Click here to see a photo gallery of Kantor's Swarovski instruments ans some custom guitars from his collection.
Robert Kantor's love for guitars has led him on a lifelong journey of collecting, customizing, and developing the instruments. Kantor's story is two-fold. First is Kantor's new line of Kantor Guitars: Swarovski-encrusted Fender instruments sold exclusively through Rudy's Music in New York City. Second is his collection, which is home to some incredibly rare custom instruments that he developed with the Gibson Custom Shop in the early 2000s. We talked with Kantor to get the skinny behind both sets of gorgeous guitars and his relationship with legendary graffiti artist John "Crash" Matos.

Robert Kantor (right) and Rudy Pensa (left) holding two of Kantor's Swarovski guitars.
How did you move from collecting to developing your own instruments?

Rudy Pensa has been a friend of mine since 1978. I started, like everyone else did with Rudy, as a customer. He opened a beautiful store in SoHo, and he started showing me the work of a sculptor named Hannibal (the line of guitars is AM). The idea of art and guitars came up, and I'd been working on some ideas, and he said, "You know, you ought to just try a couple of things. I'll put it in the store and we'll see what happens." So it was just something I tried, and it worked successfully. I had a vision and was fortunate enough to have the wherewithal to just execute it on my own.

So tell us about the Kantor guitars, what do you use as a base?

I've been Fender American Standard Stratocasters or Telecasters, which stems back to my work with Crash [Matos]. It's probably not a well-known fact that Eric Clapton actually utilizes American Standard stuff. The Crash guitars that he utilized over the years in his concerts were actually American Standard Strats.

How does the design process work?

Basically I come up with a concept and work with the artists at the factory to make a pattern. For example, if I'm going to do skulls, we'll make them like it was sort of a wallpaper pattern, then I fit the scale based on the scale of the actual artwork and what can physically be done with the stones.

I try to use the smallest stones to give it much more of a refined kind of look. I was at a concert recently seeing one of my clients playing, and using the smaller stones made it so it wasn't so reflective that it was obnoxious—it looked exactly how I envisioned it.

That’s Lady Gaga’s guitarist, Kareem Devin you’re referring to?

Yes, we’re working on a couple more instruments for Kareem that will be showing up on tour, and a few others in process that I can’t discuss yet. We’re experimenting, and it’s a lot of fun.

Kareem Devin with his custom Kantor Guitar

With the guitars being used on major tours, you must not consider them totally “art guitars.”

They’re completely player guitars. They're set up properly and have the proper types of pickup configurations and electronics, based on whatever one would normally play. They’re 100 percent playable, and there's no effect to the sound in a negative way.

Tell us about the actual stone application.

The actual stonework is done by a factory in New York City that puts every single stone on by hand using a tweezer. Two or three ladies work on the instruments, and it takes about a week, each instrument, to complete. The artwork is transposed and painted onto the body of the guitar and from there they stone the colors according to how we lay it out.

The stones cause no problems with the instruments in terms of their playability and durability. If something's out there on tour being banged around every day, worst case scenario they send it back to me and in one day it's turned around because the instruments are guaranteed for life if anything happens to them stone-wise.

How many instruments do you have for sale right now, and what’s the price range?

We have about a dozen instruments. They run anywhere from $10k to $25k retail.

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