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Guitar Avenue






GuitarAvenue - Specialist in Rare and Vintage Guitars




Here Digger talks to Gary at Guitar Avenue about his hobby-turned-business. Gary has forty years experience in the field and specialises in iconic vintage guitars. Guitar Avenue now has a worldwide reputation for service and quality.





Digger: Good morning Gary.

Gary: Morning David. 

Digger: How are you? 

Gary: Good thanks. 

Digger: Can you please tell us a little bit of the background to Guitar Avenue and your background too? 

Gary: Yes, my personal background... I first purchased a Gibson guitar in 1969 from new.

Digger: You're a youngster!

Gary: Yes, whilst I worked at a music store as a job. Then I went to hear a band called Free in March 1970 at The Lyceum and decided that the old guitar that Paul Kossoff was playing was much more interesting than the new Les Paul Deluxe that I was using.

Digger: Yes. How young were you when you started to learn to play?

Gary: About fifteen.
Digger: That's relatively late, really.
Gary: Yes, relatively late by a lot of standards. But I learned pretty quickly, so within two years I could pretty much play any music.

Digger: You must have got a lot of blisters?
Gary: Yes, but I had a musical background and I think that helped to throw me forwards a little bit.

Digger: You could read music?
Gary: Yes, and that helped. I used to play other instruments. So then I bought my first 1959 Les Paul Standard in 1970. I was one of the first people to buy one other than the likes of Page, Clapton and Peter Green. That was the start of that. And I've had an interest in buying and selling guitars from then. But the Guitar Avenue business has been going just on twenty years as a full time business. I was doing various businesses over the years, all sorts of things really, but the passion was always there for guitars. I was always really active in collecting, buying and selling. I've been going at it for twenty years as a full-time job. We did have a period with a guitar shop which was in Brentwood. We supplied The Guitarist magazine with most of their centre page collectables for the best part of a year.

Digger: I went to see a mod band called Shake101 down in Brentwood a month ago. Very good.
Gary: Yes, I've heard about them. I didn't feel good about being locked into a store six days a week and, at the time, I was still seeing people after hours and at weekends for collectable guitars.  With a lot of people who want to buy these you still need to go and see them and understand their circumstances.

Digger: And you probably got a lot of people coming into the shop just to have a nose around?
Gary: Yes. My argument with the shop is that it only really sells the regular low end stuff. It can be a little uninteresting.

Digger: What gives you the most pleasure from running the Guitar Avenue business?
Gary: That's easy really. Travelling, not having firm hours and meeting a complete assortment of fruitcakes!

Digger: (Laughs) I love fruitcakes.
Gary: Yeah. You're probably one of them.

Digger: I probably am actually.
Gary: People who are extreme. We've sold guitars to people for 20,000 and tried to talk them out of it because it was every penny they had. The good news is that twenty years later they became rich from having them.

Digger: So don't listen to your advice then! "Don't buy it." (Laughs)
Gary: I would say to people "Buy because you're passionate that you want the guitar and you can afford to collect it."

Digger: I agree. I've got this rule. A couple of times I have seen something I liked and been able to afford it but not bought it, then gone back later and it was gone. So now I think it's important that if it's right and you've got the money then buy it.
Gary: Yes. But you've got to have a bit of a passion. There are people who just buy guitars because they're going up. Nothing wrong with that but at the same time I would say buy it because you enjoy it. Otherwise you've got lumps of money tied up. But yes, it's been very good because of the freedom and travelling and we meet people from every walk of life.

Digger: You're meeting ordinary people but probably a few celebrities as well?
Gary: Most celebrity business is done via their guitar technicians. And although we have a small celebrity client base - Oasis, Mark Knopfler, the late Gary Moore, Bryan Adams, Eric Clapton - we don't get to see these people. It's nice to have supplied the celebrity, especially when you see your equipment used, that's a big plus. But we're very happy to deal with people from all walks of life really.

Digger: What are your Unique Selling Points?
Gary: One of the changes in the business has been Google. And Mr Google has been good for a lot of our customers because they've managed to cut out the thirty or forty years experience I've had. And now they're managing to find that they can buy direct from the source. So that's a plus for the customers. The two downsides for them are that firstly, if they come to us they'll probably find that they'll get the instrument for the same price because we get pretty good dealer discounts. So they could get the benefit of our experience and advice effectively for nothing. And the second thing, which is more importantly, that lots of people come to us with bad guitars that they've acquired via The Net. We try not to get too involved once they've bought a bad one because it doesn't do us any good. But, at the same time, beware of buying from abroad on The Internet because it's a lot more difficult to return goods. Especially when VAT and duty probably compound to about 30% of the price now.




Digger: And then trying to unravel that when you've bought something....
Gary: Yes, exactly. You have to pay if you send goods back. We sometimes put on our listing 'A guitar is there for you to play, enjoy the weight and the feel, the play of it and the sound.' Come to us and it's 25,000 instead of 23,000 from the States but you need to stop and think about the distance because, with us, you can see that's it not broken or over sprayed and we give a fair returns policy.

Digger: That's a big problem with guitars that have had modifications or resprays which seriously effect their value.
Gary: Yes. The other thing to point out now is that the history of most of the vintage dealers in The States is that they grew up with the 'school' of every guitar would be right. Because they were originally bought when they were fairly new and over the years the products just got older and older, worse and worse, because they're  ageing like me. I've got one or two imperfections now and David I think you probably have.

Digger: Well, I might admit to one or two. Actually (Laughs) I was talking to a client yesterday and he was giving me some advice about going to see a doctor! (Both laugh) It just goes to show.
Gary: Yes, I don't doubt that you do need some medical help there. (Digger laughs) 

Digger: Bobby Graham, the great session drummer who died a couple of years back, was telling me once about the day he was on Jersey with his old friend Jet Harris from The Shadows, both as middle-aged men. They were on the beach and discussing hanging baskets. Bobby pointed out to Jet that it was a sign of age because thirty years before they would have been leading the rock and roll lifestyle with drink and women and other substances as well and certainly not discussing hanging baskets.
Gary: The thing is we are in England. And although we do send a lot of guitars to Europe it is very easy for them to come to England if they need to. And basically you are getting the benefit of many, many years experience. We've had many guitars in published books, we've supplied most of the expensive guitars to the Ultimate Guitar book and we supplied over thirty original Burst guitar pictures which I owned to Vic Da Pra's books, and he's a specialist in the Les Paul Standard. So we do have a history that's recognised and most dealers in the world will give us a good recommendation. And so that's probably one of the main reasons for buying from us.

Digger: I should imagine that a lot of the younger musicians are buying because they've got this thing about authentic vintage musical instruments and the authentic sound, haven't they?
Gary: Yes, there's youngsters coming through and they still appreciate the old guitars. But what they've got to do is they've got to get the funding for them as they get older. And as they get more money, they jump on the bandwagon. There is also a big marketplace in handmade replica guitars because they're great instruments with a lot of expertise behind them now.

Digger: And affordable as well.
Gary: Yes, and affordable. So there's that movement too.

Digger: You just have to know what you're going for and ultimately they will become your customers as well.
Gary: That's right.

Digger: What are your best sellers and who are your typical customers, if you have a typical customer?
Gary: Most of our customers are people that need medical help in one way or another. All guitar people are obsessed and fruitcakes and none of them know what they want and when they get it the grass is always greener...

Digger: I thought it was drummers who were the crazy ones?
Gary: No. Drummers give you an idea of crazy but guitarists take it to the next level. They range from people who have no money who would still find 2,000 to 5,000 because they have to own a guitar, to people that are multi-millionaires. There's no reason for any of them to be - usually the most passionate people are the easiest to deal with. It's certainly not the richer people or the poorer people, just the most passionate. But it's really all people are customers - there are people that like to hang them on the wall and can't tune them and they see them as art. It's the musicians that buy good guitars but usually can't afford the best because they're underpaid. It really is a cross-section, but usually they're obsessive. And they do tend to buy for multiple ownership of guitars and they really don't need as many as they have. The other day one of my clients said he had eighty guitars, all expensive, and it's his sideline hobby.

Digger: But he is sitting on a bloody good investment there as well.
Gary: He is.

Digger: Never mind pensions or stocks or putting money in the bank. Put your money into something tangible these days.
Gary: Yes. One of the things is that old guitars have outstripped most investments. They've gone backwards in the last two years but now they've stabilised again. They still have done much better than most things. And rich people, investors, art collectors - there's lots of various people who are buying. Also the Les Paul Standard - that's the '58 to '60 Sunburst Les Paul Standard, is recognised as iconic. It goes into the same auctions as the Stradivarius violin, so it's made its mark in history.

Digger: Did you see that great programme on TV the other month about Les?
Gary: Yes. That was a great programme. And to my knowledge, which is probably limited because you don't hear much, one has sold for $1.5 million. That gives you a little bit of a background.

Digger: What does The Internet mean to your business?
Gary: It's a two-edged sword. Going back to what I said, it takes a lot of expertise out of it because people feel they can pay with Paypal and they have a guarantee for the goods. That's my word of warning to them. The plus is the world's become much smaller and people have become fairly happy about shipping worldwide and trading on The Internet. And certainly the strongest market for us at the moment is Europeans. They must be getting the benefit of the Euro rate.

Digger: What about eastern Europe? Because a vinyl client of mine was saying he was selling a great deal to eastern Europe, which is good, but he was worried that over time all of our collectables 'heritage' would have been shipped abroad to Russia, Turkey and eastern Europe.
Gary: I don't do a lot of business in eastern Europe. That heritage thing was an argument from the Americans many years ago when they would send all the stuff to us and to Japan. But bear in mind Japan's economy has not been great and so they have been selling stuff. It seems to find a natural way to move around.

Digger: Yes, that's a fair point. And finds its way back home.
Gary: Yes, and the other thing is it has become a worldwide community. You can go on eBay and it's seen by the world - it's like a global village. The pluses are that it opens up new avenues for us and everybody and the down side is that everybody becomes an instant expert. When people say to me "How do you find out if a pink Strat from '62 is a genuine pink Strat from '62?" I say "Buy about 100 pink Strats and handle about 1,000 Strats then you'll still be learning but you'll have more of an idea."

Digger: You can't buy that forty years experience that you've got.
Gary: No and we're always learning. I tell people who read books on the subject that books are a general thing and they don't cover right and wrong, it's limited information and there's a lot of things that are not in books. A lot of one-offs. What I say to people when they are looking for a particular guitar is "How many of these have you owned?" And they say "Well, I have the book." And I say "The book really is just a guide and you need to own the guitar to really understand and get the knowledge."

Digger: In what direction are your planning to take Guitar Avenue in the future Gary?
Gary: I think it will plod along, I think prices will recover and I think there will be a new generation of people slowly, slowly.

Digger: Is the sourcing of items harder these days?
Gary: Sourcing continually is difficult and sourcing of the items is probably going to be more difficult for selling on unless we get a rush on currency. If the dollar went to two to one then they would be cents, but whilst the currency's at mid rate then sourcing's probably harder than selling, yes. I do get a lot of recycled goods. We've been selling the stuff for so long that we do have a database of people that have bought from us and will eventually 'return' goods to us. So that helps.

Digger: You don't have problems with obtaining the spares for repairs?
Gary: Not really, we still gets spares for guitars. But, generally speaking, people who bought years ago, they're happy because they've made money, and because they've made a lot of money they come back to us. So we do have a portfolio of old customers which brings the guitars round and round again.

Digger: Thanks for that insight into the vintage guitars world Gary.
Gary: Have a good day David. Thanks very much.





Electrics, Basses, Acoustics, Amps, Drums, Effects.

GuitarAvenue is pleased to announce it's new repair workshop specializing in high quality instrument repairs and custom modifications, etc. Contact us to discuss your requirements. Our service includes the following:
  • Set ups
  • Fret dress
  • Refret
  • Nut replacement
  • Damage & repairs
  • Refinishing
  • Customizing
  • Historic Les Paul makeovers

Phone (from UK): 01245 401066
International: +44 1245 401066





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