HIBBING — Matty Baratto admits that the flurry of attention he’s received this past week has his head spinning — almost literally.
“I’m in a little weird head space right now,” said the Hibbing native Friday afternoon from his North Hollywood guitar shop.
Baratto’s been receiving lots of phones calls, tons of emails and ample attention since Wednesday night when Sir Paul McCartney was seen performing with Nirvana at Madison Square Garden during the Sandy relief concert on 12.12.12.
McCartney was jamming on a res/fiddle handmade by Baratto during the well-received performance of a song called “Cut Me Some Slack.”
“I was floored. Completely floored,” he said. “I got a call that morning from a guitar tech for Dave Grohl (of Nirvana) that they were using it, and would that night. It was on there, and the next day I went from two to three emails a day to 50 emails wanting to know how to get one, where to get one and what they cost.
“There’s been quite a bit of feedback,” he added. “ … It’s really a high moment for me.”
McCartney was playing Baratto’s res/fiddle, with “res” short for resonator. He was also using a wine-box amplifier with a 9-volt battery, also handmade by Baratto.
This particular custom-made instrument features a modified paint can lid as a resonator, a tailing piece cut with a water jet and brass and nickle plated, and bathroom sink drain covers to cover the holes, among other unique — and some reused — items.
“Yep, it’s the top of the line model,” said Baratto, estimating the fiddle and amp at $3,000.
Baratto said McCartney was given the res/fiddle by Johnny Depp, a loyal, long-standing customer of his.
Depp has purchased over a dozen fiddles and amps over the years from him, said Baratto.
But the exposure and recognition that McCartney’s actions prompted is what Baratto called “25 years in the making.”
“I’ve been trying to keep going, waiting for that wave to start,” he said. “Now that is has, it’s kind of exciting. After all of these years, something finally cracked.”
Baratto made his very first guitar at age 13, out of an old neck and a bass body that was in a fire.
“It worked! A stroke of luck as I had no idea about intonation or even how a truss rod worked,” he said.“It wasn’t long after that I had repainted the guitar my dad bought me.”
He set it aside and turned his attention to tinkering with vehicles and painting.
Baratto started in the “biz” around 1990 at Studio Instrument Rentals in Hollywood. There he learned about gear, driving in L.A., how to move pianos and how to deal with upset artists.
He eventually worked his way into the repair shop and started honing his chops on the rental guitars.
“I had a little closet on the roof of the building which my brother and I lived, which became my first shop,” he said. “I dove into my new ‘hobby’ head first and didn’t look back.”
In 1993, Baratto moved on to the Gibson A&R office in North Hollywood, where he did set-ups part time. It was here that he made his first guitar.
He also toured with a few bands as a guitar tech.
In late 1994, he started working at Hoshino U.S.A., an Ibanez Custom Shop, full time. There he made prototypes and custom guitars from scratch, as well as repair, research and development, paint, inlay and much more.
“It was about as hands on as you can get,” he said.
Then, at the turn of the millennium, Baratto opened “Baratto Guitars.”
Cigfiddles — his term for cigar box guitars — piqued his interest around 1994.
“A friend and I went strolling down Hollywood Boulevard, stopped into the local smoke shop and there I saw a pile of cigar boxes,” he recalled, while also noting this was about the time he made his first guitar.
“I tapped on the box and interestingly enough, it had a nice woody tone. I bought it for $1, brought it home and in a couple hours I had what was dubbed a cigfiddle. It had four strings and a brass tailpiece. It sounded great!”
Although around for a long time, the cigfiddle was new to Baratto.
“Many of the old famous bluesmen started out on cigar box guitars,” he said. “In a way, these little babies have a big part in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.”
As it turned out, there’s a whole community of cigar box guitar makers and players out there.
“I refined it by using quality woods and paying attention to all the details that make a fine instrument,” he said.
And now to be recognized for it.
“It’s been percolating for 17 years — developing them, refining them and making special parts for them,” he said.
Baratto said he limits production, simply because one person can only do so many guitars and amplifiers each year. He said he averages 25 to 30 pieces annually. Each is numbered, signed and dated.
In addition to actor and musician Depp, several others lay claim to a Baratto cigfiddle — Keith Richards, Patty Smyth and even Bob Dylan.
“I wanted for a long time to get one in his (Dylan’s) hands,” he said. “His son, Jesse, gave it to him.”
While all of the attention is fun, Baratto said he hopes it continues and the interest widens.
“I also make guitars,” he said. “I hope I’m not just known as the cigar box guy.”