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Sam Ash’s guitar therapy

Guitars, especially acoustic guitars, are “on fire.”

What $170 buys: Neighbor Ellen’s new Yamaha sits on newly recruited rabbit rest. Rabbit not too happy. Ellen happy. Now just has to learn to play. She’s part of a post-Covid trend.
What $170 buys: Neighbor Ellen’s new Yamaha sits on newly recruited rabbit rest. Rabbit not too happy. Ellen happy. Now just has to learn to play. She’s part of a post-Covid trend.

Guitar therapy

“I am so bored!” says my neighbor Ellen.

Blame the virus. It has stopped her from doing the things she loves, mainly pop-up lunches at food trucks, and parties. Especially parties. Get a couple of shots in her and that powerful singing voice wails out, usually “My Way,” and everyone holds their glasses protectively.

Only thing is, no more parties.

Which is why we’re on College Avenue, heading into Sam Ash’s, the music franchise. “I want to learn guitar,” she told me, “so I can accompany myself.” She’s brought me along to help her choose, because I can put a few 6-string chords together. At first we flirt with a ukulele. But no, she wants the Full Monty. A guitar that’ll do more than just go plunkety plunk.

We wander in a daze between walls of guitar after guitar. Electric, solid, big-sound acoustics, 12-strings. “If you’re just starting out, you’d be best to get something simple,” says Diego Carrillo, the salesman who’s helping us. “Maybe acoustic, unless you really want to play rock and roll.”

He takes us into the acoustic department, and the first thing you notice is, well, empty walls. He apologizes. “Re-stocking is really hard at this time,” he says.

Turns out it’s also demand. The whole nation seems to have turned to music to fill the long hours of social isolation. Guitar Center, the world’s largest musical instrument retailer, reports its online sales more than doubled since the shelter-in-place mandate, and guitars, especially acoustic guitars, are “on fire.”

Brett Manjarrez, the loquacious store manager, says there are lots of Ellens out there. “We got a tsunami of people coming in after the shutdown. It was two months of pent-up demand, people suddenly with time on their hands, money they haven’t spent in bars, and an empty feeling, like at the very least they need a hobby they can work on while they’re stuck at home. Our main problem is we still don’t have the staff we did to spend time with people.”

And they aren’t out of the coronavirus woods yet, either. “These days, singing is dangerous,” says Manjarrez. “It’s all those droplets. I mean we used to have lessons and band spotlights on a Friday night. Classes were a big part of our business. We’d have rock classes, groups performing, folk, jazz lessons here, the whole nine yards. There’s none of that now, just when people need it most.”

But the chain’s owners aren’t panicking. Maybe because they recognize these circumstances. “It’s the Ash family,” Manjarrez says. “They started selling instruments in 1924, Hicksville, New York. They survived the Great Depression, and, over 90 years later, the same family’s still going. Now they have 44 stores, but I still talk directly to third- and fourth-generation Ash descendants. It’s like a big box mom and pop.”

That’s comforting: if the Ashes could play their way through the Great Depression, this economy should be a cinch.

Ellen ends up getting a Yamaha acoustic 6-string. Her first guitar. Costs $146.25.

“Remember,” I say. “The hole points away from you.”

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What $170 buys: Neighbor Ellen’s new Yamaha sits on newly recruited rabbit rest. Rabbit not too happy. Ellen happy. Now just has to learn to play. She’s part of a post-Covid trend.
What $170 buys: Neighbor Ellen’s new Yamaha sits on newly recruited rabbit rest. Rabbit not too happy. Ellen happy. Now just has to learn to play. She’s part of a post-Covid trend.

Guitar therapy

“I am so bored!” says my neighbor Ellen.

Blame the virus. It has stopped her from doing the things she loves, mainly pop-up lunches at food trucks, and parties. Especially parties. Get a couple of shots in her and that powerful singing voice wails out, usually “My Way,” and everyone holds their glasses protectively.

Only thing is, no more parties.

Which is why we’re on College Avenue, heading into Sam Ash’s, the music franchise. “I want to learn guitar,” she told me, “so I can accompany myself.” She’s brought me along to help her choose, because I can put a few 6-string chords together. At first we flirt with a ukulele. But no, she wants the Full Monty. A guitar that’ll do more than just go plunkety plunk.

We wander in a daze between walls of guitar after guitar. Electric, solid, big-sound acoustics, 12-strings. “If you’re just starting out, you’d be best to get something simple,” says Diego Carrillo, the salesman who’s helping us. “Maybe acoustic, unless you really want to play rock and roll.”

He takes us into the acoustic department, and the first thing you notice is, well, empty walls. He apologizes. “Re-stocking is really hard at this time,” he says.

Turns out it’s also demand. The whole nation seems to have turned to music to fill the long hours of social isolation. Guitar Center, the world’s largest musical instrument retailer, reports its online sales more than doubled since the shelter-in-place mandate, and guitars, especially acoustic guitars, are “on fire.”

Brett Manjarrez, the loquacious store manager, says there are lots of Ellens out there. “We got a tsunami of people coming in after the shutdown. It was two months of pent-up demand, people suddenly with time on their hands, money they haven’t spent in bars, and an empty feeling, like at the very least they need a hobby they can work on while they’re stuck at home. Our main problem is we still don’t have the staff we did to spend time with people.”

And they aren’t out of the coronavirus woods yet, either. “These days, singing is dangerous,” says Manjarrez. “It’s all those droplets. I mean we used to have lessons and band spotlights on a Friday night. Classes were a big part of our business. We’d have rock classes, groups performing, folk, jazz lessons here, the whole nine yards. There’s none of that now, just when people need it most.”

But the chain’s owners aren’t panicking. Maybe because they recognize these circumstances. “It’s the Ash family,” Manjarrez says. “They started selling instruments in 1924, Hicksville, New York. They survived the Great Depression, and, over 90 years later, the same family’s still going. Now they have 44 stores, but I still talk directly to third- and fourth-generation Ash descendants. It’s like a big box mom and pop.”

That’s comforting: if the Ashes could play their way through the Great Depression, this economy should be a cinch.

Ellen ends up getting a Yamaha acoustic 6-string. Her first guitar. Costs $146.25.

“Remember,” I say. “The hole points away from you.”

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