Music Stores Musical Instruments

YouTube Find: Casino Guitars

Although I’m not the guitar nut that I was, say, 20 years ago, I still like to pick up different guitars, be they acoustic or electric, and strum away! Some things only a guitar enthusiast would understand goes on during this ritual, like the feel of the neck, the tone coming off of the body, and a few dozen other actions. Whether it is cars, motorcycles, beer cans, baseball memorabilia, or guitars, enthusiasts have a passion about something that the people around him do not quite understand.

That’s why I like these guys. Casino Guitars is a music store in North Carolina that is not just another Guitar Center. They treat the buying and selling of guitars like an adoption agency, which means that they REALLY love and care about guitars. The store has a YouTube page that is absolute entertainment. Two of the employees/owners(?) of the store (Baxter Clement and Jonathan Robinson) post a video about once a week to discuss guitars or rock/pop music in general.

When I first watched one of their videos, I thought that it looked like someone from Duck Dynasty talking guitar smack with Robert Smith from The Cure. They both look like guitar geeks somewhat, but also look like they would NEVER be in the same room together. However, as I got to listening to them, they were a lot like me. Not in looks or in presentation, but in passion for the guitar.

What is more likeable about Baxter and Jonathan is that they totally respect their fan base viewers. I’ve commented a number of times on their vlogs, whether it be praise, disagreement, or just to swipe a humorous insult. Sure enough, within a day or two, one of them will reply with a comeback or even a simple thanks for the suggestion. In short, they actually READ the comments, which 99% of YouTube vloggers do not. They make you feel like you are part of the conversation, and know that the people watching them are just like them – guitar enthusiasts.

Watching Baxter and Jonathan is like sitting in with them and talking guitars as well. Think of sitting around a music store that is welcoming, not a big-box place, and being able to BS about stuff we all love. The only thing missing is the bottle of bourbon to pass around (although I do have a rocks glass of Makers Mark close by).

Enough of the talk! I recommend that if you are into talking about guitars and guitar-oriented music, then check the Casino Guitars YT page and enjoy.

Chew on it and comment.

PS: Rest in Peace Alex Trebek and Sean Connery.

Music Stores

I Miss Mars Music

I miss Mars Music. I’ll explain.

We can order just about anything we want for our musical instrument needs through the internet. Before the Coronavirus pandemic, it could arrive in a matter of a day or two. Once the pandemic kicked in, package delivery now takes weeks. When it comes to a lot of music stuff, especially instruments, you usually don’t want to just order them – you want to sit down and try them out, take them for a test-drive.

For months, music stores were considered non-essential, so the doors were bolted shut. Now, some are open on a limited basis or by appointment. Moreover, some mom-and-pop ones have gone out of business never to return. It is a sad state of affairs.

I love music stores. To me there are two kinds: the big-box ones like Guitar Center, and the specialty smaller ones that cater to enthusiasts. I always looked at it like going out to eat. If you want something fast and maybe cheaper and are not too picky about the outcome, you go to McDonald’s. If you want to get the best steak available and are willing to pay for it in money and time, you go to a five-star restaurant.

As for the big-box music store, there is really only one out now: Guitar Center. The immediate competition is minimal. Music-Go-Round is not much of competition as far as offerings, seems to concentrate on used gear, and is limited in locations. Sam Ash is even more limited in locations and relies heavily on internet orders. GC has its ear to the ground, with numerous locations and prices that are reasonable in most cases. They really do not have any brick-and-mortar competition.

It wasn’t always that way. For a few years, from 1996 until about 2002, GC had intense competition from Mars Music. MM was founded by Mark Begelman, a former president of Office Depot and an avid guitarist. After being disappointed by an experience at a local music store, he started up MM with the intent of selling decent equipment at affordable prices and no pushy salespeople. It worked for a while. Stores were in 20 states, and it was innovative in setting up music education programs and charity programs.

What I loved about MM was that it was competitive with GC in pricing, especially with accessories. I never really purchased any big-ticket items from either store, but I relied on them for quick and easy access to strings, cords, picks, straps, and other stuff that breaks and needs replacement right away. When MM opened, they had their own brand of such items, and they were extremely affordable. You could get a box of 10 set of guitar strings for about $20.00. A set of bass strings would be about $7.00. GC shortly started selling their own brand of accessories as well at bargain prices.

Begelman had a great heart. He knew musicians liked to try out instruments and did not have a lot of money. MM was in many ways more comfortable and welcoming than GC, but the main idea there was competition. Both knew there was a decent-sized market out there, and both went to extremes to get that cash.

Sadly, MM went bankrupt within a few years due to expansion problems and poor investments. It was literally a one-day-open-next-day-closed situation. I thought about all of that branded stuff going nowhere. GC kept going, but phased out most of its budgeted self-branded accessories. While GC still has relatively good prices, there is not that competitive feel for the small-ticket items.

Recently, I needed to purchase a budget gig bag for a cheap Chinese bass guitar that I got brand new for around $65.00. I just needed a glorified dust covering, not a hardshell case or a bells-and-whistle soft case gig bag. Surfing the internet, it was extremely hard to find even a cheap-quality gig bag for under $25.00 plus shipping. I finally found one that come to about $20.00 with tax and shipping. I got it through the mail a week after ordering, and it was not much more than sewn canvas with a zipper.

This experience made me think about how much I miss Mars. Back then, I remember getting a few gig bags that were of the same quality as this recent one for about $8.00. It had the MM brand emblazoned on it, but who cares? It did its job at a musician’s price. Times change, and I realize that a lot of good things disappear. Only competition can keep the things we love affordable.

Chew on it and comment.