IN „ROCK AXXESS” WE LIKE SUPPORTING PEOPLE WHO HAVE INTERESTING INITIATIVES AND TALENT. LET US INTRODUCE TO YOU PETER KELTHES – A GUY WHO IS BECOMING INCREASINGLY POPULAR AMONG GUITAR LOVERS IN POLAND. HIS MINIATURE GUITARS MADE OF WOOD SELL LIKE BLACK SABBATH CONCERT TICKETS AND ATTRACT ATTENTION EVERYWHERE THEY GO WITH THEIR NEW OWNERS. TESTED ON MY VERY OWN SELF!
When I first presented the idea for this interview in our magazine’s office, everyone said it was a great idea and we have to do it. So let me start by asking – how long have you been doing this?
Hard to say, really. The first mini guitar may be about seven years old, but I didn’t think about writing down the date when I was making that one. The next ones were made when I felt like making them – once every six months or even once a year, so not too often. The reason I made the first one – ESP LTD AX 50 – was that I just really wanted to have one.
Ok, so there was a reason why it was this specific model…
I dreamed of having this guitar. It wasn’t perfect but the dream came true, at least partially. It wasn’t available in Poland back then, I couldn’t even think about buying it from abroad so I was looking for something else. I was keeping it in a compass box.
Was there any of your favorite guitar heroes playing this model or you just really liked this particular guitar?
I loved its shape. I’m not that fond of it nowadays, but I was crazy about it back then.
So what do you like now? Some crazy shapes or the classic ones? Or maybe some old-school guitars from the 50s or 60s?
I make some models for myself because I really like them, some others because I just think it would be nice to have them. Sometimes it’s something crazy, sometimes it’s more conventional, like Imperial DBZ. Modern but faithful to classic style. When it’s a present or a commission from someone, it’s often the customer’s creativity. Usually people want a specific model, but sometimes they ask me for advice.
Were there any commissions that were like totally insane?
There was one. Guys from Amfisound (guitar manufacturer from Finland – RA] saw the Routa Kelo miniature that I first made for myself – because I just liked this raw guitar from the north so much – and they ordered a weird, sharp-edged mini guitar with asphalt texture. It was bloody hard to paint, I spent a lot of time on it but I made it.
And what about that bird-shaped guitar?
When the whole thing with Kelthes Mini Guitars took off, I started thinking about doing something exceptional, just to show off. Something that would be over the top but would show my abilities better than ordinary guitars. I don’t know why I chose a hawk. Maybe it was because of that thing with forestry…
Ok, so your past education was to some extend influential in your present hobby. Let’s talk for a second about it.
I spent half a year studying wood technology but I bowed out, because it wasn’t really my cup of tea. When they started introducing stuff like nut sizes and metalworking, I couldn’t take it anymore. Then, for six months I was studying forestry, but I left because of math. I started the first studies out of common sense, the latter was just a pursuit of my heart.
But did you learn anything useful during those studies that you can now incorporate in your work or are you rather self-taught?
Probably something from the later stages of wood technology would have been useful, but I wasn’t there long enough. So I’m mostly self-taught.
Ok, so you’re making those 14-15 cm guitars. But how did it happen that the miniatures turned into pendants and earrings? Customers demand or did you get the idea yourself that it might be a nice change in your work and assortment?
It was mostly demand. The miniatures require an awful lot of work – 2-3 days each, depending on the complexity of the specific project. What’s more, they are really delicate, so they’re not really useful. The only thing you can do with them is to put them on a shelf. So that’s a lot of work, high cost and not enough potential customers. I had to think about other options. It started when I tried to make the smallest guitar I was able to make and then I thought that I could turn it into an earring. The idea for pendants appeared shortly after. We can say that the miniatures are now an exclusive product.
So the miniatures are high art and the pendants and earrings are mass production? [laughs]
You can say that [laughs]. Applied arts. You can always hang it around your neck, go out, show it to other people. And all you can do with the miniature is to put it on the shelf or in a glass case and that’s it.
You said the miniatures take 2-3 days to make. How about the pendants and earrings?
It mostly depends on the complexity of the instrument – miniatures require 20-40 hours of work, pendants – 7-12 hours, and earrings or other simple forms – 2-6 hours.
Are there any particular models that are especially popular with your customers?
After I made that Gibson Les Paul for you, several other people ordered Les Pauls [laughs]. Two most popular models are Brian May’s Red Special and Zakk Wylde’s Gibson Les Paul Bul-lseye. Sometimes I upload some photos of a specific model on my Facebook profile and someone sees it and wants one like that. People also write to me with their own ideas.
We haven’t talked about the materials used yet. What kind of wood do you use?
The body of the miniatures is made of balsa wood, fingerboards are made of pine wood to be more durable. All the small components are made of balsa wood or pine wood, depending on which parts are more exposed to damage. Pickups that are covered may be made of balsa wood. But the tuning keys or any other parts that can be easily damaged are made of pine wood. Generally, it’s 95% wood.
What equipment do you use? What do you paint those mini guitars with?
In the beginning it was all improvised – I had some old paints used for toy soldiers, and an old brush. Later on, I bought a better-quality paints, brushes, other equipment, a better lamp to take better photos of the guitars. Right now I’m thinking about an airbrush, but it’s expensive and I would have to learn how to use it. Every change brings new possibilities. I have lots of plans.
Is it strictly guitars and basses? If, let’s say, someone came to you and said he loves classical music and wants a mini viola or a double-bass, would you accept the challenge?
I made a simple violin once as a gift for someone. Not long ago I made another one, this time a bit more complex. I’m thinking about some other instruments as well, but I’ll let you know in the future.
How much work do you have right now? During the last couple of months, your mini guitars have become really popular, in part due to various competitions on your Facebook profile.
It usually works this way – I upload some stuff on my profile and people start writing to me. Usually 1 in 5-10 people decides to order a mini guitar. It’s enough for me to have something to do all the time. Right before Christmas it was totally crazy. Three weeks before Christmas I had to stop taking new commissions. I turned down a dozen people or so. I finished all the work on the last day of Christmas.
Does this business allow you to buy new materials and better equipment or is it so good that you can live off it?
Well, it differs from month to month. The cost of materials is not that high, the hobby is self-supporting. With the money I make on those mini guitars I’m able to buy all necessary materials, slowly enhance my workshop, and it’s usually enough to buy some food and water [laughs].
Do you think it will stay like this? Or is there a chance that you might turn it into a bigger project with some other people that make this kind of stuff? Are there any other people in Poland who make miniature guitars? Have you met anyone?
With Asia, my girlfriend, we have some big plans for Kelthes Mini Guitars. Growing bigger is our main goal. I know people with similar hobby. They use different techniques at work and the effect is great. But they don’t really make that many guitars, as I do.
Have you thought about doing something together or is it that everyone prefers to go by themselves?
Working with other people is something I would really like to do, but I’m not ready yet. I’m sure that as the quality of my products improves and Kelthes Mini Guitars grows bigger, some of my current ideas will be put into practice. Maybe it will lead to something completely new, time will tell.
Are there any exhibitions in Poland where you could present your guitars? I’m sure there are many abroad but it’s a lot harder to get there, probably.
There are handicraft exhibitions. I attended one of those events in 2012. In late 2013, we started thinking about organizing small meetings with our fans while we’re travelling through Poland. It’s a chance to see my products and get to know me a bit. And it’s always possible to meet me in Warsaw.
I know that you made some miniatures based on instruments played by well-known musicians and I also know that a couple of them were given such miniatures. Can you name some artists who signed your miniature guitars or got them as a gift?
Moonspell was first. The whole band signed my mini guitar. I made only one, a couple of days before the interview/signing session with Moonspell that Rock Axxess organized in Warsaw. They were amazed, they even took some pictures of it. It was all still in the early stages, so it was a bit of a shock for me that somebody liked it so much. Now this signed mini guitar would probably sell for a nice sum, but I won’t sell it. It’s worth a lot more for me. I also made mini guitars for the guys from DragonForce when you organized a meeting with them. Three miniatures of Herman Li’s guitar and two of Sam Totman’s. They both got one each as a gift, the other three – signed – are in my collection. Maybe I’ll give one of them to a charity auction one day.
I saw them taking those mini guitars after the meeting and judging by their reaction I’d say they really liked them. Let’s leave the miniatures for a moment. Would you consider building a full-size guitar one day?
You bet I would. I’ve been interested in making full-size instruments for a very long time. I think that studying wood technology had actually more to do with this than with the miniatures. I’m a perfectionist. If I were to make a full-size instrument, I’d like to make it good. I’d have to spend a lot of cash on it, so that it’s not made of some junk. Right now, I have more important things on my mind. The miniatures require a lot of time and work. I can tell you about something I’d like to try in the future – a miniature guitar that would actually play, with small pickups and stuff. But it will require a lot of knowledge and I suspect it will sound rather like a buzz than anything else. But I’m really trying to make those guitars better all the time, to make them look more authentic.
I assume that this affection for mini guitars came from the love for real guitars?
Yes, I do play the guitar, mostly electric. That’s true – I first thought about those miniatures when I wanted to have a specific axe but I couldn’t afford it, so I made its miniature version. Now it turned into a big part of my everyday life.
Is there one guitar player that you admire the most?
No, I don’t think so. In the past, when I was younger, I had some idols, but as I grew up, I started noticing that every guitar playor Slash is better than the rest. Each of them is unique and there’s always someone who might be better at certain aspects of playing than they are.
Do you consider yourself an artist? Is this a form of art?
No, not an artist. A hobbyist. I always had a complex about it. I know these guitars look good but they’re far from perfect, and it’s really hard to compete with real artists. When I’m able to make guitars that will look like real ones and the difference will be only noticeable through a looking glass, then maybe I will say I’m an artist.
Is there someone you would really like to give a miniature of their own guitar to? Someone you could meet and show your guitars?
Some time ago I gave one miniature to Jacek Grecki from Lost Soul. I liked his guitar and he’s my musical idol in a way. I thought that the miniature will be better off at his house, so I wrote to him and the mini guitar quickly found a new home. I would be more than happy to give one to Dimebag, but that’s obviously no longer possible. I think I will make mini guitars for musicians once in a while. I hope they’ll go to all parts of the world. The ones I made for DragonForce went somewhere, I don’t even know where – I hope they didn’t throw them out [laughs]. And then there was this one for Amfisound. There will be more. Giving away something that required so much hard work is a real pleasure.
Do you have a favorite one among those you made? One that’s closer to your heart than all the rest?
The raw one for Amfisound might be the one. It’s all a matter of style, details… I’m also very fond of the hawk guitar, because that was my own idea, but the raw one is more to my taste.
Any other crazy ideas like the hawk-shaped one?
Of course. I don’t want to reveal it now but I do have some ideas. I’ll make more odd miniatures once in a while. These are somehow different – they have as many fans as opponents. Just like the hawk-shaped one – many people told me it was too much. But it was supposed to be that way.
What about double-necks or some strange projects like Michael Angelo Batio’s guitars?
I’m terrified by the amount of work I would have to put into a guitar like this. But I made a double-neck Jimmy Page’s Gibson mini guitar pendant. I donated it to the WOŚP [Poland’s most popular charity organization – RA]. I’ll try some more complicated stuff in the future, also other instruments – as I mentioned. But I’ll probably never be able to do everything I would like to, even if I live for a hundred years.