The Guitar Shoppe celebrates 40 years of serving Laguna locals and famous musicians alike. –By Micaela Myers
“We are not really a music store, we are a guitar ‘pro shop,’ ” Kirk explains. “We have 10 professional teachers that are world class; several are published music educators. We consider the Guitar Shoppe to be more a ‘School of Guitar,’ covering playing, repairing, building and vintage guitar history.
“Our repair and restoration service is second to none and is headed up by luthier Mark Angus, a California legend,” he continues. “People send us guitars from all over the country to have their special instrument worked on by our staff.”
The Guitar Shoppe has also been building custom instruments for world famous guitarists for more than 30 years. “My electric nylon string guitar designs have been utilized by prestigious companies like Gibson USA and are now being sought by Fender Musical Instruments,” Kirk says.
“This year is The Guitar Shoppe’s 40th anniversary,” he adds. “It has been such a pleasure to live and work in this beautiful art colony on the coast of California. It just doesn’t get any better than this.”
Laguna Beach Magazine recently chatted with Kirk and Jim about the store’s history and future.
LBM: What are your backgrounds and what do you each love about operating the shop?
KS: I grew up with a guitar in my hands. Starting with the folk scene in the early ’60s and then of course the rock ‘n’ roll era. Things drastically changed in 1964 with the British invasion. I went on to study classical guitar, jazz guitar, and now I am too busy building guitars to practice. I now play guitar as a hobby and build and sell guitars for a living.
I think the thing I love most about operating the Guitar Shoppe is meeting all the great guitar players and keeping up on all the latest guitar technology.
JM: I thought it might be an interesting job for four or five years. That was four decades ago! My graduate degree in psychology has been put to use many times in dealing with special customers or visitors, employees and myself. I should have got the Ph.D.! Be careful about making your hobby your career. Many people jealously think Kirk and I sit around and play guitar all day … we nurture their fantasy and wish it were true.
LBM: Who are some of the famous musicians that have stopped by? Tell us a couple stories!
KS: We have had many famous guitarists from all styles of music visit our store over the years.
Mr. Guitar himself, Chet Atkins, was here several times. I built several guitars for him over the years. Chet even came to the shop and put on a private concert for us, followed by a Q&A from all the guitarists lucky enough to be here that evening.
Jose Feliciano has been a very loyal patron of the Guitar Shoppe and visited us often over the last 30 years. We have built him many guitars. We are proud to have a new Signature Jose Feliciano model coming out soon. There will be a very limited number built, and they will be sold exclusively through Jose himself.
Richie Sambora has been a long-standing customer of ours. We have built a few guitars for him and done a lot of other guitar business with him as well.
John Sebastian stopped in once to buy a harmonica. That was fun, if you are old enough to remember Lovin’ Spoonful. Multiple Grammy Award-winning Lauryn Hill had a couple custom guitars built for her here. When she came by for a visit one day, her tour bus took up the entire block. There was no parking in front of the Guitar Shoppe that day. We still had throngs of people stopping in and calling to see whose huge tour bus was at the Guitar Shoppe.
Besides the aforementioned guitarists, the list of famous players we have served is very long. Jerry Reed, Kevin Eubanks, Lenny Breau, Doyle Dykes, Tommy Emmanuel, Steve Wariner to name a few. Of course, many stars dress down and don’t announce themselves. The dropped jaws of customers are often our clue!
Guitarists from [The] Black Crowes, Korn, Green Day and Foo Fighters, and Donovan Frankenreiter are just some of the young virtuosos who frequent the Guitar Shoppe. Unfortunately due to our advanced age, Jim and I don’t know them as well. That’s when young guitar playing store managers save the day. Ben Wagner and Sean Copeland manage the Guitar Shoppe and are the true superstars in our book!
LBM: Have any of your students (who took lessons there) gone on to music careers?
KS: We have had several of our students become professional musicians. Tom Dumont is one example. He took lessons from Will Brady. He is now the guitarist in No Doubt and has a Grammy to show for it. Other students have gone on to play in the orchestra pit in the large theaters around the country. Some have made a career of playing in Las Vegas. The number of professionals we have started in a professional career are numerous, but the number of students we have started on a lifetime of musical enjoyment is countless.
LBM: How has the shop evolved over the years, and where do you see it going in the future?
KS: The Guitar Shoppe has evolved over these 40 years into a guitar player’s heaven. We haven’t used anyone else’s business plan to be successful. We just followed our gut instinct and did it all for the love of our favorite instrument. Jim and I are very fortunate to have a great crew of young guys to keep this unique business going for what we hope will be many decades to come. The combination of products and services that we offer to beginners, hobbyists and pros is simply not available on the Internet. Thankfully, it never will be.
LBM: Anything else you’d like to add?
JM: It’s all really like episodes of “Cheers” or “Friends”; people come into the Guitar Shoppe story and others drift away. Some stay on and become a part of the next season. You’re welcome to stop by … you might find it hard to leave. LBM