"It is an extremely difficult market to be profitable in because there are so few players," says former veterinarian Jim Palenscar, who recently opened the second steel-guitar store in California. "I must know all 30 steel-guitar players who live within 100 miles."
Palenscar has played in local country bands Horsefeathers, Unbridled, and Scary Mary and the Noose. He says he "hated" country music but got into it because of the steel-guitar sound. "I just don't hear it enough. That's why I picked it up to begin with. I've been into steel guitars since 1974."
He opened Steel Guitars of North County because of a medical problem: three years ago, after 25 years as a veterinarian, Palenscar, 52, developed adult onset asthma. Coupled with his allergies to cats and dogs (which he says "wasn't a big deal"), the asthma forced him to sell his Oceanside vet hospital with 15 employees.
"I basically hung out at home for a year. I told my wife, 'I have to find something to do.' She said, 'You can start by cleaning out the living room,' which is where my music stuff is. I had five pedal-steel guitars and four lap-steels. I said, 'Okay, I'll open a store.' "
At his store, Palenscar repairs and sells steel and pedal guitars and Dobros. "They start at $500 and go up to $9000." But the retail part of his store, he says, is "to supply the needs of the local players.... At night we sometimes have jam sessions."
For Palenscar's grand opening, he rented out a hotel conference room near his San Luis Rey Valley shop for a concert featuring JayDee Maness, who played the haunting lead on Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven." The show sold out with no advertising.