Guitar Gavel podcast with John Shults- True Vintage Guitar's founder and Guitar Safari Expert
John Shults, guitar hunter and founder of truevintageguitar.com is this week's Guitar Gavel podcast guest.
There is so much goodness in this podcast a summary just won't capture it all. We hear from John about how he got his start flipping guitars, how it evolved into a business, and what the future looks like for True Vintage Guitar.
Along the way he shares some absolutely amazing stories of his successes and not so successful safari's. On top of it all John has a natural talent for storytelling and will keep you holding your breath as he unveils the twists and turns of his adventures. His encyclopedia-like knowledge of guitars is on display as he shows off a 1958 Les Paul Custom and 1960 Gibson Les Paul Special in the original TV Yellow finish.
While visiting my in-laws in Nashville this weekend I brokered a day away from the family to spend time seeing as many guitar stores as possible on a Saturday afternoon. My findings are not intended to be a definitive guide to Nashville guitar stores and there were a couple of good stores that were either closed or I could not squeeze-in to the agenda. That said, I hope you find the insight and my shared experiences helpful if you have a chance to make the trip. Plus most of these stores have their inventory online so now that you have a feel for their offerings you can visit their virtual store when shopping.
The link to the full archive of pictures categorized by store: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/17tFuMq1Kmrda6JrJlFlmTaZiqY91N4na?usp=sharing
SHOCKER!! Nashville is generally a Fender or Gibson town and specifically leans towards Les Paul’s, Strat’s, and Tele’s. If you are a longtime reader of the newsletter you know I prefer to write about guitars with historical importance, lean in the oddball direction, or have their roots in Japan or 80s metal. Therefore, when I walk into a guitar store here they can turn vanilla to my eyes very quickly as I’m looking for a handful of guitars that are in the minority. I say all of that… my dream guitar is an early 1970s Thinline Tele.
My Favorite: Eastside Music Supply
This was my second trip to this store and I fall more in love with each visit. It’s a smaller shop with only used guitars and amps and an eclectic variety at that. There is also a wall of effects pedals but my focus was specifically guitars so that is the recurring theme in this article. At Eastside I found three guitars off the beaten path that quickly caught my eye- a Harptone from 1969, a 1970s Aria Pro II Les Paul with a fancy vine inlay, and an early generation Yamaha SA-50 semi-hollow body from the late 1960s or early 70s.
The Harptone 510C is the same body style as a Standel 510S and was only produced in 1969. Harptone was based in Newark, NJ at the time and had been an instrument case manufacturer since the 1880s. Notably, Martin used Harptone hard cases for their guitars as early as the 1920s. Harptone’s first guitars were acoustics built in 1965 under the Supreme brand exclusively for Sam Ash. Sam Koontz, a very skilled luthier was in charge of the Harptone line of guitars, and they made a few hundred Standel branded guitars, hence the body style and model naming convention between the two. Sam left Harptone in 1970 to build guitars for himself, mostly archtop electrics, of which he produced just shy of 200 guitars before passing away in 1981. His guitars are works of art and can fetch north of $50,000. The Harptone being offered at Eastside Music is not only beautiful, but historically rare.
Best Up and Coming Store: Lane Music
Lane has been around for a long time and has stores in Memphis and Knoxville. Pianos are their bread and butter, but recently the owner has spent significant resources and time building out a massive guitar division in the upstairs of their Nashville location. My new friend Scott Knight recommended I visit this store and I was lucky enough to spend about an hour hanging with Todd, the manager and Scott’s longtime friend. Todd was super cool and has spent 25 years in the retail music business so he was an encyclopedia of information. Plus he has the most wicked hair ever, think Dog The Bounty Hunter with Nashville class. Most of their inventory is new so there wasn’t any vintage hunting going on, but he had eight or ten Teye guitars which are essentially unicorns. The one pictured (terrible picture) is entirely handmade and is the 20th guitar ever made by the company. These highest end Teye guitars feature hand engravings and abalone inlays, inspired by Zemaitis guitars. The retail sticker on this one is $12,000.
Best Hidden Gem: Fanny’s House of Music
While I don’t really think there are any secret honey hole guitar stores in Nashville this one was a hoot. Based in East Nashville I was tipped off to this store by an employee at Eastside Music and not Google. The building is an old house and also sells clothes and other accessories, but their guitars were right up my alley with a dedicated acoustic/folk room and electric/amp room. Among the various Danelectro’s there were some very cool Epiphone archtops and jazz boxes including a 1951 Epiphone Zephyr and 1951 Epiphone Triumph Regent.
The biggest surprise at this store was a Galanti Grand Prix from Italy. Galanti Electro Music company of Mandaino, Italy was founded in 1917 by Antonio Galanti and three of his eight sons. The company originally built accordions but when that slowed down and the Beatles driven guitar craze fired-up in the 1960s, Galanti pivoted towards guitars. The guitar line was short-lived lasting from approximately 1962 to 1968 and Galanti’s most popular model was the Grand Prix, available in a two, three, or four pickup version.
Best Used Prices: Nashville Used and New
This is a great guitar store located in a strip mall in a less-posh side of town. It’s a full-service store with school band instruments and a drum room. There are plenty of new instruments and I was happy to see a little wall devoted to new Aria Pro’s and Danelectro’s. Plus they had some shredders and super strats which was refreshing. My favorite guitar on this stop was an early 80s neck-through Ibanez MC-150 sitting next to a vintage Hamer.
Best Curated: Rumble Seat
Last time I visited Rumble Seat the owner Eliot Michael was at the store and graciously gave me plenty of his time to talk guitars. This was about 10 months ago and Eliot mentioned how nice it was not to be a tourist attraction. I’m afraid that has changed, but perhaps the limited parking helps to temper this store as a destination. The historical Gibson/Fender guitars in Rumble Seat is unrivaled and I found two dream machine and one is not a Gibson. After making a 3-second scan of guitars on the floor I instantly noticed a massive Dean headstock attached to an original 1981 Dean ML. A few minutes later I found my dream guitar- a 1977 Fender Thinline Tele in a natural finish. Other notables included era specific Jackson’s and Charvel’s and 1978 B.C. Rich Eagle. In the Fender or Gibson category if you are looking to spend $15,000 - $40,000 on a guitar Rumble seat is your place and it’s an absolute must-see if you come to town.
Best Tourist Spots: Gruhn and Gibson Garage
I won’t spend much time on these. What sets Gruhn’s apart is the amazing inventory of new acoustic/folk instruments from the biggest brands in the world so if you are an acoustic player this is your spot! On this trip the vintage electric guitar stockpile was diminished compared to my last visit. George Gruhn never set out to be a worldwide destination, but that’s what his store has become and the ambience reflects that. It’s not a bad thing, it just is what it is.
The Gibson Garage is intended to be a tourist destination and it has every Gibson, Epiphone, and new Kramer you can imagine. The store is world class with plenty of sales associates and armed security guards and if you are a huge Gibson fan then you would be in heaven. It’s a busy place and impossible for Gibson to create any type of “home like” atmosphere. The sticker prices on all the guitars are full retail so unless they negotiate you won’t find a good deal. The absolute coolest part of the Garage is the motorized track of hundreds of Gibson’s/Epiphone’s circling 20 feet above the showroom floor.
I did not make it to Carter’s and hands down it has the largest and most diverse vintage electric inventory in Nashville. As of this writing I have 2.5 hours to get over there before they close, but even if I make it I don’t have time to squeeze it into this article.
Again, this isn’t a definitive guide to Nashville guitar stores, but more of my personal preferences given the time that I had. Thanks for reading and below is a link to the complete picture database. I was cramming so much into my day that I didn’t have time to methodically document each guitar with a model description and price.
“Lick Of The Week” with Will Ray, founding member of the Hellecasters
Open string triplets and pointy diagonal chords in the key of G.