Inside a Guitar Craftsman’s West Orange Workshop

Jay Rosenblatt builds a handful of high-end acoustic guitars each year.

jay rosenblatt
Jay Rosenblatt turns out just five or six hand-crafted guitars a year. Each takes 75-100 hours to build. Photo by Colin Miller

“If you know what to listen for, you can hear it,” says guitar maker Jay Rosenblatt, as he lifts a pale block of wood to his ear and taps it with his finger. By listening to the way the sound resonates, he can tell if the wood has the requisite properties for use in one of his hand-built, premium acoustic guitars.

Rosenblatt, who is also a professional photographer, creates his guitars in a crowded basement workshop in his West Orange home. The space is filled with tools and wood, as well as instruments in various stages of completion. Other than when he’s cutting with his table saw, which he refers to as “my most used power tool,” he does much of his work by hand.

He’s been fascinated with guitars since he was 14, and a neighbor unexpectedly gave him one. “I think it was some kind of message,” he says. “Whenever I played, I’d look inside the guitar and say, ‘Well, how did they do that?’ And as I got a little older, I started doing repair work on it and always fixing my own guitars.” Learning to be a luthier—a builder of string instruments—was a natural next step. 

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These days, Rosenblatt crafts his high-end guitars with patience and skill. “I do maybe five or six guitars a year; I don’t mass-produce them,” he says. Each takes 75-100 hours to build.

In addition to stellar sound, Rosenblatt’s creations feature stunning finishes. “They all have about 30 or 40 coats of hand-rubbed shellac,” he says.

Rosenblatt, who also repairs guitars, makes a variety of models, including steel- and nylon-string instruments. With prices starting at $4,000, his guitars are not exactly impulse buys.

“My clients are private buyers, mostly,” says Rosenblatt. “They’re people who are ready to step up to something and say, ‘Oh my God, there’s only one like this,’ or, ‘It’s made by hand.’ Or they’re musicians who want to walk onstage with something that was custom made for them or has the sound they want. And some are just average people who say, ‘You know what? I want a better instrument than an off-the-shelf, cookie-cutter guitar.’”

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