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London Calling

 

Denmark Street in London. I spent a little time in the shops this week but I didn't take the photo. In fact, Hanks has moved to where Music Ground used to be and I don't know where they went.

In case you were wondering why I haven’t written anything lately, it’s because I was off to the British Isles for some rest, recreation and, of course, guitars. My wife was with me so the guitar stuff was kept to a minimum but I did get to make the trek to Denmark Street in London and visit some of my long time British clients. Denmark Street is the London version of 48th Street in Manhattan. ┬áBack in the day, 48th street was the guitar capital of the world. I recall no less than a half dozen guitar shops ranging from a little place with a few dozen pieces all the way up to the venerable (and recently lost) Manny’s who had everything. Names like Terminal Music, Alex Music, We Buy Guitars, Rudy’s (still there), Silver Horland and 48th St. Custom come to mind but they are all gone except for Sam Ash and Rudy’s. But Denmark Street in London is a bit like going home to 48th Street in the 60’s and 70’s with a few notable changes. The shops, like most of them on 48th in the 60’s and 70’s are mostly small “guitar shops” as opposed to “music stores”. Lot’s of new stuff with the vintage pieces are right out there in front but I was pretty disappointed in the selection. There were are few overpriced vintage Strats, a few old Epiphones but not a single 50’s or 60’s ES 335, 345 or 355 anywhere to be found. SG’s and Firebirds? Nope. There were an awful lot of Gretsches and Hofners-maybe that’s what everybody bought back then in London so that’s what comes back to the shops. To be fair, it was tough to get most American guitars in the UK back in the 60’s which probably means that any that are there now were imported by individuals sometime after the 60’s. One of the striking things about 48th Street in the 60’s was the complete disinterest they showed to customers who didn’t look like they were going to buy anything. In London, here in the present, I looked more or less like an American tourist (in my baseball cap and shorts) and was pretty much ignored. I asked every shop whether they had any 335s and was shown a 60-something Epiphone Riviera (same thing!) and an ES-325 from the 70’s. The sales staffs were very young and very tatooed and seemed to really want to sell some new guitars. I didn’t really get the sense, like I do at my favorite NYC shops (like Southside in Brooklyn and Rivington Guitars in Manhattan) that these guys really cared much about old guitars. They cared about guitars but not the ones their Grandads might have played. Sad, really. The Brits I met from my generation, however, couldn’t stop talking about guitars. It’s like we were all infected with the same virus in the 60’s and it never went away. I visited a few of my UK clients while I was there and we lived and breathed guitars for a few days (while the wives did whatever wives do). I did a lot of stringing and setups and played some of my old stock and had a great time. I visited my old 60 blonde ES-345 on an island in the English Channel and even a couple of Strats I once owned. The star, however, was an old Vox AC-10. I think it was a 58 or 59 and it sounded just great with a 58 dot neck that happened to be lying around. It also sounded great with a 59 LP Special and a couple of Burns’s from the 60’s. Maybe it’s the European voltage or something. I was never a big Vox fan but this one was special. Maybe it’s just that when you’re in the UK, you have to play through a Vox (or a Marshall) to get the the feel for the place. John, Paul and George seemed to be looking over my shoulder and maybe Eric and Keith and Ronnie and a few others too. Playing guitar in the UK is a little like breathing. You don’t have to do it but you aren’t alive unless you do. I forgot to take a photo of the amp but I’ll see if I can get one.

These are just a very few of my friend Graham's awesome amp collection. There were Watkins and Selmers and Parks and Marshalls and all manner of limey stuff. I could tell you where he lives but then I'd have to kill you:). The little AC-10 single in the middle row on the left was THE one. Or was it the one on the right? And check on the Burns boys over on the right.

 

7 Responses to “London Calling”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, sounds like fun! London is one of my favourite (as the Brits would say!) cities and Denmark Street used to have some decent shops and inventory. I recall a 1958 Epiphone Zephyr thinline for a good price. I am headed back there in early September so will drop by the shops for a bit…cheers!

  2. Retreads says:

    Rudy’s is the lone hold-out on 48th Street. Southside and Rivington are awesome, especially with their turnover…it’s a new inventory every time I visit. I do have to say, though, that my favorite NYC shop is Retrofret in Brooklyn. I could bang away in their electric room for hours, and it’s 50-60 vintage guitars you can play through 20-30 vintage amps. Most of all, they give you some space and let you play whatever without a hassle. Southside definitely has some of the coolest/weirdest gear. Never been to the shops in London, and now I don’t have to sweat it. I imagine it’s hard for those stores to compete against people like you.

  3. OK Guitars says:

    I was underwhelmed. Prices are, of course, stratospheric with all the taxes they hit American guitars with. I was hoping for more really funky British stuff like Burns’s and Watkins Dominators and the like. Not much good stuff to be found in the shops, I’m afraid. Maybe they keep the good stuff in the back room.

  4. Mick Peel says:

    Did you get to’ Vintage and rare’ in Denmark Street Charlie? They have plenty of old Gibsons though I think you would wince at the prices. Every thing must be at least a third more expensive over here. The other factor is there must be ten times the number of guitars in the USA compared to the UK. I told my wife I wanted an early ’60’s ES 330 for my 60th birthday. Found the guitar I wanted (’64 sunburst) in the States online. It was still a good price including shipping and import duty compared to UK prices. At least you had good weather!

  5. OK Guitars says:

    We had great weather and that’s all the Brits wanted to talk about. I got the impression that they had never seen the sun before last Thursday. I did stop by V&R and they did have more than the other shops but it was still lacking, I felt. It wasn’t the quantity so much as the quality of the stock.

  6. rob says:

    Great headline to your post, old chap. Ever since I first read it yesterday, I can’t get that Clash song out of my head. At least it wasn’t “Enga-lund Swings Like a Pen-du-lum Do”.

  7. Peter Wells says:

    I remember the good old days when Denmark St was full of great guitars. In 1970 when I was 13 0range Amps had a shop (painted orange) which had 3 mint bursts in the window selling for something like $800 each. Rod Argent had a shop that was nothing more than a bare undecorated room but the walls were covered in vintage guitars. There was no security like today and whilst I was admiring a fabulous flamey 59 burst ex-Keith Richards someone took a 61 Les Paul SG off the wall and walked out the open door at the rear leading out into Tin Pan Alley at the back and was gone. As you said there is not much left now and the guitars are over-priced. I only just discovered your great site and will be a regular follower. Pete, England.

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