By Rob Anthes
When Michael Virok was 15, he borrowed $75 from his grandmother to buy a bass guitar from a friend.
The friend handed him a duffel bag full of parts—there was nothing in the agreement about it having to be an assembled bass, after all. “He said, ‘There’s your bass,’” Virok said. “I had to learn how to put it together. I guess that’s where the buzz for building things or putting things together started, my interest in guitars.” Now 14 years later, the Hamilton native has followed that interest across the country and the artistic spectrum. He has learned the art of guitar making from master luthiers in Georgia, hatched a movement to combine the local music and arts scenes and opened Bordentown Guitar Rescue at 203 Farnsworth Ave., Bordentown City’s newest business. Virok’s interests may seem wide ranging, but he’s really focused on one thing: sharing his passion for art with his community. It’s why he started the Local Hands Project, an initiative to bring together musicians, artists and lovers of music and art. “That’s something I’m very passionate about since I’m an art major,” Virok said. “I see guitars as functional works of art. I’m trying to bridge it from canvas paintings or surface paintings, and bridge the gap between the things that hang in galleries and at home on display. It’s just a different type of canvas.” To get started, Virok provides the interested artists with guitar bodies. The artists sign an agreement saying they have 60 days to complete the work. When the 60 days are up, Virok contacts the artist to collect the guitar body. By mid-February, Virok had about 15 artists committed, mainly from Philadelphia and Bordentown. He’s hoping for 20. Artists can do whatever they choose with the guitar body, like one person who plans on carving on the guitar. “People keep asking me about restrictions,” Virok said. “As long as it can be played, no one cares. You can glue a cell phone to the front of it. If it works, go for it.” Philadelphia artist Katrina Funk completed one guitar in an expressionist style and plans to do another one as a piece of street art or graffiti. Funk said she joined the Local Hands Project because it celebrates the fusion of art and music and could show what art can really be. She enjoyed the challenge of working on a guitar body, too, she said. “You’re working on a much more organic shape than a rigid canvas,” Funk said. “The shape of it really allows your imagination to wander.” Once Virok has enough artists committed, he plans to start organizing some sort of show where people can see the guitars and listen to local music live. He even hopes the bands will use the guitars to better complete the art-music fusion. People will also have a chance to buy the guitars. He’s guessing they’ll probably cost around $700. Considering that completely custom guitars from Virok start at $1,500 and ones with pre-fabricated parts start at $900, the pricetag is reasonable, Virok said. “The guitars may only cost 700 bucks, and for a piece of custom artwork that’s also a guitar, that’s pretty good,” he said. Everyone involved in the initiative may make some money, but Virok said the Local Hands Project is mainly about bringing people together and getting local musicians and artists attention from the public. He said he already feels like guitars are works of art, and it’s a unique opportunity to have works of art on works of art. He hopes the community mimicks his passion for the project. “I thought, ‘What a great opportunity for a budding artist that doesn’t really have an outlet for their creativity yet,’” Virok said. “Why not take a guitar and make something out of it?” Bordentown Guitar Rescue, at 203 Farnsworth Ave. in Bordentown City, is open Tuesday–Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10–6. For more information about the business or the Local Hands Project, call (609) 298-6432 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.