Slowlane Guitars, Crafted for Muscular Dystrophy Awareness
● By Morgan Cásarez
L to R: Bob Rogers, Jesse Cassotta, Dennis Kalkowski and Gloria Kalkowski - Photography by Dante Fontana © Style Media Group
In 2001, Dennis Kalkowski was diagnosed with spinal-bulbar muscular atrophy (SBMA), a rare form of muscular dystrophy (MD) that slowly affects voluntary muscle movement. He suffered a debilitating fall a decade later that broke both his ankles and led to months of rehabilitation. In an effort to remain active throughout the recovery process, Kalkowski, a lifelong musician, learned to build electric guitars—a skill he would not only master, but also use to touch the lives of others living with MD, including numerous members of his extended family.
“I’m 57 years old and was diagnosed just 15 years ago,” he says. “The disease can strike at any time, and it is truly a life-changing event for the individual and their family.”
To master the luthier’s trade, Kalkowski studied under the Cassottas of SonFather Guitars, one of the largest repair and custom guitar shops in Northern California. What began in 1995 as a passion project operated out of owner Dave Cassotta’s garage, eventually grew to include his children Jesse and Julie. “For the last 20 years, we have been modifying and customizing guitars to suit all kinds of players’ preferences,” explains Jesse. “We treat all of our clients like they are part of the family and share in their excitement for their project.”
Kalkowski proved to be a quick learner and soon, SlowLane Guitars was born. With the help of his wife, Gloria, childhood friend, Bob Rogers, and a team of the region’s finest luthiers and equipment suppliers, Kalkowski sells his custom, handcrafted guitars to raise funds and awareness for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). As the world’s leading non-profit health agency, the MDA is dedicated to finding treatments and cures for more than 40 neuromuscular diseases, including SBMA.
“The goal is to help the MDA become more relevant in today’s public eye,” shares Gloria, owner and president of SlowLane Guitars. “With the retirement of Jerry Lewis and the cancellation of future telethons, [it] faces new challenges in bringing awareness to younger demographic groups.”
Despite his physical limitations, Kalkowski has personally designed and assembled an estimated 250 guitars to date. After their major components are handmade by local artisans, he pieces each instrument together with exceptional care and precision, despite bouts of debilitating pain. As Rogers says, his dedication and determination prove that there is life after a life-changing diagnosis.
“This cause hits close to home for me, as I see my longtime close friend dealing with the effects of MD and reminds me to not take things for granted in my life that may appear challenging, but are in fact minor in comparison,” Rogers shares. “It amazes me every day when I see how Dennis’ passion for the art of guitar-making manifests itself in these wonderful instruments.”
Visit slowlaneguitars.com for more information.