a number of vintage and modern guitar makers, including Gibson, Sexauer and Kostal. As for his own month-long guitar making process, Itzkin also emphasized the influence of art.

“I kind of take a Michelangelo approach; carve away everything that’s not guitar,” he said.

Itzkin has performed at a few local open mics in Geneseo, but his intricate style surely calls for a memorable show.

“I played a classical song and said ‘fuck’ a lot,” he said. “That seems to get a lot of applause.”