Careers in the Arts | Visual Arts + Music: Nick Pourfard, Founder of Prisma Guitars (CA & NY)
You’ve heard of Fender and Gibson. Your dad used to play a Rickenbacker. But have you heard of Prisma Guitars? These unique, handcrafted instruments are one-of-a-kind made from upcycled wood. And not just any wood; the wood from old, defunct, and recycled skateboards.
“Sometimes we sit all day and pull grip tape off the boards ’til our fingers basically start bleeding,” Nick said. “In the beginning it was taking six months to make a guitar. Now, I can do it in a day.”
“I take some of these boards out, and there is blood on them, or a huge chip in them from where the skater was mad and hitting the ground with their board,” Nick said. “Visually, (once we work on them) you can see the pressure cracks, or where someone broke it, or holes, but when you touch it…it’s not there. So that way, you get the story. It’s like people-watching, but just with skateboards.”
We talked to Nick about entrepreneurship in the arts, how he got where he is today, and what advice he has for other creative spirits who are considering taking a risky leap of faith towards a big reward.
Acceptd: Nick, you have a pretty unique thing going on. Can you explain what it is that you do?
Nick Pourfard: I take the wood from used and broken skateboards to create a new material, that I then use to make into an instrument. It’s now grown beyond that, into just making instruments, period. Because I do make guitars, just normally, as well now (not from skateboard material).
I run the whole thing (Prisma Guitars). I do all the email, the sales, the branding, website, photography, or anything that comes along with it.
Acceptd: That’s really cool. Did you get any educational training in those areas, or did you just kind of, figure it out?
Nick: I figured out how to do most if it on my own. But I did go to school to expand on it.
I didn’t learn any woodworking in school, or any trade stuff, but I did learn graphic design in school. I already knew Illustrator and Photoshop from teaching myself using tutorials. Website stuff, I learned as I went. For photography, I watched a video on how to shoot product photography for guitars, and it was all-around, super helpful.
Because when you’re shooting guitars for sale, it can be really hard. You have to hang them in mid-air! (laughing) It can be really challenging. I had to build this whole thing just to do that. Once I got that done, and figured out how the lighting needed to be, it got a lot better, but it took some time to figure it out.
It’s all pretty much self-taught. Anything that school helped me with was more technical-specific things, like AutoCAD or 3D-Design. You know, learning how to prototype something, vs. just making something.
Acceptd: Definitely. And where did you go to school?
Nick: I went to San Francisco State. I double majored in Business Marketing and Industrial Design.
Acceptd: Wow, that sounds perfect. Did you already plan to open Prisma when you chose your majors?
Nick: I didn’t know what I wanted to do until about two years into college, and I chose Business Marketing. Then, when I was about four years into college, I decided to add the Industrial Design because I just wasn’t completely satisfied with the Marketing program. I felt like those students were not genuinely there for any reason, and it bothered me. I added Industrial Design because I had taken electives in it, and I just felt like those kids were more… grateful.
Acceptd: How so? Do you mean that they were passionate about the work?
Nick: Yea, exactly. They (Industrial Design students) wanted to ask questions, and hang out after class to talk to teachers and stuff. The projects were more involved and the teachers were more one-on-one. I can’t even tell you one business professor I had that cared about me, and I took a lot of those classes. When I think of Industrial Design, I get invited back now, and they just seemed like they were really there to teach people, instead of just being there to make money.
Acceptd: Very well said. Sounds like you found the right subject matter that worked for you as well. Did you ever expect that this would be your job?
Nick: No. I mean, I’ve never had a “real job,” and I’ve never planned for anything (laughing). I just did this for fun, and all I thought was that I’d make a guitar here and there, and that would be kinda fun (laughing). And it just kinda turned into a thing.
Acceptd: So how many skateboards do you use per guitar? And you mentioned that you make other guitars without skatebaords now, as well. How does the process differ?
Nick: People sometimes want a shape of a guitar that I designed, but may not feel tied to the skateboard thing. The only difference in the process is in the beginning. There’s obviously a process in creating a material from the boards, but beyond that, there’s no difference in making the guitar itself.
As far as the number of skateboards, it varies depending on what I’m trying to do. Just for the top of a guitar, I need four boards. To build the whole guitar, I need 14. It can go up to 50, for a whole neck and body with crazy patterns and colors. It’s more aesthetic at that point.
Acceptd: That’s so cool. And do you still skate?
Nick: Well, did you know about my accident? I cut my fingers off in the woodshop about five months ago. They put them back on, but I have a lot of pins in my hand and I couldn’t work for awhile. Or skate.
When you skate, there are things I didn’t even think of that wouldn’t work. Like, when you jump in the air, you naturally clench your fists. There’s other stuff too…it was not worth it. I didn’t skate for awhile, but I just started to again. I’m a little wobbly, which is frustrating, since I had so much control before (four or five months prior).
Acceptd: I’m glad they were able to put your fingers back on! That’s pretty scary. You definitely do not shy from taking risks. Can you speak to risk vs. reward when it comes to a career or entrepreneurship in the arts?
Nick: So, I’m actually expanding and working on a new furniture venture currently as well. I’m gathering all the materials I need, and it’s going really well. But all the materials are very expensive, and it’s just like when I started up for the guitar making.
Like, I was just a kid in college, and to make my first guitar, I had to spend $1,000. That was a lot to me as a college kid. Not knowing if you were going to sell it, let alone have a company and be making them on the regular later. You just don’t know.
Looking back, I wish I would have taken an even bigger risk. I was buying one tool at a time, here and there. I wish I would have just put everything I had into it from the beginning. Taken out loans, whatever it took. So, I’m taking what I’ve learned with Prisma, and trying to do that with the furniture thing.
Acceptd: So you’re saying that not investing in yourself and your product was actually a bigger risk than risking spending the money upfront?
Nick: Yes. It’s scary, but that initial “going for it” is everything. It made my beginning a lot slower than it should have been. You get what you put into it; they always say that, but it’s true. People who are thinking about doing something entrepreneurial need to do it 100% or just stop right now. That may seem harsh, but you have to be 100% invested in your projects. Otherwise, it’s not going to do anything. You can’t really have like, a little side thing, and make it your life. You can do side work here and there, but if you’re an entrepreneur, your heart should be set on the one thing you’re trying to accomplish.
Acceptd: Did you ever have moments where you realized the risks that you had put in for Prisma, had turned to reward, and you knew it was all worth it?
Nick: I have to say, it has been more incremental. First the video went viral, and people were hitting me up for that. Then people talk, and like the guitars themselves, so I get new people that way. Now I’m building all kinds of guitars and it’s awesome. When guitar lovers contact me, and love the way my guitars sound, that’s really cool. ‘Cuz it’s not just the building of a guitar, but that someone loves to play it and it sounds great musically.
A new reward is that I was just on the cover of Premier Guitar magazine (April 2018). I can say that boutique guitar builders very rarely get the opportunity to get the cover of any magazine. I think it probably has only happened a handful of times. It’s usually mass produced, big companies. For a one-man show like me to be on the cover of a magazine like this, is just crazy. I feel like I’m tricking them (laughing), that Prisma seems a lot bigger than it is.
In order to set myself apart, from the beginning, all I really had to do was look at the industry as a whole and realize what everyone is on the same page about. And what is good about that, and what is bad about that.
I basically noticed the industry is stagnant. They’re interested in one thing across the board. Vintage remakes are cool, but I just didn’t see any progress in the industry. Or, if they did make any changes, it was way too drastic. Nobody wants a super futuristic, technology-heavy guitar that looks far from what they’re used to. And I haven’t ever seen the point in buying something that has been made for tons of years. When I thought about the colors and how … “the same” it all is in the world of guitars, I felt like I could really soup it up a bit.
And you know, it’s cool. Maybe a kid doesn’t have money to buy one of my guitars yet. But, it’s almost like some kind of crazy inception, because if all these kids and cool people say they like Prisma guitars, these old school guys kinda fall in line with them. Like, “Yea we like Prisma too,” cuz they just want to be cool (laughing).