Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Guitars, doorstops, and lighting
Skateboard upcycler Nick Pourfard is looking towards automation and new products to take his guitar-manufacturing operation to the next level.
"I started skateboarding and playing guitar at the same time, when I was 13 or 14," says Pourfard, 27.
Growing up in San Diego, he also got into woodworking by building skateboarding ramps. He broke his ankle on one of his ramps when he was 18. "I didn't do that great of a job, and it had a weird bump on it," says Pourfard.
Sidelined from skateboarding, he focused on woodworking. "I was whittling little spoons," he says. "I started getting tools from swap meets. I would buy stuff that I didn't know what it did."
Pourfard soon went to San Francisco State University and studied marketing and industrial design. He had a few skateboards at the end of their lifespan and crafted a unique guitar from them. "It was more casual in the beginning. I was still in school. I had a year left and just did it on the side."
He used the concept for class projects. "Seven people worked for me for free for an entire year to get an A," he laughs.
The colorful guitar caught people's attention: "I had a lot of people call me and tell me they wanted one."
A week before graduation, Pourfard "went full force into it," he says. He actually skipped graduation to go to a skateboarding competition in Los Angeles. "I got hired to build the first place trophy, which was a guitar," he says.
He's since made more than 200 guitars. Prisma Guitars sell for $2,500 to $4,000. About half of them are shipped to buyers outside the U.S. Most orders are custom. "To each their own," says Pourfard. "It's like ice cream flavors Some people want to go just wild. Some people want to go a little more subtle."
To make a guitar, Pourfard first cleans up the boards, cuts them into templates that are glued and pressed overnight, then sands, lacquers, and buffs the guitars.
Skate shops provide him with retired boards, and customers also often supply him with raw materials. Pro skateboarders Marius Syvanen and Justin Figueroa are two of the latter. "Nowadays, I have more skateboards than I know what to do with," says Pourfard. "Back then, it was kind of a struggle."
There's a nice synchronicity in that skateboards are made of hardwood maple, which is also the favored material for guitar bodies. He often used mahogany for the back, like a Gibson Les Paul. "It's the same exact thing, except mine were once skateboards," says Pourfard.
It takes at least four boards to make a Prisma Guitar, but some have incorporated as many as 50. The different layers of color make for a prismatic look -- thus Prisma. Pourfard said he was also inspired by the cover of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.
"It's like bizarro color world when you hold a prism up to the light," he explains, noting that most luthiers use their name as their brand. "It's not doable for me. It's hard to say my last name. . . . It's also kind of egotistical. I was more about the guitars."
Challenges: Pourfard recently solved a problem when he moved back to San Diego from San Francisco in September 2018. "San Diego is a great place for me," he says. Not only is it a hub for the skateboarding industry, it's less expensive than San Francisco, where he worked from his home garage.
The lure was a bigger space and a lower rent: a two-story warehouse in Carmel Mountain with about 1,000 square feet for his workshop. "It's huge. I was working in a garage in San Francisco. It was a big garage, but it wasn't like what I have now," says Pourfard. "Now everything has a table, a permanent location, and an outlet. It's seriously so much better."
He adds, "I love San Francisco, but everybody there is struggling in that way."
Market inertia is another issue. "I think the biggest hurdle with guitar making is lack of knowledge," he explains. "Too much trust has been given to previous guitar makers." Because of that, many musicians are hesitant to buy a high-end guitar made from old skateboards, but only based on a lot of people pushing the status quo. "If you really look at any of these claims, they're totally wrong," says Pourfard. "Nobody ever did tests on it. . . . It's nothing the human ear can distinguish."
Another challenge: "A huge hurdle now is locating my new suppliers [in San Diego]," he says.
Adds Pourfard: "The biggest challenge might not be a guitar. It's starting another business. How could I possibly do both?" He notes, "It's going to take some time. I'm not putting all my eggs in any one basket."
Opportunities: New and different products. Beyond guitars, Pourfard crafts doorstops from skateboards that are sold exclusively at Workshop Residence in San Francisco and recently started building lamps and lighting fixtures. "It's not out of skateboards," he says of the latter. "I learned how to machine metal."
Pourfard spent some time in New York in 2018. "I sold lamps to Soho House, my first customer," he says. "That was good motivation. It made me feel I can do whatever I want, I don't need to just do guitars."
The lighting has better margins than the guitars, so Pourfard plans to pursue hotel and restaurant projects.
To showcase all of his products, he's looking at a brick-and-mortar storefront. "I do want to open a showroom," he says, "somewhere closer to L.A."
Needs: Automation and/or employees. "In a perfect world, I'm building both inventory and custom skateboards," says Pourfard. "If I end up hiring someone, that could definitely help."
He had a few employees in San Francisco, but an accident led him to rethink the model in favor of automation. "I cut my fingers off a year ago and they reattached them," says Pourfard, "but the healing process was the better half of 2018."
Pourfaed realized he needed to leverage automation to improve efficiency and safety and is leaning towards a CNC machine from Laguna Tools in Irvine. "They're a workhorse," he says. "That thing's not going to be tired, it's not going to complain."
Instead of 20 hours of labor per guitar, says Pourfard, it's more like eight hours. "At the end of the day, it's just time," he notes. "While it's cutting, you can walk away and sand one." Another benefit: consolidating 10 machines to one, meaning less setup and less maintenance.
And if there's one thing Pourfard really needs, it's more time: "I have so many ideas, but I don't have time for them."