By Deaglan Howlett | Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Anthony Cartinella is a bit of a legend in the New Jersey punk scene. Starting Dark Horse Percussion in 1996, he helped foster the NJ punk sound, even though he did not play on the records. However, his drums were featured on groundbreaking Jersey punk albums by bands including The Gaslight Anthem, The Bouncing Souls and Streetlight Manifesto, just to name a few. These days, he does not make drums anymore but instead has turned his passion for music into building custom guitars for the working class, which happens to be Black 35 Guitars’ mission statement. Black 35 Guitars has grown exponentially since his first guitar was made, and his roster of players grows every single day. Anthony was kind enough to let me ask him a few questions about his company, and I am more than happy to spread the word of the incredible work he is doing in my hometown of Red Bank, New Jersey.
How did you first get involved with making instruments?
Anothony Cartinella: I founded Dark Horse back in 1996. Dark Horse Percussion originally started with my father and I making snare drums at our house. My father would help me, but I just wanted to make snares for fun, and then I started Dark Horse as a real business. Dark Horse actually started from me being into marching and orchestral percussion. I was getting sick and tired of going to music stores and asking about marching or orchestral gear and the guys working there having no idea what I was talking about. I basically came home one day after going to a music store, and I went to my mother and told her I wanted to start my own business, and I asked her what I could do. She actually ended up helping me with a sole proprietorship business, which was Dark Horse Percussion. I originally started out by just selling accessories, like sticks and drumheads out of my parents’ basement. I had a lot of schools that were buying stuff from me which was really cool. Eventually, I got set up with a Pearl dealer and I was selling drum sets and marching gear. Then I started building drums for fun, mostly one-offs, that I would put on eBay. I would sell it, then someone would ask me to make them a set.
What is it like owning a business that sells products that are always in such high demand?
Most people tend to think that having your own business is glamorous, but it is the furthest thing from that. What most people do not see is the Orange County Choppers side of things. You see that end product and you think ‘Wow! That’s friggin' awesome!’ But what most people do not see is how the builder was up until 12:30 in the morning before the day the drum set was supposed to arrive to the client. Then, realizing last minute he is short two lug cases to complete someone's drumset and it needs to be shipped out in the morning in order to make it to Germany for the show. Most people do not see that kind of stress.
What got you into making guitars and retiring from making drums?
I used to make guitars for fun while I would be waiting on drums, like waiting for shells to come to finish up a kit. I started Black 35, since 35 is my favorite number and that’s Mike Richter’s number on the Rangers -- I am a big Rangers fan -- and because black 35 in roulette being my favorite. So, I figured ‘Hey! That’s my guitar company!’ but my goal was not to start a guitar company. My goal was to basically make guitars that I like, make them and sell them at a price point that sits around a thousand bucks a guitar, and if someone wants it, cool, they can buy it. If not, I'll just keep it and keep playing it. I got out of Dark Horse and I figured I learned my lesson from business and did not want that anymore so I would focus on other hobbies. Needless to say, I started a big cartel page and an Instagram account, posted a guitar I made, said it was for sale, and the next thing I knew, everything I was making was selling, and selling fast. Even crazier than that, I was shipping these guitars out all over the world.
What keeps you going?
I was told I am basically making the workingman's custom guitar. I have the ability and technology to make stuff, and that why I can turn around and make someone a guitar and I can make them however the buyer wants. A LP style with two humbuckers and a tele pickup in the bridge? I can do that, and in a way where I can make it affordable for you! I'm currently over 260 orders in eighteen months, and now I have ten thousand, organic Instagram followers. It’s crazy how something that wasn’t supposed to be a business turned into a really cool business.
What makes you different from other custom guitar-makers out there?
Being that I teach fulltime, and that's my bread and butter, doing this on the side I can work with you and be like, ‘hey, man you want this guitar? I can work with you and be like, well how much can you put down?’ And someone will say they can put $200 down, and I say cool! I get the $200, I put the order in my book, start working on the guitar and the player can chip away at the price while I am making the guitar. Most importantly, players appreciate that because that gears myself towards these DIY-ethics [that] musicians stand by, as well as I do. I make it so it’s very personable and accommodating in order to work with everyone. I understand everyone is in a different financial position, and I make sure I am able to work with you financially to get you to the end result. It’s not all about money, it’s about building a relationship.