Nick Pourfard handcrafts Prisma guitars using old skateboards and a DIY ethos
By Linda Koffman
Nick Pourfard says he’s never had a real job, ever. While it’s true his role as the founder of a thriving company certainly isn’t traditional, he’s managed to be profitable doing what he’s passionate about: The 26-year-old wakes up every day, walks downstairs to his garage workshop in San Francisco’s Sunset district, and converts used skateboard decks into guitars. “And when I’m over making stuff,” he says, “I just go skate.”
Unlike most luthiers, the man behind Prisma Guitars didn’t name his company after himself, but he’s gotten a lot of attention for how his persona, DIY ethos, and skateboard lifestyle infuse his steel-string innovation. “People see me and think, ‘This dude has a crazy life!’ and they’re interested in that in addition to the guitars,” he says.
Inspired by his brother, Pourfard first picked up both the skateboard and the guitar when he was 13. He tried his hand at building a guitar at 18 and officially launched Prisma in 2014, while a student at San Francisco State University. It takes about 20 hours to make one guitar, and he culls wood from between four to 50 old skate decks for each beautiful stringed beast. With the help of a small crew, he’s busted out about 200 since the business began. Now, with nearly 10 dealers spanning the United States, Tokyo, and the UK, plus custom orders from all over the globe, the average cost of a Prisma original is $2,800.
On a quiet residential street, the boutique home operation is packed with a full woodshop, half a machine shop, and about 2,000 donated skate decks (sourced from distributors as well as individual skaters) whose salvaged wood and rough-hewn artwork will be sanded, glued, and compressed into one-of-a-kind guitars. A signed Iron Maiden photo (Steve Harris owns a Prisma bass) is on the wall alongside a framed photo of classic Italian graphic designer Massimo Vignelli. The decor of the space and his diametric influences reflect how Pourfard converges creative urban rebellion with acute entrepreneurial know-how.
Prisma Guitars is a high-end amalgam of music, skateboarding, and art that has proven more than just a gimmick riding the current wave of pricey upcycled goods. Every detail, down to the electronics, is handmade, and players like Jared Mattson (of The Mattson 2) and Justin Figueroa are fans of the resulting riffs.
“If the guitars sounded like shit I wouldn’t be doing it,” says Pourfard, donning Converse shoes, Carhartts, and a white T-shirt with myriad tattooes crawling out from under its sleeves. “It has to be 100-percent well rounded in that it looks cool, the brand is cool, and it sounds cool. My whole goal from the core is to show people how raw we are from start to finish.”
Counterculture rebellion has long informed Pourfard’s life. As a teen growing up in San Diego, he would use plumbing tools to modify city streets to make them skateable—taking knobs off of ledges and cutting metal handrails out so that skaters could use a transformed space. “I just get more enjoyment out of watching other people,” he says. “Whether I skated it or not, I would still create the spot, and if I saw someone skating this thing I made, all that trouble risking going to jail was worth it. And now it’s like that with the guitar.”
A passion to modify the norm in order to create something wholly original is also evident in the Prisma branding. Pourfard wanted his company to reference color more than anything, and from that—paired with his love of Pink Floyd—a logo was born; his signature striped triangle on every guitar headstock resembles the cover of Dark Side of the Moon. Paying no heed to Merriam-Webster when picking a name, he simply decided to create a new word. “Prism almost sounds like it should end with an ‘a’ anyway,” he says, “so I just made it that way.”
It’s that kind of no-fear, color-outside-the-lines thinking combined with an enterprising mind that has brought Pourfard success at such a young age. When he moved to San Francisco at 20 to study industrial design and business marketing at SFSU, his talent for taking what’s presented in front of him to the next level really took off. Every aspect of Prisma Guitars as a business started out as a college assignment.
“My logo was a school project, my website was a school project, my Facebook page was a school project for a marketing class,” he laughs. He was so good at realizing the full potential of the curriculum, McGraw-Hill has plans to reference Prisma Guitars in a marketing textbook. The student not only “passed the classes with flying colors,” he founded a killer company out of them. He then skipped walking at his 2015 graduation ceremony at AT&T Park to present a Prisma guitar at the Jay Boy Classic skateboarding contest in honor of Jay Adams in Venice Beach.
Now with his guitar gig garnering plenty of street and industry cred, Pourfard is currently amped about furniture making and rug designing as next frontiers, and it’s not looking like he’ll have to work for anyone else anytime soon. But, what if? “If I ever do get a real job,” he says, “I would hope I’d be able to take skate breaks.”
Learn more at prismaguitars.com.