Updated: Apr 26
By Corey Jenkins, Better Kenmore CDC
For the past few years, Steve Givens has spent his days above the legendary Lay’s Guitar Shop running The Loft at Lay’s - a retail guitar shop specializing in the high quality, hand-made acoustic guitars, custom made Lay’s electric, and acoustic guitars, Gibson Les Paul conversions, vintage guitars, amplifiers, and more.
In honor of International Guitar Month, we sat down with Steve to learn more about his background, how The Loft at Lay’s got started, and what’s kept Lay’s Guitar Shop on Kenmore Blvd. for the past 60 years.
What’s your background?
My background is construction. I owned several construction companies and mainly I did concrete work. I had a company with about 60 employees, then I sold it to a bigger company and I ran it as a division for about eight or nine years before I retired.
I've loved guitar since I was in school. I started playing when I was in Junior High School. My first guitar was a 1967 Fender Jaguar that my parents bought for me along with a Fender Pro Reverb amp.
When and how did you come up with the idea for the Loft?
I've known Lay’s owner Dan Shinn and his brother Joel Shinn for many years, and as I was looking toward retirement I had some money to invest. I told them if they ever wanted to do any retail I would like to be a partner as long as it was high end stuff.
I wasn’t looking for a job, but was interested in doing it out of my love for good, high quality guitars.
What types of guitars does The Loft specialize in?
We started out carrying acoustic guitar lines like Santa Cruz, Bourgeois, Huss & Dalton, and added a number of guitar lines since then. Gibson is always a standard here, we’ve got our own brand of Lay's guitars, we’re one of 14 dealers for Bedell guitars and recently became one of only two dealers for Echopark guitars in the United States. We’re also a dealer for Knaggs guitar dealer and the exclusive Ohio dealer for Lowden guitars.
Can you tell us more about the Lay’s branded guitars?
For a long time we did not have the facilities nor the time to invest in building Lay's-branded guitars except for custom builds for customers. Now, we have a second facility where we are able to ramp up the production to where we will always have a good supply of Lay's guitars in stock.
And we’re doing some different things as well. For example, we've got a load of Korina wood that we're building with, and we're experimenting with some different pickup brands. And we have our fabric covered guitars as well.
What do you think the most important, interesting guitar you’ve had in The Loft is (either because of ownership or age)?
We've had a number of interesting pieces here. We’ve had a lot of nice vintage guitars, but one that stands out is the last acoustic guitar that Greg Lake (of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer) toured with before he died. We've had a number of other guitars that artists have played or owned.
One thing that we're kind of famous for is our Les Paul conversions. And so we've had some very, very nice Les Paul conversions.
How would you best explain a Les Paul conversion to someone who maybe isn’t familiar with the concept?
The Holy Grail of electric guitars are the 1958, 1959, and 1960 Gibson Les Paul “Bursts.” So we take 1950’s Les Paul Juniors and Specials, which are more affordable, and convert them into the coveted “Burst” style Les Pauls. So instead of spending half a million dollars on a guitar that started its life as a “Burst, customers can buy one of our conversations for a fraction of the cost made out of old wood and vintage parts.
Steve Givens (left) holds an Echopark guitar, while Echopark founder Gabriel Currie (right) shows off a Lay's Les Paul Conversion.
Over the years Lay’s has evolved from a guitar repair shop, to a place for custom builds, and now with The Loft a place to shop for guitars. What’s next in the evolution of Lay’s?
We want to grow the Lay’s Guitar brand and get the guitars we build into the hands of some high profile players and get some endorsees. They’ve wound up in the hands of a few players already. Brad Paisley has had a couple that he’s played and still has at least one.
Lay’s opened in Kenmore during some of the Blvd’s glory years and has remained here as it slowly began to decline, through its wilderness years, and it’s here to see its gradual revitalization. What’s made Lay’s here through all the ups and downs?
Some guitar companies have actually asked if we would move to another location that maybe would serve them better, but the feel and the vibe of what we have here is what we're looking for and we don't want to lose it by moving anywhere else.
You serve a lot of people locally, you also have customers all over the world. Where’s the furthest/most interesting place you’ve sent a guitar to?
We ship to Canada regularly and have shipped guitars to Japan, Russia, China, Japan, Austria, Germany, Sweden, and other parts of Europe. Sometimes shipping costs can be prohibitive when it comes to shipping to some regions.
What should people keep their eyes open for? Anything exciting coming to the Loft?
We have three guitars that will be coming made from the tree mahogany [a.k.a. “The Music Tree”], which is ultra rare. The tree mahogany is one tree that's found in Belize that the Smithsonian recently did an article on and I’ve got one guitar coming from Santa Cruz and two from Bedell coming made from that tree. Slash has a guitar built out of that tree.
What’s your favorite part about being located in Kenmore?
It's a friendly, tight-knit community and everybody is here to help each other.
The Loft at Lay’s is open Monday - Friday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. or by appointment. Learn more about The Loft at Lay’s at theloftatlays.com and be sure to follow @steviesguitars on Instagram to see what’s new in The Loft!