16 minute read

MI Spy

LOOKING FOR FIRST-CLASS SERVICE IN THE FIRST STATE

I’m back! Your MI Spy is proud to announce I’m fully vaccinated and ready to go. Since we’ve now entered the brave new world of hybrid work, I may still take a break from the road here and there to conduct virtual visits, but this month, I was excited to get out and visit some stores in person.

The Chief was in a good mood and let me pick my assignment for this month, as long as it was somewhere on the east coast. I wanted to choose someplace I haven’t been in a while, so I decided on Delaware, land of beautiful beaches and no sales tax. The First State is also the home of rock ‘n roll guitarist George Thorogood, trumpeter Clifford Brown, jazz pianist Matthew Shipp and, of course, current president Joe Biden. (Even with my MI Spy skills, I couldn’t find any intel about whether President Biden plays an instrument. But rest assured, MI Spy fans: I emailed the White House to ask them before I left for my trip).

Delaware is small in size and population, and it doesn’t have a lot of music shops. There are a few high-quality stores that are doing a yeoman’s job of supplying the goods and nurturing the state’s homegrown music scene. However, your MI Spy did encounter a few disappointments during this excursion: I had the addresses for two stores I wanted to visit, and for the love of Pete, they were not there when I drove over! Another store had published an address for itself that turned out to be a UPS drop-off site. And then there was the store whose phone number was out of service. These are not problems your MI Spy was expecting do deal with, especially after guzzling multiple coffees.

Guitar Center 5141 Brandywine Parkway Wilmington, DE 19803 302.478.3831

Guitar Center (GC) stores are not all the same. And while GC stores share many similarities (logos, red guitar picks, a variety of instruments at a variety of prices), I have definitely noticed that each individual store has its quirks and its shtick.

One humorous gimmick of the Wilmington GC store is its display of broken instruments. The perhaps not-quite-museum-worthy exhibition was hanging up on a wall and consisted of four drum cymbals in various states of wretchedness surrounded by a broken snare drum. (One wonders if Keith Moon committed these offenses years ago.) Non-drummer that I am, I didn’t realize that such horrid things could be done to Zildjian cymbals! But far from being just an eyecatching bit of store decor, this display is actually meant to advertise a Pro Coverage policy that protects one’s investment in drums and gear.

Another item that caught my eye was a tantalizing blue Charvel electric guitar, encased behind glass, for sale at the intriguing price of $4,761. Overall, this Guitar Center, like most others, sells a wide variety of electric guitars, new and used, ranging from around $100 to a few thousand. This GC location also had one of the more impressive acoustic guitar and stringed instruments rooms that I’ve come across. It smelled sooooo good and woodsy, even through my mask. Besides guitars, they stocked ukes, mandolins, banjos and dobros. Martin Guitar and Taylor Guitar fans will be especially pleased by the selection here.

As for customer service, this GC was solid. As soon as I walked into the store, a young sales rep asked me cheerfully “Can I help

you?” (And he did, by telling me where the bathroom could be found. Again: Too much coffee.) Later, I had a chat with two staff members near the front of the store, who spoke with me about the newly arrived shipments of guitars that they had to break down. One of them, a guy clad in shorts, told me that “We got a big delivery, and we’ll be putting several electric guitars on the walls this afternoon.” They had a good amount of staff out on the floor to help the dozen or so customers in the store at the time.

GC Wilmington was following health protocols nicely; there were bottles of hand sanitizer around, arrows taped to the carpet showed customers how to flow about the store, and there were plenty of single-use red guitar picks available in jars for expectant string players. Neatly printed signs described how many customers should be in certain rooms at any one time, and we were asked to make requests before handling the instruments. This is the way things will be for a while, and this store was clear about it.

Overall, the store was neat, although a few sections needed some inventory replenishing. I noticed a healthy selection of used gear, in particular drum sets, that were neatly stacked near the restrooms. There were also two community bulletin boards that included a healthy assortment of notices. There was an impressive assortment of instrument accessories and gift items, including several discount bins. The “$30 and Under Deals” offerings included many items that could be bought for much less than $30. The percussion and novelty

instrument section was well stocked, and the store also had wellstocked sections for pro audio equipment and keyboards. (Sports fans should note that they also had on display some interesting Philadelphia team souvenirs; someone here sure likes the Phillies, Flyers and Eagles.)

One of the minor complaints I had about this GC location, which isn’t really its fault anyway, is that the strip mall of which it is a part is sprawling, and the flow of parking lots was kind of annoying. But there’s not much GC can do about that.

LOOKING FOR FIRST-CLASS SERVICE IN THE FIRST STATE

Music & Arts 4707 Kirkwood Highway Wilmington, DE 302.633.0600

The Music & Arts chain has four locations in Delaware, impressive for this small state. The Wilmington branch is part of a strip mall, and from the outside it didn’t look that big. But once inside, I saw how deep it was. There were a handful of rooms in the back dedicated to lessons, and while I stopped by, a drumming instructor was working with a student; the teacher conducted the lesson from the hallway while the student was set up in the rehearsal room. That’s one way to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

There were two young sales staff near the front, a gal and a guy, and we had a frank, lively discussion in which we compared standard brass instruments to a newfangled digitized version — namely, Roland’s line of Digital Wind Instruments. The guy — who strummed an unplugged electric guitar almost the whole time I was in the store — and the gal were both squarely in the camp that traditional brass instruments are far superior to the electronic versions, although they were cautiously nice enough about these electric thingies, which included a black model and a white model that were kind of futuristic in design. The guy said that “Those two models are quiet, or at least can be played pretty quietly. They’re good for travel and for practice.” (Heaven knows that when someone is wailing away on a sax, playing at odd hours where the walls are thin, then an instrument like this would be quite welcome. And these newish digital instruments can be played with your headphones on, so that no one but you and the mice can hear the product of your fingerwork.) However, the young woman was more passionate about this tech issue: “I know it’s the future to play an instrument like this one, but I still prefer the feel and sound of the traditional instruments,” she told me as she pointed to a wall that displayed several saxophones and other brass instruments. So there you have it, folks: young people don’t always prefer the newer, digital way of doing things. The youth has spoken!

Speaking of the youth, this shop seemed geared more toward the younger musician, with a lot of beginner items and sheet music for that crowd. But just about any musician, kid or adult, would find something worthwhile here. There was a good supply of electric and acoustic guitars and amps, as well as accessories. In fact, they had for sale a few of the prettiest guitar straps I’ve seen in ages. They had an assortment of ukuleles, including a Billie Eilish Fender uke for, gulp, $299.99. They had some of the colored trombones (blue, black, etc.) and hued trumpets too. (So you could literally play the blues. Ha.) There was also a fun display of classroom instruments (for when you

really need that new plastic ocarina).

This location also stocked an impressive selection of sheet music and books beyond its offerings for beginners. I really wanted to see someone buy that “Beatles for Marimba” book. Or maybe I’ll win the lottery someday and buy both a marimba and that book for myself. I was also taken by “Songs from Frozen, Tangled and Enchanted,” which offered arrangements for Alto sax. (“Frozen, Tangled and Enchanted” would make a good name for a cocktail ... but don’t tell the kids.)

On the whole, the Wilmington Music & Arts location was neat but not intimidatingly pristine, with clear price tags and stickers and a welcoming vibe. Staff members wore their masks (and correctly), and there were hand sanitizer bottles spread about the store. Overall, this store seemed like a good option for purchases and lessons.

Accent Music 5810-A Kirkwood Hwy. Wilmington, DE 19808 302.999.9939

Accent Music was started by a father and son team in 1988 and prides itself as “A local Family Business with Strong Roots in the Community.” Its logo features an accent mark above a music note (“Accent Music” — get it?), so great job on branding there. Your MI Spy was glad to see an independent shop for musicians in the Wilmington market, and particularly one that offers sales, lessons, repairs and related services.

Accent Music won my heart, at least briefly, for offering one of the tiniest violins I’ve seen that wasn’t a toy. One section of a wall had a display of seven violins, including the tiny instrument in question. I asked about it, and one of the workers told me “It’s real, and it’s for

the really little kids and their tiny hands.” Alas, my hands were a tad too big to try it out.

There were many other aspects about Accent that I appreciated. For one, it has an intriguing selection of “world instruments” for sale, including tablas, rebabs, bells, percussion pieces from around the globe, and even bagpipes. I also got a smile from its “Used Music Exchange.” Can you guess what this would be? It’s a box of free sheet music for anyone to take from and contribute toward. Yup, “give what you no longer need” or “take what you can use.” It’s a good neighbor policy in action, a concept so low-tech that the kids these days might call it “vintage.” Your MI Spy calls it “recyclerepurpose-reuse.”

Accent seemed to have just about every major musical instrument, from acoustic and electric guitars (including some droolworthy, high-end models), pianos and keyboards, brass (even a cool French horn), violins, and drum sets and percussion (complete with two types of prayer tambourines). It also had a few marching xylophones (or should I call them glockenspiels, or even a bell kit?). And there were many different accessories available.

This store, neat and tidy as it was for the most part, did have a bit of the “roam around” feel to it. This is something that musical instrument stores should have, but many don’t: the sense that if you snoop around enough and you’re adventurous, you might find something cool and unusual to try and buy. Accent Music has that feeling for sure.

The store also has a treasure trove’s worth of sheet music and books, and some general music books. The title “88+ Ways Music Can Change Your Life” caught my eye. Look it up online, guys; several lesser-known but still accomplished musicians contributed to

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One wall had a few shelves of CDs with artists of which I was unfamiliar. I asked one of the workers about this: “Are these local bands?” He smiled slightly and said “Yeah, about 10 years ago.” But their music is still there for you to buy. (I felt somewhat reassured that compact discs are still a thing. I guess not everyone is making TikTok videos to promote their bands these days.) This worker and I also chatted about a gorgeous Danelectro guitar model on the floor, which he said had a great sound. And at about $430, it wasn’t priced outrageously.

Accent Music welcomes you at the front of the store with big posters of the Beatles and Beethoven — talk about your all-time great songwriters. Once inside, the store is kind of sprawling, but not difficult to navigate. The repair area and the practice rooms are set further back. The floor staff was masked, and there were some bottles of hand sanitizer placed around the store.

Earle Teat Music 3098 N. Dupont Highway Dover, DE 19901 302.736.1937

I had to drive on over to Dover to find another music store to explore. Fortunately it was a sunny day, and I didn’t get mired in much traffic (except near a small highway that was getting repaved — a great smell if you’re a henchman of Beelzebub).

The trip south was worth it for a visit to Earle Teat Music. Guitars and drums and percussion are the big draws here. When I first entered the store, a customer and a worker were finishing up playing scales on two electric guitars. (Never forget to practice the basics, kids.) The store had an impressive amount of acoustic Martin Guitars. (By the way, if you ever get a chance to visit their factory, do so. It’s an amazing experience.)

I asked one of the store workers to recommend electric guitars in the $300 price range, of course while I was eyeing a much more expensive guitar. The worker told me “We have many great brands within that range. I feel the best values right now are from Ibanez, Fender and Epiphone.” He pointed out a few of those guitars to me, and I was impressed with the number they had. This place had a pretty deep selection of electric guitars.

At one point while I was there, a customer came in without a mask on his face, and everyone else just gawked at him. Then a worker said, casually but firmly, “Hey, man, you gotta mask like everyone else.” The would-be customer smirked and said a not-sopolite word, and walked out the store. Then everyone remaining laughed. “Comic relief,” I heard another worker say.

After that, a dad and his two school-age girls came into the store and were looking at the instruments on display. The workers were very nice but not patronizing to the kids. It’s always good to see a music store’s staff be welcoming to the next generation of musicmakers. Overall, the staff were conscientious and the store was neat, and the selection at Earle Teat Music included items at a variety of prices.

The Sale

My jaunt through Delaware was enjoyable (even if I couldn’t find a special pizza place I was looking for). I was pleased with all the stores I visited, but my top vote this time around goes to Accent Music. Proudly indie and offering a wide selection of items in several price ranges, this is a store that caters to people of all different musicality levels and wallet weights. And it has a bit of a casual museum quality to it, the kind of which I’ve seen in only one or two other music stores. But I have to say, the other three stores were all strong contenders, and I was pleased by the professionalism on display in all locations.

But I still haven’t found out if President Biden, Delaware’s most high-profile person, even plays an instrument! All I got in response from the White House was a polite form letter but no answer to my question. C’mon, does anyone know the answer to this?

GIBSON LAUNCHES GIBSON GARAGE

Gibson on June 9 officially launched Gibson Garage, where guitar players can embrace the “ultimate guitar experience” and try electric and acoustic guitars from a variety of brands. The 8,000-square-foot shop opened to the public at the historic Cummins Station located on 209 10th Ave. in Nashville, Tenn. Seasoned professional musicians, casual guitar players, beginners and music fans alike can add this to their itinerary when visiting Nashville.

Gibson Garage enables visitors to explore and shop the collections; experience exclusive, live music performances; catch a taping of the Gibson TV series; and explore generations of music history, including the stories behind the music with captivating, interactive installations and programming. “The Gibson Garage is the ultimate guitar experience where our past, present and future comes to life for fans and artists right here in Music City,” said James “JC” Curleigh, CEO of Gibson Brands. “This is also our opportunity to contribute to the amazing music and guitar culture that we’ve been a part of for over a century. We can’t wait to share the Gibson Garage with our fans and future fans.”

“The Gibson Garage is the epitome of when the legendary creativity of the original brand perfectly coincides with the vision of the future of the modern electric and acoustic guitar,” added guitarist Joe Bonamassa. “Congratulations on a job well done.”

Fans across the globe that were unable to visit Nashville on June 9 experienced the Gibson Garage global grand opening via the global virtual concert “Gibson Live: A Celebration of Artists to Benefit Gibson Gives,” on Gibson TV. The concert featured performances from Warren Haynes, Margo Price, Kip Moore, James Bay, Sergio Vallin of Maná, Lzzy Hale and Joe Hottinger of Halestorm, Marcus King, Orianthi, Samantha Fish, Morgan Wade, Sadler Vaden, Tak Matsumoto, Celisse, Emily Wolfe, Jared James Nichols with Joe Bonamassa and more.

The opening event also benefited Gibson Gives — the charitable arm of Gibson — which supports musicians worldwide and is committed to making the world a better place by creating and supporting other non-profit organizations in their efforts to advance musicians, as well as youth-focused education and wellness initiatives. All donations went to two powerful organizations making positive changes: MusiCares and Save the Music.

Gibson hopes its Garage will be a new can't-miss location for people visiting Nashville. Open to the public, it is being dubbed the "ultimate guitar experience," where guitarists can try out electric and acoustic guitars from a variety of brands, plus much more.