Chris DiPinto - guitar designer by day, glam rocker by night - built his first instrument from store-bought parts and a chunk of oak flooring.
That was in the early 1990s; these days, DiPinto creates gorgeous electric guitars for the stars.
But the same sort of funky creativity that helped put DiPinto Guitars on the musical map is at work in the launch of his band, Creem Circus.
"Until you learn how to use a sewing machine, you don't have your band together," says DiPinto, who custom-makes much of his bedazzling onstage attire.
Creem Circus, you see, is a musical and sartorial throwback to the glam bands of the pre-disco 1970s, when glittering guitars, gender-bending theatrics, and feathery boas ruled.
"They don't make platform shoes anymore," DiPinto says, a tad sadly. "You can't just go out and buy this stuff."
We're sitting on stools in the DiPinto Guitars showroom. He and his wife, Sophy, opened the store in a former five-and-dime on Fishtown's Girard Avenue in 2004, after rising rents priced their previous stores out of Old City and Northern Liberties.
Fishtown has since evolved into one of Philly's hippest neighborhoods. The DiPintos and their two kids now live in Collingswood, a Camden County borough with its own homegrown glam scene.
And DiPinto outsources the manufacturing of the electric guitars and basses he designs, customizes, and fine-tunes.
"I was making everything by hand, but not everyone can afford that," says DiPinto, who's 46, grew up in Bucks County, and center-parts his long hair in a classic rock flow. He continues to build prototypes of new instruments, and will handcraft guitars for certain clients.
"I'm all about the retro thing," DiPinto adds. "I'm bringing these wild guitars back."
Musical luminaries, including Earl Slick, the longtime guitarist with David Bowie; Philly's own Kurt Vile; and Jimmy Vivino, the front man of Conan O'Brien's house band, have purchased DiPinto guitars.
DiPinto himself will wield one of his creations onstage at the March 27 launch party for the Creem Circus CD, Rock And/Or Roll (Creep Records), at Bourbon & Branch in Northern Liberties.
"It's 21st-century glam. . . . The guitars sound freakin' huge," says Creem Circus guitarist and maker of instruments Jim Cara. Customers of his shop, Cara Guitars, in Wilmington, include Gene Simmons, of Kiss.
"Creem Circus is [four] glam dandy boys," adds Cara, who sports a top hat with a stuffed raven perched on it in a Creem Circus publicity shot.
Named for two magazines that were akin to the bibles of glam, the band also features Ned Sonstein, of Philadelphia, on bass and Elkins Park resident Rob Giglio on drums.
"Creem Circus is integral" to the Collingswood-centric glam tribute collective called Candy Volcano, says founding member Joe Bonaparte. The loosely organized ensemble will play at the April 11 Ritz Theatre Company benefit in Haddon Township.
"Glam is just undeniably great music," adds Bonaparte, 45. A solar-panel salesman, he lives in Collingswood and dreams of the day when there's a Candy Volcano Variety Hour on TV.
Theatricality and showmanship are essential to glam, notes DiPinto. He sees the genre as a highly amplified throwback to the style and soul of early rock-and-rollers like Little Richard.
(As a veteran, or perhaps, survivor, of the glam era, I couldn't agree more; seeing the New York Dolls, Bowie, and Slade live was pretty much worth a lifelong case of tinnitus.)
"Creem Circus is not a tribute band" to glamsters like those, says DiPinto. He wrote all 10 songs on Rock And/Or Roll - and they do, thank you.
He also draws a parallel between designing his guitars to sound as good as they look, and making sure his band is more than just four dudes wearing flouncy outfits.
"It all starts with great music," DiPinto says. "I'm not going onstage dressed like a crazy person unless I can back it up."