Updated: Apr 26
By Corey Jenkins, Better Kenmore CDC
The Guitar Department has been a Kenmore Blvd. destination for guitarists and bassists for almost fifteen years.
To help celebrate International Guitar Month, we sat down with Ed Michalec, owner of The Guitar Department to learn how he started, what’s new at the shop, and what he thinks of where Kenmore Blvd. is today.
The Guitar Department opened in 2009, but you began buying and selling guitars in the mid 1980s. Tell us how you got started?
I was initially playing bass and I could not afford a decent instrument. So like so many other people, I kept buying things I thought were better and then I would replace what I had with something else or add to it. Eventually, I liked the idea of buying and selling instruments as much as I liked playing bass and took it from there. I consigned with a local shop that was in Kenmore and eventually, when they went out of business, I opened my own place.
What made you decide to open a physical store after years of selling at shows and consigning?
I was pushed by my wife at the time to get the stuff out of our house. She didn’t like half stack guitar amplifiers in her dining room .
What made you decide to open on Kenmore Blvd. and what’s kept you here?
There was a longtime shop called Musician’s Bargain Basement that was where I consigned most of my pieces and was pretty much the basis for the idea for starting the store. We've taken it in a different direction than they did, but when they closed and when other stores that were staples in the area eventually closed, I felt like there was an opening in the market for someone to do something different.
I’ve stayed here because the neighborhood is improving, people finally know where I’m at, and Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance’s work to improve the Boulevard is making it a more desirable place to be and a better place to do business. Plus, there's a synergy with Lay’s Guitar Repair next door that brings customers in the door every day. We're thankful for that too.
Thousands of guitars, basses, amps, pedals, and other pieces of equipment have passed through your hands at this point - what’s the most interesting thing you ever had and sold?
Wow. I don't know. It's all a blur now. There's been so many, but I've had some really nice pieces. I've had some very strange pieces. I'm definitely drawn to the eclectic. I picked up a pretty cool guitar in Indiana a couple days ago, it’s a Bacce Rocket guitar that was handmade in Spain.
I had a Gibson Invader that was covered in calf skin that was featured on a “Ridiculous Reverb Listings” video on YouTube. [the guitar sold as a result of it's appearance in the video]
I'll always have the stuff people want, but I buy the stuff I like too. So I always have something a little bit different here. You know, a B.C. Rich might be a pretty normal guitar compared to some of the things we bring in. We do a lot of used and we’re starting to get a little more vintage in again. I’m always searching for something interesting.
These days many musicians are making their purchases online at Reverb or Sweetwater or shopping with the big box competitor fifteen minutes to your north. Why do you think it’s important that musicians still support their local independent guitar shop before calling Sweetwater or going to Guitar Center?
I think the true difference is attention to detail. A lot of the big box stores and bigger internet sellers just open a box and put the guitar on the wall. And if you're any kind of a player, you understand that a guitar is something that requires adjustment from time to time and a little bit of work to make it more playable. Especially if the guitar has been built in a factory overseas and gone through six climate zones on a boat deck getting here.
Guitars are made of wood, which is cellular and the wood moves. So you need to adjust and intonate and get everything ready to play. That's something we do with every guitar. It takes a lot of time and effort, but it makes a better playing experience for our customer. When you buy something here, it's been set up to play.
The smaller shops, most of them typically do that. Most of them are run by players. Most of them care about that. The big box stores, I can tell you, I go into them pretty often and you don't see that there. I'll see used instruments with someone else's dust on it hanging on the wall.
Everything we get goes across the bench. No matter if it's a $100 guitar or a $7,000 guitar, it gets taken care of before it's available for sale.
Though I do have some people that ask me to buy stuff right when it comes and I typically don't do that until we can get the guitar into good shape.
Who are you talking about?
If you had to pick a favorite guitar for sale in your shop right now, which one would it be?
I like the 1965 Epiphone Coronet I have right now. It's a one pickup guitar, and I love Gibson Les Paul Juniors which are also one pickup guitars. And this is kind of the USA Epiphone version of that.
I bought it off an older gentleman who begged his dad for it when he was fifteen years old and played it for years in teen clubs in the sixties and into the seventies. He told me that within six months of getting it, he had made enough money playing music to buy a Fender Tremolux amp - which was very expensive at the time.
He said that he made more money playing that guitar as a teen than his father was making working a job. The only reason he was selling it was he was having trouble with his hands and could no longer play.
There have been a lot of changes on Kenmore Blvd. since you opened here 14 years ago. What are the biggest changes you’ve noticed?
The area is cleaner. People are taking better care of their buildings. More of the storefronts are occupied by actual businesses rather than people using them for other purposes.
People are coming to the area because they're hearing positive things about it. So I'll get people in from out of town that have heard of Kenmore and wanted to check it out and came to the store as a result.
What do you want prospective customers and people who have never been to the store to know about The Guitar Department?
We care about the customer. It's a small staff. It's a family-owned company. It’s myself and my son Quinn that run it day to day with a few friends who serve as occasional guest staff members that help us out from time to time.
We really do care about the product we put out and want the customer to have a good experience every time.
Anything new and exciting at The Guitar Department that someone who hasn’t been in for the past six to twelve months might not know about?
We currently have a huge selection of Boss and Roland products. That's our latest edition. Katana amplifiers, Roland Amplifiers, Boss Pedals, anything that Roland makes that’s guitar-centric we pretty much have.
We've also brought in JHS Pedals, and it's not the newest thing, but we've added to our Paul Reed Smith selection and have the largest selection of Paul Reed Smith guitars in the area without a doubt.
What should the rest of Akron, Northeast Ohio, and the world know about Kenmore?
Kenmore's a good place to be. We've been here 14 years and area has had its ups and downs, but a lot more ups lately. Things are moving in a very positive direction. It’s a very music-centric area with a lot of musicians. The summertime Kenmore First Friday concert series is not to be missed. It’s just a good place to be.
The Guitar Department is located at 972 Kenmore Blvd. and is open Tuesday & Thursday from 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Wednesday & Friday from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; and Saturday from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.