Patch Rubin is a lowkey kinda guy; just meeting him in passing, as I did one day last year at the height of the pandemic, his humility and soft-spoken demeanor give nothing away about his occupation or craftsmanship.
Rubin's Wide Sky Guitars are well-known among serious guitar players, not withstanding his understated manner.
I was introduced to Rubin by my son Joshua Cunningham at The Cellar during the first winter of COVID. He was masked and relatively anonymous in his hoody and jeans, but for his brilliant and piercing blue eyes, I might not have paid much more attention to this "good friend" of my son's.
"Patch builds guitars," my son explained somewhat obscurely. "You should write about him."
My son has worked in the music industry since he was in his early 20s when he was the first music director hired by the then fledgeling XM Satellite Radio startup, helmed by FM radio mogul Lee Abrams. These days his day job is the marketing director at Cid's, while he moonlights as a performance DJ, a producer, and until COVID, Burning Man radio's imaging director. Joshua has long been my go to for new music news.
I left The Cellar that day with a mental note to look up Rubin's website, but time got away as it does.
When Gary Clark Jr. was booked to play the Labor Day concert in Kit Carson Park, Joshua texted me with a head's up; "Patch makes guitars for him."
I figured better late than never, and rang up the unassuming guitar-maker, only slightly aware of his backstory that's as steeped in the music biz as my son's. Clearly their friendship was rooted in common ground.
Born in Albuquerque, Rubin grew up in New York, where his mother moved after his parents divorced. His dad (Dick Rubin) went out to the West Coast where he eventually landed a gig with the legendary Bill Graham Productions, and spent time out on the road with several bands, including the Grateful Dead. He worked on The Band's 'The Last Waltz,' filmed by Martin Scorsese, and was also part of the highly influential Radio & Records trade publication.
The apple didn't fall too far.
"I played guitar in bands all though high school," Rubin told me when we talked. "After graduating I moved out to LA to go to the Musicians Institute to continue studying guitar, it was there Andy Brauer gave a lecture on how to set up your instrument, so I went to his shop and asked for an apprenticeship which ended up becoming a full-time gig for over two years."
"Brauer Studio Rentals was where every guitarist who came to LA to record would rent guitars and amps from. It was a museum of incredible instruments and my main job was to make sure that every one of them was in perfect playable condition when they went out and came back in."
"I was handling amazing guitars daily and really getting a feel for what I liked in terms of sound and feel," he explained.
Eventually Rubin got burned out working in LA and moved to Laguna Beach for a spell before hitchhiking around East and Southern Africa for six months. He eventually landed in Boulder, Colorado, which is where he met his wife, 22 years ago.
"Pretty soon I was backing up a singer-songwriter friend there, and at the same time I joined a reggae band, Roots Revolt. We opened for Michael Franti and Spearhead for their first tour through Colorado."
After Roots Revolt dissolved, Rubin continued to play in another band that opened for several major acts, Heavyweight Dub Champion. At the time he lived in a log cabin with no running water, finding and creating jobs to get by.
"I had a line of wooden and silver jewelry, worked as a welder and had various carpentry jobs," he recalled. "But we felt we needed to go to the West Coast if we were serious about growing the band, so we all moved to San Francisco."
Playing gigs and festivals all over the world, the band shared the stage with Ziggy, Stephen and Damien Marley, Marilyn Manson, Wu-Tang Clan, Sonic Youth and others. During this time Rubin also worked as a trim carpenter for a high-end outfit in the Bay Area.
By 2010, Rubin and his wife decided they'd had enough of city life and the rock roller coaster ride, and relocated to Taos.
"I started working for a custom furniture builder, " he remembered, "and at some point, with access to a fully equipped shop, I realized that I could attempt to build an acoustic guitar."
"I bought a book and read everything I could that was on the internet - It was a complicated process, but I ended up with a guitar."
Soon after he completed his first instrument, David Lindley played in town and Rubin caught up with him before his show and asked if he'd try out the guitar.
"He played it for a bit and asked if I was selling it and I said I hadn't thought about it yet because it was my first and he said something like "Whoa, you've made a monster guitar, don't change a thing."
Rubin entered his second guitar into the Taos Fall Arts Festival and won Best In Show.
After a few more acoustic builds, it was only a matter of time before he went electric.
Since then he's gone on to make custom instruments for many well-known musicians including the amazing Gary Clark Jr., who was slated to play Kit Carson Park, this weekend, before the show was canceled due to rising COVID cases. After being gifted one of Rubin's guitars a few years ago, Clark now owns a few of Rubin's instruments.
I asked Rubin if he'd ever seen Taos artist Larry Bell's incredible guitar collection. Bell has been a musician as long as he has been making art, and has one of the most important private collections of the instrument, some dating back a century or more.
"Oh yeah," he responded, "it really is an incredible collection." He sounded as enthusiastic as the kid who once picked up his first instrument.
"I've actually worked on several of those guitars," he added softly.
These photographs were taken one late afternoon a couple of weeks ago, at Rubin's home and workshop here in Taos. Taos News photographer Nathan Burton captured the maestro at work and play in the magical high desert light.
"Guitar-making is really the perfect combination of all my interests," Rubin concluded. "It feels like the right fit, finally, and I feel so lucky to be able to do it right here."
Visit wideskyguitars.com for more on Patch Rubin and his bespoke instruments.