Exploring unique sectors of the stone industry
Working in the stone industry for the past 17 years has given Antonio Liberta a strong background in the trade, along with various opportunities for standing out among his competitors. Today, his company, Blue Horse Marble Inc. of Arlington, WA, has steered away from typical countertop installations, as it gears a vast amount of production towards stonework for yacht interiors. Liberta’s newest and perhaps his most unique endeavor, however, is the fabrication of marble and granite guitars, which have been sold to several recording artists thus far, while others will be auctioned off for less fortunate children, according to Liberta.
Liberta’s first taste of stonework took place when he was just a teenager working with his father, an Italian stonemason from New York. “He took me to a jobsite at Trump Plaza, and that was the first time I experienced stone,” he said. “From there, I started helping him with a few restaurants in Little Italy [in New York City], including work for the S.P.Q.R. restaurant.
“I happened to pursue a career on Wall Street where I worked for many years,” he continued. “Then in 1990, I left and came to Seattle, WA, and started my own stone fabrication business, Orion Marble and Granite. Seven years later, a partner joined me in the operation.”
A few years later, when his partner left the company, Liberta completely revamped the existing business by changing the name to Blue Horse Marble Inc. and relocating to a larger facility in Arlington.
Today, the company’s shop is comprised of 3,000 square feet, but the company is currently working to occupy the building next door, which would add another 3,000 square feet onto the existing space. The main feature of the shop, according to the owner, is a Johnson 250 rail saw from Johnson Marble Machinery of North Hollywood, CA. In addition, a Hercules router from Braxton-Bragg Corp. of Knoxville, TN, as well as other basic Makita and Metabo grinders for polishing, grinding and cutting, are also used during the fabrication process.
In the near future, Liberta plans to invest in a waterjet machine as well as a CNC stoneworking center. The company currently only has two employees, but a plan is underway to hire additional workers throughout 2008. “We usually hire based on referrals because we like to know where our employees come from,” Liberta explained.
The company’s current production is comprised of 90% residential work, which includes custom kitchen countertops, fireplaces and vanities, and 10% commercial work, which includes stonework for yachts, such as the galleys, heads and bar tops.
While Liberta says that the majority of fabricators in his area work exclusively with 3-cm granite, Blue Horse Marble Inc. works with both 2-cm and 3-cm material. “With 3-cm material, you cut it, polish it and put it in,” he said. “On the other hand, 2-cm is kind of an artwork in trying to make it basically flawless. All backsplashes, countertops and laminated edges are book-matched and everything has to be cut precisely, so that when you put it back together, all the veins match perfectly.”
A total of 75% of Blue Horse Marble Inc.’s production is for granite, while the remaining 25% is comprised of marble, onyx, limestone and soapstone. The company purchases most of its slabs through local distributors in the Seattle area, as well as more exotic slabs from California on occasion.
Combining a love for music and stoneFusing together his passion for both music and stone, Antonio Liberta of Blue Horse Marble, Inc. recently started another company, Vince Guitars, which specializes in the production of custom marble and granite guitars. “I play the guitar, and wanted to contribute something to Van Halen and Led Zeppelin to show my appreciation for them as artists,” he explained. “I was in the shop one day and just started to make a guitar for Van Halen, and the next thing I knew, I was commissioned to make three others.”
According to Liberta, two of the guitars were sold to brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth of the Brandi Carlile band, while another was gifted to a stone producer, Antolini Luigi & C. of Italy. Two additional guitars are on display at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, WA.
Liberta takes great pride in the fact that each stone guitar is basically completed by hand, aside from using a 4-inch Metabo grinder. “I use all real guitar parts and although the models are non-working now, I am working on a prototype that will actually work,” he said. “The models that I have been making are an exact replica of an actual guitar. The amps work, the volume and tone knobs turn, as do the tuning keys. The model I am working on now is for Gene Simmons of Kiss, and another for Fender and Gibson Guitars, which is a real player in the industry.
“There is a lot of detail and a lot of passion that goes into those guitars,” he continued, adding that the double-neck guitar took 60 hours to complete, while the standard guitar took around 30 to 35 hours. “There is no waterjet cutting or fancy machine used at all. You could use a machine, but it takes all the fun out of making something that is handmade.”
Each guitar is comprised of four separate pieces totaling about 7 square feet all together. “You have to match the body of the guitar to the neck, so that the veins carry through,” Liberta explained. “You can’t just use scraps from the same type of slab and put it together, you have to use about a quarter of the same slab in order to make it work.”
So far, Liberta has fabricated guitars from slabs of Emerald Pearl granite, Blue Bahia granite, Red Dragon granite, White Carrara marble and Rainbow limestone - which was used for the guitars sold to the members of the Brandi Carlile band. “As time goes along, I will be using other stones, but there are only certain granites and marbles that you can do this with, because some just fall apart.”
According to Liberta, there are two main reasons why he decided to branch out into guitar making: his love for music and stone and his desire to give back to society. “In the future, I would like to auction guitars off for unfortunate kids and families,” he said. “There are a lot of kids out there with disabilities or health conditions, and my heart goes out to them. For me, this isn’t just about making money. God has given me a great talent, and I love what I do. Even when I am putting together a kitchen, I take a great deal of time to make it picture perfect.”