Guitar glamour

Woman transforms instruments into works of art

Feb. 25, 2009

Some music aficionados strum stringed instruments, while some creative types work in paints. Sarah Gallenberger blends her enthusiasm for both art forms by using guitars as her canvas.

"I know how to play the guitar, but I'm much better at painting," she said. "With this I get to paint them so other people can play my guitars."

The 28-year-old Wauwatosa woman sells her unique creations at her uncle Joseph Gallenberger's store, Cream City Music in Brookfield.

He recently sold a paisley-print electric guitar for about $1,000 to a Texas guitar teacher who found the instrument listed on the store's Web site.

"Part of his collection are unique or artistic guitars," Joe Gallenberger said of the buyer. "He said he planned on teaching his students with this guitar."

Unique pieces are functional

Joe Gallenberger said a market exists for his niece's work, which he describes as a "quality instrument that is basically a functional work of art." Prices run from $800 to $1,000, making it a middle-of-the-road investment as far as guitars go.

She is now working on four more, including an acoustic model with yellow flowers and a 1960s-inspired, psychedelic-design electric guitar for him to sell.

"Sarah's work reflects her personality," her uncle said. "It's beautiful, detailed, clean and complicated in a way that has a recognizable pattern. I only wish she had time to make them for us more frequently; almost everyone who sees them in person is blown away. She is working on a Gibson SG style guitar now and talking about a Les Paul soon, so we're all very anxious to see those completed."

A relaxing hobby

She typically unwinds after work - she is employed at publisher Banshee Music in New Berlin - with a few hours of painting per night.

"I find it soothing," she said as she meticulously painted tiny patterns on a black, red and gold guitar face.

After she paints the naked wood, a specialist from the guitar store puts on the instrument's hardware and strings and finishes it with a clear coat of lacquer.

"It probably pays for itself, but I'm not quitting my day job for this," she said. "I like that it's a hobby."

Gallenberger started crafting at age 6 when her mother taught her to knit. As a teen she made jewelry and did other projects that allowed her to express herself and keep busy. Then she started painting furniture and spent every weekend at rummage sales and thrift shops hunting for tables and chairs that could be refinished.

Pepper mills and guitars

But it was about five years ago that she saw the potential to make a few extra dollars if she sharpened her focus. She decided to narrow her offerings to the unusual mix of pepper mills and guitars.

Hand-painted pepper mills, which she sells from about $50 to $100, are items people could purchase for gift-giving, Gallenberger reasoned.

"Everybody has a kitchen, so they are something anyone can use," she said.

Gallenberger's pepper mills typically feature bright colors and patterns inspired by Indian, Moroccan and Russian cultures, which she learned about while studying anthropology.

Stefanie Scott can be reached at (262) 446-6618.


WHAT: Sarah Gallenberger's painted guitars are sold at Cream City Music, pepper mills online

WHERE: Cream City Music, 12505 W. Bluemound Road, Brookfield

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays

CONTACT: (262) 860-1800,,


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