Category Archives: Shops

South Austin Music – Austin, TX

Lamar Boulevard in Austin, Texas is the street for guitar shops, and one of the coolest shops on the block is South Austin Music.  Established in 1986, SAM is now a staple of the Austin Music scene.  With a wide-ranging, unique inventory, SAM will entertain and surprise any guitar player, from novice to life long enthusiast.

One thing that makes a great guitar shop is the vibe.  Coming into a guitar shop can put a customer in a vulnerable state – you feel pressure to play well, talk the talk, buy something – for some, it can be very overwhelming.  That’s one of the reasons why SAM is a such a great shop – the staff create a very positive environment that welcomes all.  From the moment you walk in, you know you are actually allowed to play the guitars, not just stare.

SAM has a great selection of electric and acoustic guitars.  Aside from of all of the usual suspects (Fender, Gibson, Martin), SAM has a large variety of Eastwood, G&L, Danelectro, and Nation Reso-phonic guitars.  Of course, there are also some fantastic classics and lots of vintage pieces that’ll keep any connoisseur busy, all easily accessible and quite playable.

SAM also has a killer amp collection.  A large amount new and vintage Orange, Fender and Marshall amps pepper the shop’s perimeter.  They also carry some extremely hard to find Divided by 13 amps – wow!  And of course, they have many acoustic amplifiers and boutique makers.

Last but not least, SAM has an amazing pedal selection, filled with all the classics and newcomers.  From MXR to Xotic to Ibanez to Fulltone, they have everything you could want – and at very reasonable prices.  And once you’re through with all of this, SAM has every pick, string and accessory you could possibly imagine.  I ended up with a sweet new guitar strap!

So if you’re in Austin, TX, South Austin Music is a must!  Visit them @ 1402 South Lamar Blvd, Austin, Texas 78704 or on the SAM website

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Andy’s Guitar Shop – San Diego, CA

Some may be surprised to hear that San Diego harbors a thriving and ever-expanding music community.  A mandatory Southern California destination on any tour, San Diego has as many local musical acts as it does big time visitors, keeping it lively on any given night.  Of course, the greatest by-product of a thriving music scene – guitar shops!  And one of the coolest shops in San Diego is Andy’s Guitar Shop.

Formerly known as El Rayo Guitarworks, current owner Andy Greenberg changed the name to Andy’s Guitar Shop after his old partner left the business.  A no-nonsense, little shop, Andy’s is a truly professional store, specializing in repairs and set-ups.  Essentially one giant repair room, split into an entrance/guitar showroom and full on “employee’s only” repair shop, Andy’s makes no pretense about its purpose.  Stocking a small supply of acoustic and electric guitars and a good selection of picks and strings, Andy’s Guitar Shop is predominantly a world-class guitar repair shop.

I waltzed into Andy’s on one of those rare rainy San Diego days.  Andy himself was in the repair side of the room, fiddling with a guitar.  I glanced over the small collection of axes dangling on the wall, and was drawn to a modified Epiphone hollow body.  I asked if I may noodle, and an employee granted my wish, even offering to change the strings if they felt too dead.  After a short bit of playing, Andy invited me to the repair half of the room to plug into a stellar Dr. Z amp.  He explained how he had modified this guitar, put in a Piezo PU and a stereo/mono switch – no easy feat!  Although I was just browsing, I was surprised by how he had transformed a seemingly middle of the road guitar into a professional, tonally diverse axe that played great.  One thing’s for sure, Andy definitely knows what he’s doing – I look forward to having him set-up some of my axes in the near future.

So if you’re in San Diego and want to check out a great shop, breathe life into an old, neglected  guitar, or just get a great set-up, visit Andy’s Guitar Shop @ 3043 Adam’s Ave. San Diego, CA 92116

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The Guitar Connection – Venice, CA

Serious guitar collectors are a breed all their own.  Often afflicted by a serious case of G.A.S.  (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), many enthusiasts have gathered collections that could easily be featured on an episode of “Hoarders.”  Constantly buying and selling, always looking for the next piece of equipment, begging you, “no matter what, do not let me buy another guitar,” every guitarist, and their significant other, can relate to the never-ending cycle of guitar collecting.  At The Guitar Connection in Venice, CA, one of the most bizarre and interesting guitar stores in the world, owner Mike Van Voorhees has made his own personal collection the inventory of his small business.

The Guitar Connection is a unique surprise on the up and coming Venice street of Rose Avenue.  Outside, you are instantly drawn to the pleasing vintage aesthetic, which summons you to peek inside and see what gems are hidden within its walls.  After you’ve been buzzed in by Mike, you enter – well, his living room – which has been transformed into the guitar showroom of the Guitar Connection.  See, what makes this shop truly original is that it is half-house-half-store, and everything for sale is part of Mike’s personal collection.

Once you’ve been let in, Mike watches you browse from his kitchen doorway, asking questions and adding personally commentary about certain items.  Although, and I’m sure he would agree, he is not the greatest salesmen (and his odd antics may scare off many customers), it is evident that this store and its collection are his life, and things he values very dearly.  Every instrument and amp has its own history, which Mike will gladly share with you.  A mixture of high quality and lesser instruments, The Guitar Connection inventory has all the peaks and troughs of any life long player’s collection.

Exclusively used and vintage instruments, some highlights include two Gibson “Black Beauty “Les Pauls, some rare Gibson Hollow Bodies, an original 1966 Fender Bassman amp, and some nice vintage Stratocasters – all set up and maintained by Mike.  There also some vintage 80s shredders, like Hamer and Ibanez, and a bunch of novelty curve balls that you are unlikely to see elsewhere.  Mike also buys used instruments, rents, and does repairs and set ups.  And although I can’t speak to his repair quality or expertise, I am sure he is more than capable of fixing up any axe, and has all of the knowledge and passion acquired by a life long enthusiast.

So for a unique, one of a kind guitar shop, be sure to check out The Guitar Connection @ 633 Rose Ave. Venice, CA 90291.

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McCabe’s Guitar Shop – Santa Monica, CA

McCabe’s Guitar Shop is more than just another guitar shop – it’s a Los Angeles icon.  Opening in 1958, McCabe’s has been a staple of Pico Blvd for over half a century,  defending its self-declared claim to fame of having “the largest selection of stringed things to make music with in California.”  An extensively stocked shop by day, by night McCabe’s transforms into one of the most intimate live music venues in Los Angeles.  An unassuming stage in the main guitar showroom becomes a world-class pedestal that has hosted the likes of Joni Mitchell, Mike Bloomfield, Doc Watson, Jackson Browne, Chet Atkins, and many other legendary musicians.

Aside from being a guitar shop, McCabe’s specializes in acoustic and folk instruments like banjo, mandolin, ukulele, fiddle, dulcimer, oud, and just about any other ethnic instrument you are likely to want.  As for guitar, they supply an extensive list of boutique and specialty makers.  In acoustics, you’ll find amazing axes made by Martin, Taylor, Collings, the Loar, Santa Cruz, Godin, and many other high quality manufacturers.  They’re inventory ranges from entry-level to highly boutique, but you are always bound to find reasonably priced, top notch guitars.

As you can see, McCabe’s also has an extensive supply of nylon string (both classical and gypsy styled), resonator, and arch top acoustic guitars, amongst many other novelty items.  And for a shop specializing in acoustic instruments, McCabe’s has a killer selection of electric guitars and amps.  From Fender Stratocasters to Eastman Hollow-body Jazz Boxes to Gretsch twangers, McCabe’s has plenty to offer the electric aficionado.  And feel free to plug into the array of new and vintage amps from Fender, Pignose, and some other brands you’ve probably never heard of!

McCabe’s is also a great place of learning.  They have a diverse teaching staff that covers every niche guitar style, as well as auto-harp, harmonica, and other novelty instruments.  Personally, I’ve been coming to McCabe’s for years to buy books.  They have the largest selection of music books in Los Angeles.  Real Books, instructional books, scores, song books – if they don’t have it, nobody will.  And you are bound to learn something by just hanging around McCabe’s, as they are always players stopping by, exchanging ideas, and casually running down tunes.

Last but not least, McCabe’s also has a fantastic repair shop. I’ve had them do everything from setting up acoustics to changing the PUs in my Ibanez, all of which they’ve done well and in a timely fashion.  Also, don’t forget the endless supply of guitar accessories.  Any pick you could possibly imagine – finger picks, felt picks, thumb picks, copper picks, etc – and a wide selection of straps, capos, slides, and every other accessory surround the register.  It’s almost impossible to leave without buying something!

So for a little slice of historic Los Angeles, an intimate evening concert, or a trip to one of the most unique guitar shops in the world, get down to McCabe’s Guitar Shop @ 3101 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405.  For more information, check out the McCabe’s website.

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Taylor Guitars Factory Tour – El Cajon, CA

Although many of us view guitars as works of art, few of us know anything about the creation process.  Great playability, sonic characteristics, aesthetic beauty, and price are just some of the factors that guitar luthiers have to consider when creating their masterpieces.  From raw wood to completion, the nuances and attention to detail that go into the final product are mind-boggling.  I’m just glad I’m on the playing end of this arrangement!

Taylor Guitars is an American guitar company based in El Cajon, CA.  Started in 1976 by Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug, the company has become one of the most successful acoustic guitar manufacturers in the world, rivaling Martin and Gibson.  Today, Taylor production ranges from mid-level acoustics to professional quality six strings, and has even expanded to electric solid, hollow, and semi-hollow body guitars.  Some of their endorsers include Leo Kottke, Dave Matthews, Jason Mraz, Taylor Swift, Zac Brown, and Peter Sprague, and Taylor guitars have become the gold standard in modern country, folk, and bluegrass music.

One of the coolest things about Taylor Guitars is their free, daily tours of their factory.  Located in El Cajon, an inner region of San Diego County, these tours cover the entire process of the acoustic sector of production.  You start by viewing their extensive lumber collection, consisting of exotic woods like Hawaiian koa, Indian rosewood, big leaf maple and tropical mahogany.  Then, you view the shaping process, a mixture of machine and man effort to craft necks and bodies from slabs of wood.  There is a specific neck area, where fretting and sanding occur, and a specific room for inlay work on headstocks, necks and sound holes.  You also get to see the wood bending process that creates the sides of body, and the binding station, where the body parts are attached.  And of course, you get to the see the finish room, where different wood stains and varnishes are applied, followed by a final set up station.  Ultimately, you get to see the entire process of creating an acoustic Taylor guitar.  Plus, the tour ends right where it started – in the TaylorWare store and showroom, stocked with the entire array of Taylor products, ready for immediate noodling.

Probably the most different, progressive, and desirable aspect of Taylor guitars is their patented bolt-on neck technology.  To put it simply, most acoustic guitar manufacturers use a strong glue adhesive to attach necks to guitar bodies.  Over time, due to string tension, climate, and sound vibrations, the angle at which this neck was glued becomes warped, altering the intonation and action.  Because the neck is strongly glued, the only way to fix this problem is to take it to a professional and get a “neck reset,” a very expensive repair.  Aside from this inconvenience, glued necks run a high risk of snapping, and give the player little freedom in altering the playability of their guitar.  Taylor solved these issues with their bolt-on neck technology.  Instead of gluing their necks, they use a specialized neck joint and bolt system to attach necks and bodies.  This system uses special spacers to establish the perfect neck angle.  Over time, when the neck angle becomes warped, the repair procedure is greatly simplified – you just need to unscrew the neck bolt and insert bigger spacers.  Furthermore, if the player ever wants to change the neck angle or replace the neck altogether, it’s as simple as unscrewing the bolts and making the change.  A very practical and innovative solution to an age-old problem. 

Lastly, although hugely successful, Taylor is still run like a small business.  Bob Taylor is almost always present at the factory, and the faculty are very friendly and knowledgeable.  Taylor is also greatly concerned with sustainability and environmental protection.  In a business that often misuses lumber and disregards the scarcity of resources, Taylor has stepped up with the creation of non-profit organizations supporting responsible foresting, and have pledged to use responsible business and manufacturing practices.   Right on!

So if you’re in San Diego be sure to check out the Taylor Guitar Factory @ 1980 Gillespie Way  El Cajon, CA.  For more info on tours, check the the Taylor Factory Tour website and for more on Taylor Guitars, their products, and sustainability, check out the Taylor Guitar Website.

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The Mesa Boogie Hollywood Store, Los Angeles

Alas, another new section for ROW – “Shops.”  Boutique guitar shops are some of the most unique and interesting stores.  Often owned by passionate enthusiasts, each shop has its own niche specialty, and the few authentic guitar shops that remain are quickly becoming historic icons in their given communities.  From vintage rarities to custom builds to quirky items, boutique shops offer refuge for the true guitar aficionado, fed up with the mass cookie-cutter production of chains like Guitar Center and Sam Ash.  So, in the “shops” section, I’ll highlight some of my favorite authentic guitar shops from around the nation.

First up is one of the finest modern guitar shops, geared towards helping the contemporary professional – Mesa Boogie Hollywood.  As many of you know, Mesa Boogie is an American amplification company.  Started by repair man Randall Smith, the company has its roots in the San Francisco Bay Area, with original clientele including Carlos Santana, The Grateful Dead and Keith Richards.  What initially started as “hot-rodding” Fender amps turned into the development of an entirely new amp company, MESA/Boogie.  Today, Mesa Boogie is one the premier amp manufacturers, and has a wide range of products, from classic rock tubes to modern heavy metal rectifiers.  One thing that’s unique about Mesa Boogie is their authenticity.  Although equally popular as some of the name brand amp companies, (Marshall, Vox, Fender) Mesa Boogie operates like a boutique manufacturer, not supplying mass-produced gear to Guitar Center or Sam Ash.  That is one of the very reasons for the Mesa Boogie Shop Hollywood.  Directly across the street from a booming Guitar Center, this store is an understated showroom for a refined company, stocking only the finest gear for the true aficionado.

Primarily, the Mesa Boogie Store is an outlet for Mesa Boogie amps.  They keep a great selection of new and used MB amps that exemplify their entire range of product.  Mesa Boogie is a custom shop – they take custom orders, and build custom amps one at a time – so this store is sort of showroom to give you all of the potential options in person.  Aside from testing out all of the amps, they are also swatches from all of the custom finish options and great examples of all the possible customizations you could order.

But aside from being a custom shop, the Mesa Boogie Hollywood store is just one of the best guitar shops in the world.  Their pedal selection is immense. This photo features one of about 7 cases filled with boutique pedals from Xotic to Suhr to Maxon and beyond.  As for guitars, they have a huge selection of amazing axes from some of the finest boutique builders.  Nash, Suhr, Collings, Mike Lull, and Sadowksy are just a few of the great brands they always have in stock.  They also have a massive selection of accessories, featuring tubes, pick ups, picks, and a custom-length cable station.  And did I mention they also have dozens of Mesa Boogie Amps?  Basically, this store is a dream come true for any modern guitar player looking for cutting edge gear.  You can walk in, grab a great axe, a fine pedal, and plug into a world-class amp – it’s a must visit.

So if you’re in Los Angeles, make sure to check out the Mesa Boogie Hollywood Store @ 7426 W Sunset Blvd.  Also, for inventory and a list of suppliers, check out the Mesa Boogie Hollywood website – you’ll be impressed!

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