Play the Tune
By John Haughey | Contributing Writer
Noel Rosa was a teenage drummer in a New Jersey rock 'n' roll band when a drunk driver struck his car. It took two years to recover from back injuries, but his drumming days were done.
So Rosa switched to guitar, inspired by a concert he saw of Christian singer and performer Wes King. Rosa mastered a “percussive” guitarist style, playing everything from contemporary Christian to blues, and bluegrass to rock 'n' roll.
He soon moved from New Jersey to Lakeland, and hit the road as a touring musician, again. He performed in churches, coffee houses and concert halls nationwide, opening for, or playing with, ZZ Top, Joe Perry and Eddie Money, among others.
After a performance a decade ago in Taos, N.M., a speaker tower fell off the stage, crushing him. He was debilitated for seven years.
“When I started walking again, I had a hard time standing on stage and holding my guitar,” Rosa says. “I did a search for the best lightweight guitars. I couldn't find one I liked. So, I developed my own.”
That changed Rosa's career trajectory yet again — from musician to budding musical instrument entrepreneur.
He envisioned a solid wood lightweight, thin-lined guitar. He took courses in guitar making, and built a prototype in a Winter Haven shop. “I continued to engineer it, shave more weight off it,” he says.
Rosa displayed his prototype at guitar shows, gaining encouragement from an eclectic bunch, a group that included Sheryl Crowe's lead guitarist and touring musicians with Bonnie Raitt and Cheap Trick.
His idea, fostered as way to extend his stage career, was evolving into a potentially lucrative business. “The original intent was to have someone else build them and I'd be the face of the company,” he says. “But, no one was going to build to the quality I wanted. I decided to do it myself.”
Rosa established New Sound Acoustics and in June 2016 he received a $10,000 grant from Lakeland Catapult, a business incubator. The money was put toward a home workshop to meet increasing demand for his NRS (Noel Rosa Signature) lightweight guitar.
Rosa has incorporated several innovations into the instrument. That includes a push-pin design, in-board tuning, phase switches and laser cuts in back sound ports that give it a louder sound. He also installed auxiliary MP3 ports. “That song you have to learn? Plug in your MP player and practice along,” he says. “You don't have to wake up the house.”
He builds the guitars with Floridian camphor, rosewood, red cypress, altered ash, Hawaiian koi, California redwoods and maple. “They can be painted any color and look almost three-dimensional,” he says.
The result is a 2-inch wide, 3-pound guitar. (Other guitars can weigh up to 10 pounds.) Rosa is gearing up to produce 10 a month. Buyers receive a storybook of the guitar's creation, from the plank of wood it started off as to the final product. The guitars run from $2,200 up to $3,500 each.
Among Rosa's small-but-mighty fan base: Lakeland's Skip Frye, a Heritage Blues Hall of Fame guitarist. “The craftsmanship is wonderful,” Frye says. “I'm used to playing real heavy electrics and acoustics, and this guitar is just wonderful. It's really light with a nice, nice beautiful tone — it rings.”
Rosa did 10 guitar shows in 2017. He plans to do 28 shows in 2018 to market his work. Says Rosa: “Little did I know they would take off the way they did.”