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Vintage guitar shops offer eclectic, quality instruments

Reuben Cox turned a living room into his guitar shop, which is frequented by celebrity musicians. The Old Style Guitar Shop in Silver Lake uses recycled wood from furniture and dumpsters, along with vintage parts, to create eco-friendly guitars from top-quality wood.

By Shannon Cosgrove

May 4, 2011 1:56 a.m.

Nicole Carnarius

A map of the music stores located in Westwood.

You want to try on a pair of shoes before you buy them, right? Well, the same goes for guitars and other musical equipment. And despite the affordability and availability of online markets such as eBay and corporate giants like Guitar Center, dedicated vindicators of vintage can still be found in Los Angeles’ independent guitar and amp stores.

Corporate globalization has led to the outsourcing of instrument production to India and Vietnam, where cheap labor and transportation costs may take away from the quality of the instruments ““ it’s just not the same as the old-school local handmade products that seem to last forever. And musicians notice.

Reuben Cox turned a living room in Silver Lake into his Old Style Guitar Shop to fill the instrumental needs of the musical community there. Now more instruments than furniture deck the intimate space. Cox said he accompanied his wife, a high-ranking employee at Beggars Group, to Los Angeles, where he now makes guitars for Sufjan Stevens, Cat Power and the indie rock band The National.

Cox said such celebrity musicians don’t get any special treatment, and at the prices he sells his equipment for, they don’t really need it.

Cox applies his economical approach to obtaining parts, using recycled wood from furniture and dumpsters, along with vintage parts from the 1960s. This tactic is eco-friendly, and Cox said some of the old wood he finds is of top quality.

Old instruments are like crystal balls ““ inside every one is a story, Cox said. Musicians are sometimes drawn to the personal touch that history adds to an instrument. And in a store like Old Style, where you can be on a first-name basis with the owners and get all the custom gear you need, that personal touch is ever-present.

Fourth-year anthropology student Gal Bushy is a classic gear connoisseur who said he appreciates good customer service in addition to the swagger and twang of vintage guitars and amps. He said he is very fond of the cigarette box amp (which fits inside a cigarette box) that he bought at Truetone Music in Santa Monica.

Bushy said he also shops at California Vintage Guitar & Amp, which boasts a wide selection of guitars and amps, such as the Marshall Plexi 45. He said he felt like a kid in a candy store ““ that is, if the Tootsie Pop he was after were $10,000.

Though the price tags of these relics keep the average musician at bay, they can still ogle their dream equipment, pieces of art in a playable museum. Bushy even said he saw Joe Bonamassa, a blues rock guitarist, in California Vintage Guitar & Amp, which was a validation of his choice to frequent the store.

Vintage stores may not have shiny new toys, but they do have time-tested quality instruments. Bushy said he prefers older point-to-point circuits in his amps rather than modern wiring boards that need to be completely replaced if one component breaks.

According to Bushy, he looks for tube amps to provide a natural tone and overdrive that respond more to his playing than do solid state amps ““ though the versatility of the multiple channels in solid state amps has its perks.

In the age of easy but impersonal music video games like Rock Band, many musicians still turn to that vintage sound and quality they know will last, choosing poplar over plastic and jamming outside the box.

If you are a vintage vindicator, email Cosgrove at
[email protected]

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