BY JIM D’VILLE | FROM THE FALL 2020 ISSUE OF UKULELE
In 1951, Lorenzo Pimentel, a native of “old” Mexico, opened a guitar shop in New Mexico. Over 70 years later, Pimentel & Sons Guitarmakers are known the world over for their exquisite, handcrafted guitars. In 2009, the New Mexico Legislature passed a bill naming the Pimentel New Mexico Sunrise model as the state’s official guitar. Pimentel’s four sons—Rick, Robert, Victor, and Agustin—continue their late father’s legacy from their shop in Albuquerque, but with a new build in their famous line—high-end custom ukuleles.
This writer tagged along during a six-week build of a custom concert ukulele handcrafted by Victor Pimentel. Since their inception, Pimentel had built the occasional ukulele. When the current “third wave” of ukulele popularity washed up upon the musical shores of New Mexico, Rick and Victor collaborated on a new custom design. Says Rick, “Our concert model is a little larger than a regular concert size. Also, our scale length is a little longer, and our fingerboard a little wider.” And according to Victor, there is not much difference between a custom ukulele build and a custom guitar build. “They both take just about the same amount of work.”
The ukulele in this particular build consisted of a solid cedar top, koa back and sides, Honduran mahogany neck, and ebony fingerboard and bridge. One of the most notable aspects of a Pimentel build is their incredible inlay work, most of which is designed by Rick. “We get customers from all over the world,” he says, “and they know New Mexico for its turquoise or coral colors. So we use a lot of those colors, along with Native American-style designs. We use a lot of gold, silver, and mother-of-pearl. It’s all about what the customer wants in a custom ukulele.”
And the craftsmanship at Pimentel & Sons goes right down to the woodworking chisels they use—which they make themselves. Victor says, “My dad would always tell us, to become a guitar maker you have to make everything yourself. He would say the store-bought chisels chip, break, and lose their sharpness. So we make our chisels from our old files because they are made with really good steel. Once you put an edge on that steel, it won’t break. I make all my chisels from 1/16-inch to 1/2-inch from our old files.”
Longtime Albuquerque resident and musician Judy Muldawer recently commissioned Pimentel to build her a beautiful custom concert ukulele. It features the New Mexico Zia design in turquoise on the fingerboard. And according to Judy, it’s the best-sounding ukulele she’s ever played. “I think one thing that makes it sound so great is the size. It has a tenor body and a concert neck.” Prices for a custom Pimentel ukulele run from $2,000 to $10,000. pimentelguitars.com