Buying a guitar in this digital day and age can be tricky. Although there exists an abundance of online stores where customers can browse everything from neon-yellow Daisy Rocks to electric-blue Danelectros, the options at times can be overwhelming.
While the knowledgeable collector can sometimes discover hidden gems on sites such as Ebay and Craigslist, most often the beautifully pictured “vintage collector’s item” is actually a well-disguised “second-hand piece of crap.”
And for the beginner, the endless bombardment of (so-called) deals on sites such as MusiciansFriend.com, GuitarTrader.com and SamAsh.com can be confusing, and, not to mention, misleading.
There is no doubt that for some, buying guitars through online dealers can be convenient. But for most, nothing beats picking up a fresh axe and shredding that timeless solo to “Stairway To Heaven” within the guitar-laden walls of a local music store. And luckily for those of us in Ithaca, at least two shops exist that are perfect for beginners, experts and collectors alike — Ithaca Guitar Works and Rumble Seat Music.
Ithaca Guitar Works
Everybody can find all the guitars, gear and guidance they desire at the Ithaca Guitar Works in the DeWitt Mall. Packed to the rafters with acoustic and electric guitars of every size, shape and color, Guitar Works carries somewhere between 600 and 1,000 guitars, although owner Chris Broadwell “[hasn’t] really counted.”
“We try to cater to everybody’s pocketbooks,” he said. From the $80 nylon string miniature — a perfect starter for a seven-year-old — to the mind-warping Fender Virtual Stratocaster, Guitar Works has an abundance of options for every type of player.
The store also has a rich history. In 1969, John Ellis founded The Guitar Workshop on Eddy Street in Collegetown. Four years later he moved the shop to the corner of Seneca and Cayuga in downtown Ithaca, into the building now known as the Historic DeWitt Mall. Ellis sold the shop in 1978, and the new owners changed the name to Ithaca Guitar Works. In 1996, Chris Broadwell became the sole proprietor of the shop and still runs it today.
Famous musicians such as G. E. Smith, Duke Robillard, Buck Dharma of the Blue Oyster Cult and Stevie Ray Vaughn have all passed through their humble doors — Courtney Love even once bought a guitar from the shop!
Ithaca Guitar Works has three teachers offering lessons in practice studios above the shop. The store remains a place where everybody from gigging musicians to Sunday strummers can find what they need.
Rumble Seat Music
Most players can find what they need at their local guitar shop — a new axe and plenty of attention — but for those serious collectors who crave a mint-condition, first-edition guitar, taking a trip to Rumble Seat Music is the best bet.
“We’re a museum style music store,” said Eliot Michael, owner. The shop deals vintage and used guitars and acts as a “warehouse and museum,” Michael said, for many one-of-a-kind and extremely rare instruments.
These showpieces include a 1952 Fender Telecaster “Blonde,” a slew of Fender Telecasters and Stratocasters from the 1960s, a 1952 first-year Gibson Les Paul “Goldtop” and hundreds of other Gibson, Gretsch and Fender guitars.
The store sells an average of three to five guitars a day, but they manage to do so “with little to no local business at all,” Michael said. Customers usually contact the store by email or phone — over the past 14 years, Rumble Seat has established a world-wide reputation and collectors understand the store to be one of the best in the business.
Guitar icons such as the Rolling Stones, John Mayer and AC/DC have all bought instruments from Rumble Seat. Other celebrity-musicians such as Steven Seagal and Kiefer Sutherland have also found guitars from the shop.
But why base this world famous store in Ithaca?
“We live here,” Michael said, plainly.
Even though the store boasts an impressive list of customers, the owners are simply passionate about the instruments they sell and play. They welcome all music lovers — and also, those who are just curious — to Rumble Seat.