We recently chatted with Peter Malinoski, founder of boutique guitar brand, Malinoski Guitars. Crafting unique instruments since the mid-'80s, Malinoski designs guitars that set themselves apart from the pack. Peter shares his history as a builder and dives into his many interests and influences.
The HUB: When did you begin building guitars?
Peter Malinoski: I started in 1984, in art school at a few State Universities.
The HUB: Where are they made?
PM: They are made in the basement shop in my home in Hyattsville, Maryland.
The HUB: How many do you produce each year?
PM: I build about 25 to 30 per year.
The HUB: How large is your production team?
PM: No production team, just me.
The HUB: What simple philosophy do you apply to each guitar you make?
PM: Make it as perfect and flawless as I can.
The HUB: Is there any theme or design element that ties your product line together?
PM: I aspire to create beautiful shapes and forms — actual engagement of the 3rd dimension, with lovely curves and contours, mixing materials of great integrity with bold colors and finishes. I am equally influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement from turn-of-the-century 1900s — let the power of the materials speak for themselves. I’m also influenced by nautical machine ethic, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and television cartoons of my youth.
A Malinoski Gypsy in red and white.
The HUB: How would you describe the tone of your instruments?
PM: Determined and resolute, ranging from bold warmth to raw sizzle and tones in between.
The HUB: How would you describe the feel or playability of your instruments?
PM: Easy and comfortable / silky and satisfying
The HUB: What led you to taking the plunge into building your own guitars? How did it evolve into a full-fledged business?
PM: I was a bass player and in art school and was unsatisfied with my state of the art instrument… and I had a key to the woodshop. After making my first bass, I realized very quickly that there are ways to make the instrument other than the established industrial norms. There was a wide-open field of unexplored territory where few dared go. I saw this as my opportunity for expression as an artist; this is where my art should take me.
The HUB: Which aspects of a guitar’s build and sound do you think players respond to?
PM: Players respond first to how it looks; it must represent "their” style. Then they want it to sound like “their” style and play/feel like “their” style. But the biggest mistake players make is to think all players like the same things, i.e. like “their” things. But looks are most important to the point where very often players are snookered by their prejudices on what it looks like and get the wrong guitar for their needs, one that might feel clumsy and awkward to play and not sound quite right because what it looks like is the most important part of their style.
Variety is a good thing in all other aspects of life except in internet guitar forums where homogenization and the trend for mediocre reign supreme. There is no “best," and “better" exists only as one aspect relates to another but not over all. There might be a “good” and there might be a "bad" that we all can agree on, but there is no “best.”
The Malinoski Cosmic.
The HUB: What do you hope for players to experience when picking up your instruments?
PM: The most important thing for any guitar is that it feels good, is comfortable and easy to play- is enjoyable to play. Because if it is not fun to play, it won’t get played.
The HUB: What might we be surprised to learn is an influence on your build/brand/mindset?
PM: I don’t really know how to play the guitar. As a musician I am a horn player first, then a bass player, which is a logical transition because they are linear instruments. The whole chord thing with guitars… not in my skill set. I know enough to be able to set them up to play great, but you don’t want to hear me play guitar.
Because it’s not "my" instrument, it frees me from worshiping the lore of guitars and allows me to focus on the instrument as an object- it frees me to approach it from different directions than are considered typical or traditional or rote, allows me to push the object outside the expected norms. The guitar to me is an endlessly beautiful and fascinating thing just as an object… and then someone can pick it up and make the most glorious noises with it.
A Malinoski HiTop loaded with P90 pickups.
The HUB: What future do you imagine for boutique builders and where do you see yourself in it?
PM: I am one of the original pioneers of boutique guitar builders. I can say this because I started building unique guitars in the mid ‘80s, long before the term “boutique” was coined. At that time, alternative builders were making improved versions of established models as a response to the desire for better quality instruments. Vintage guitars reigned supreme, and few were making an entirely different model or taking an alternative approach to the instrument. From the very start, my instruments were going in a different direction that was, at the time, not exactly what anyone was interested in or really wanted. This suited me fine because I saw a huge empty field of untapped potential for guitars where I was left alone to develop and do as I please, knowing I was probably ahead of the game and believing that eventually everybody would catch up. What I didn’t realize was how long it would be before the world caught up; I languished in obscurity as a struggling artist for several decades before anyone noticed. It was about 10 years ago that I started to get traction as a guitar builder and I’ve had my foot on the accelerator ever since, trying to make up for lost time.
I truly have no idea what the future will bring for boutique guitars or for the guitar industry in general because the music that inspired and brought about the rise of guitars has receded, leaving fewer and fewer musicians who play the guitar. Most of my customers are even older than me and I wonder what will happen as they all fade away. There is some irony that just as boutique guitars are waxing, the guitar industry seems to be waning.
This is what I do, I’ll quit when I’m dead. I was there at the beginning and I hope it still blossoms long after I’m gone. We gotta ride this pony as long as we can.
The HUB: Thanks, Peter!