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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)

Recently a nurse from Newport News came by and took a fancy to a $4,000 guitar that she decided to name "Stephen," after Spellman.

"She got that for $3,000," he said. "It should have been a lot more money. I just felt she was the right person for that guitar. She had had some good luck in her life and some bad luck, and I wanted to be on the good luck side. Her husband had been killed by a drunk driver. I thought to myself, 'She loves that guitar.' I felt really special when she bonded with that guitar and left with that."

Spellman, who is married with two grown children, is a world-class conversationalist, which is part of the store's charm. People like to hang out and talk to him.

In addition to selling guitars, "We design and we build them and modify them," he said. "We have a shop off the premises." And, he added, he works with guitar makers across the world: "I critique what they do. Often they send me instruments and talk to me about ideas. My favorite is to work with luthiers who hand-build these instruments."

As he talks, he remembers another detail of his White House appearance with Crosby, Stills and Nash. He said they were all standing onstage. He was near the back. President Clinton walked out and greeted him first.

"Happy birthday, Bill," Spellman recalled telling Clinton as they shook hands.

"He smiled from ear to ear and said, 'Why thank you,' " Spellman said.

After Clinton walked off, Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, who had worked with Spellman's mother in Congress, admonished Spellman, saying, "You should refer to him as Mr. President."

"I'm figuring anyone who calls himself 'Bubba' probably wouldn't mind being called Bill on his birthday," Spellman said. "So I looked at Leon and said, 'Lighten up, Leon, the guy works for me.' "

Panetta burst out laughing when he heard the story about correcting Spellman.

"That's probably true," Panetta said. "If I said it, I probably said it a little tongue in cheek. I wasn't the Gestapo."


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