Lou Yanez may seem like your ordinary guy – he’s a family man living just outside of New York City, working as a civil servant for the Federal Government to pay the bills. But after spending decades of his life involved in music – from playing in bands to community theatre productions – Lou began painting acoustic guitars. And not just different colors, but with scenes from classic rock’s past, blending artist images with album covers and radical ‘60s psychedelica. The Beatles, Hendrix and the Grateful Dead are a small selection of the artists adorning the tops of these musical canvases.
His unique hobby began in 2002, when he was creating miniature replicas of guitars. According to Lou, the first miniature, completely detailed guitars were originally conceived for use in puppetry but came out better than expected. He began to get compliments and requests from people who saw his work, and his shift to painting acoustics developed from there.
He had his first big break as an guitar artist when he was approached by Godfrey Townsend, a New York guitarist working with Alan Parsons on A Walk Down Abbey Road
, a touring tribute to the Beatles. The show featured an impressive roster of musicians, including Todd Rundgren and Denny Laine.
“He had six Gibson acoustic guitars, and he asked me if I’d be interested in painting them,” Lou recounts. “Someone else was supposed to paint them, but it turned out the guy he chose wasn’t too reliable, and [Godfrey] needed someone else to do it. He initially asked me if I could do three of them. So I did three and the guy did one, although it didn’t turn out too well, so he gave me the remaining two to do.”
Those first five guitars – three of them displaying Beatle themes, one with the show’s logo and the last with a Pink Floyd motif – would turn out to be used in the show, showcasing Lou’s skills. “I have pictures of Todd Rundgren, Denny Laine and Alan Parsons all playing these guitars on stage,” Lou says with enthusiasm.
The original five guitars done by Lou had to be sent back to the Gibson factory for refinishing, a specialized skill set that he had not yet picked up. While the guitars were away, he decided to continue his newfound hobby with some relatively inexpensive Epiphone acoustics, painting a trippy visage of Hendrix along with a tribute to the Grateful Dead.
These days, Lou is still painting acoustics in his basement workshop. With the help of Adobe Photoshop, he can fine-tune and organize his designs before they hit the guitar’s top, allowing him to play with a variety of ideas before committing them to his canvases. “Album covers, posters, even famous artworks from Van Gogh and Picasso all work nicely. I’ve been surprised by how many things can actually work on the guitar,” Lou says. When it comes to the actual painting, he first sands down the finish, adds a little gesso and then paints the guitar with acrylic paints – “the old-fashioned way,” he adds.
Talking with Lou, you get the idea that he’d like to parlay his recent success into a fulltime gig, but for now, he reassured us this is all just an part-time endeavor. “You know, it’s a hobby, although I think it’s gonna be more than a hobby, because it seems like I’m doing something really good and getting a lot of good feedback. People are asking me how much I want for certain things, but I’m just doing them to do them.” He has ruled out painting electrics (“it’s like a different instrument, a different animal.”), and is concentrating on his latest project, a used Martin featuring a Bob Dylan album cover.
Whatever route he takes with his art, it really just boils down to a return to a different time and expression. “The whole painting thing that went on in the ‘60s, with everyone painting their guitar psychedelic colors, was great. And with the 40th anniversary of 1968 coming up, I’m working to resurrect it,” Lou says. “I think I’ve come up with a pretty cool style of painting guitars.”