“I guess the first thing you’ve got to know is that I come from a bike racing background,” Jimmy Carabbia, owner and founder of Durango Guitar Works, is a compactly built man with a wry grin. “And racing in the pro class, there weren’t age limits, so I’d be looking around at the starting line and seeing guys of all ages riding different-sized bikes. That’s what I’m bringing to guitars.”
Durango Guitar Works, a locally-based company that specializes in manufacturing short-scale electric guitars, began as an idea at Katzin Music. Carabbia had been playing guitar for several years, but with hands in disrepair after being broken in bicycle crashes, he felt hindered and frustrated by his inability to stretch his hands in the same way other players could.
“So I pick up this kid’s guitar one day just goofing off,” he said, “and I’m able to just fly up and down the fretboard. I’m shocked. My hands are doing things they’ve never been able to do before. I go home and do some research and that’s when I first heard the term ‘short scale’, and my first thought is, ‘Well, I guess my guitar is too big for me.’”
The modern electric guitar has its origins and specifications born out of two companies, Fender and Gibson, whose scale lengths (the measurement from the nut to the bridge) measure 25.5 inches and 24.75 inches, respectively. Each of the four Durango Guitar Works models – the Contender, the Iron Horse, the 4130 and its newest model debuting next week, the Iron Horse II – features a 24-inch scale.
“It goes back to bike racing,” Carabbia said. “There are large, medium and small frames – something for everyone … Why is a 5-foot-2 guy playing something that might inhibit him from his full guitar-playing potential? Why are women expected to play instruments that aren’t ergonomically designed for them? Why, for a kid to have a quality instrument that stays in tune, does he have to play his dad’s guitar? That’s what DGW is all about. We want to put instruments in peoples’ hands that allow them to feel comfortable so that they can feel inspired.
“I come from a place in Ohio where, if something breaks or isn’t working as well as it could, then you get together with a few guys and you build something that does,” Carabbia said. “Durango is the same way. It really nurtures the ‘I’ve got an idea, let’s do this’ mindset.”
Carabbia said that he’s not making kid’s guitars, but real instruments for performing musicians who’ve never quite found their fit. “There are plenty of advantages – less string tension means less finger fatigue, people with range-of-motion issues like mine have an easier time fretting chords and playing scales, which means more comfort and enjoyment. Kids get a guitar that fits their stature that’s built with the quality that matches and inspires their growing abilities. I’ve even heard of guys that buy them for traveling because they fit in the overhead compartment so easily.”
The Iron Horse II, like each of its three predecessors, features DGW’s 24-inch scale, and adds a bevy of details that Carabbia says make it a guitar that “works for the songwriter or performer who plays country one night and classic rock the next. This thing can do it all.
“I didn’t invent the short scale,” Carabbia said. “Brian May of Queen, Ted Nugent, Kurt Cobain and many others have played a short scale throughout their careers. But if you’d have told me six years ago that I’d be releasing a fourth model, I’d have laughed.”
While Carabbia designs and specifies each and every detail of his guitars, they’re built overseas in a factory that he’s pleased to partner with. “Building a guitar by hand, of the quality that I want to see, would take hundreds of hours. The guys who can do it are amazing, and the guitars they build are worth every penny of the two or three grand you’ll spend on them, but my goal is to get quality guitars into the hands of people who need them at a price that is attainable. I remember shoveling driveways all winter long to save up for my first BMX racing bike, and I remember how proud I was to plop down my stack of cash to buy it. I want my guitars to be obtainable, to be affordable and within reach of lots of players.”
Durango Guitar Works models are available online at durangoguitarworks.com or at Katzin Music, 1316 Main Ave., Durango. Each of the four DGW models retails at $399 or less.