Down the block from Attic Records ... and across the street from boarded-up storefronts and signs advertising flood insurance ... Sharpsburg native, guitarist, teacher and instrument repairman Guy Panza has opened shop on Millvale's Grant Street. Over the past four months, word-of-mouth has brought him guitar students as young as 6; he's also brightened his stretch of sidewalk with window paintings, a glowing neon guitar and a "Millvale rocks" attitude.
Tell me about the paintings on your shop windows.
I thought about having guitar players on each window. They're all my influences. What I do is, say I'm listening to Hendrix during the month ... I'll paint Hendrix on the window. Someone might come in and say, "Hey, we like Slash from Guns 'n' Roses." That's what inspired me to paint him on the window, just as a courtesy to the other musicians. It's just a great conversation piece, and something I like to do during the down time in the shop.
Seems to complement the mural at Attic Records.
They have a phenomenal mural on their wall. Obviously, I'm just starting out ... I couldn't afford to have a professional artist come in, so I tried to just do it myself. I see the son who runs Attic Records ... he comes by every once in a while. As far as Mr. Small's goes, Lizzie Berlin comes down ... and we just talk shop, like "how are the students doing up there," and "how's the studio going." We're just getting to know each other, being part of the community.
My brother Mark runs [a framing shop] and has been living in Millvale for quite a long time. He's always had me work part-time with him through my excursions with my music. If I was on tour, if I was just traveling locally ... whenever I came back there was always a job for me, working at the frame shop. And it was just a natural extension for me to stay in Millvale. It's obvious that the community's been through some hard times since the flooding.
Were you here for the flood?
My mother and my brother Mark were in their shop when it happened. The water rose so fast, he lost everything in the basement ... he lost all his artwork. In fact, there was one piece that survived, and it was actually my piece of artwork. It was so light that it floated and it landed on a table that was flipped upside down. It has a little piece of mud on the bottom of it; it was a painting of a guitar. I sold it for Millvale Days. The guy who bought the piece said he's buying it not just for the artwork, but because it survived the flood.
Word is you're a session guitarist.
When I was out in California, I sat in with a lot of bands. They'd need certain guitar pieces they weren't really prepared to play, and I'd come in and either teach the guitar player or actually perform it for them. So I was kind of a teacher-player at the same time. And when I came back to Pittsburgh I opened a shop in Sharpsburg just doing repairs and teaching. I closed for a couple years so I could go out and tour and perform as a musician. Once I got married and started to settle down, there's an old saying, "do what you know," so I'm back in the business.
You just got back from a musical adventure in ... Italy?
My wife's originally from Italy, so we went over there during the holiday month. Every night, they had a different band, plays performing, all the pizza and pasta you could eat! We were in Mairato, in [an area] called Calabria. I'm half-Italian, half-German. I met this guitar builder, and he had all his guitars on display in this small church. Even though he didn't speak English and I don't speak Italian, we were able to communicate through the playing of music. He'd show me some Italian piece, and I'd show him something like "Europa" from Santana, and hours would pass without us saying a word, just speaking with the guitars.