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Outfitter of Rock Legends, Regular Joes

In his nearly 40 years as owner of the Guitar Shop, Stephen Spellman has accumulated a huge collection of guitars, and tales of the trade.
In his nearly 40 years as owner of the Guitar Shop, Stephen Spellman has accumulated a huge collection of guitars, and tales of the trade. (Photos By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

Instructors have included WJLA (Channel 7) morning anchor Doug McKelway, who taught banjo in the late 1970s.

"He's a monster banjo player," Spellman said.

Howard Bass, cultural arts manager for the National Museum of the American Indian, also taught at the Guitar Shop in the late 1960s and 1970s.

"If you're a guitarist and you're coming to Washington and you're in need of help, a new guitar or repair, you're probably going to end up at the Guitar Shop, walking up those long, dusty steps," Bass said. "It really does have a history and reputation and carries great-quality products and has old-time service that musicians value."

But most who come to the shop are not famous.

And that's just fine, Spellman says, adding that one of his great joys is selling kids their first guitar.

"You're furthering music, which furthers joy and understanding," he said. "Every culture on this planet is connected to music."

He also likes opening his doors to street people.

"They come in and dream, and we assist them in a little dream," Spellman said. "Some of them come up to play, some of them come up for the ambience. Some come to talk to somebody who isn't mean to them. Then we send them back out on the street -- gently." Occasionally, he said, a street person surprises him and buys a guitar.

The collection of guitars is impressive: more than 2,000, not all on the premises, ranging in price from just under $200 to $100,000. Brands include Fender, Gibson and Martin, a brand that started more than 150 years ago.

"When you say you'd like a pre-war Martin, you better tell me which war. I have pre-Civil War Martins," he said.

Selling guitars, he said, is like "breeding show dogs and running the humane society for lost-cause dogs. You have to find homes for all of them."


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