(Anti) Social Distancing

The fun part was that you never knew who (or what) was going to walk in the door next. We had some very interesting folks, some real cool guitars and lots of very cute doggies. Unfortunately, all of that is gone for now and the old train car is no longer mine, so when I come back, it will be in a new location (in the same town)

When you run a small brick and mortar business, it is kind of important to be sociable. Buying a guitar, especially an expensive vintage guitar, is a very often a process that requires a lot of interaction. It’s easy if you know exactly what model, year, finish and configuration you want. You walk in, you play it and you buy it, assuming you like it. But if there are 6 or 8 or a dozen 335’s in the shop, it becomes a process that requires a lot of discussion and a lot of handing guitars back and forth and in the current era of social distancing, that is a problem.

Corona virus is able to live on hard surfaces for a very long time. Nobody is quite sure now long but from what I’ve heard and read, it can live for days on a metal surface. That means the guitar strings are a Corona virus’s paradise. Good for the virus, not so good for you and me. For OK Guitars (meaning me-I’m a one man band), the timing of this crisis is notable. If you have checked my Facebook page lately, you will know that I lost my lease on my store at about the same time the virus hit. I was there for five and a half years and OK Guitars had become a destination shop for tourists. Kent CT’s economy is nearly 100% tourism driven. It’s a big hiking destination with the Appalachian Trail running along the ridge just west of town. And, being only an hour and a half (if you’re lucky with traffic) from New York City, making a day of hiking and a visit to OK Guitars to play a bunch of 335’s was a common Saturday or Sunday endeavor. Sadly, that’s over. At least for now.

I spent this weekend taking down the guitars from the hangers and taking down the hangers for the guitars. Fortunately, I mark all the cases but somehow I still ended up with 12 extra cases. I boxed up all the tools and the strings and the capos and the picks. I unplugged all the amps and covered the ones that have covers. I took down the little Beatles display that was on your right as you walked in (’66 Hofner, 64 Country Gent, Ricky 325, Ringo drum head and photos). Frankly, it was kind of depressing-I worked hard to make my little train car into a place that was equally friendly to well heeled collectors and to AT through hikers who just wanted to play a guitar-any guitar- after three months on the trail (and occasionally three months away from a shower). It was my pleasure to swap stories about the one that got away even though I have heard that story 1000 times. And the best part was that you never knew who was going to walk in and what guitar was going to walk in with them.

Neil Young and Daryl Hannah stopped by out of the blue on a Wednesday afternoon last October. Steve Katz from Blood Sweat and Tears was the very first customer I had-even before I had officially opened. Former Yankee Bernie Williams came in and bought a 59 Bassman. Old friends I haven’t seen in 50 years from my home town of Scotia, NY came by and Michael J. Fox and his entire family were here last Thanksgiving. He wasn’t up to playing that day but seemed happy to just talk about guitars. And it wasn’t just the people that made it so interesting and so much fun, it was the guitars. Litchfield County, CT is a place full of old hippie types a lot of acoustics walked in the door. A couple of Brazilian D-28’s from the 60’s, lots of Ovations and Guilds and probably the best J45 I ever played. A 1917 Martin 00 and a near mint 1939 Gibson L-0. The former president of RCA Records came in one day carrying two guitars and a mandolin and told me he was moving to Arizona and he didn’t want to take these instruments with him. A mint late 60’s Strat, a mint ’64 Gibson J50 and an absolutely stunning 1913 one owner (his wife’s grandfather) Gibson F4 mandolin changed hands that day. This is what I will miss.

So, even without the current pandemic, it would have been the end of an era at OK Guitars but I simply would have found other space and continued as before although in a somewhat less charming and distinctive space. Now, I don’t know. If everything gets back to normal or close to it, then I’ll open another shop. Buying online is fine if it works for you but for those of you who want to come in and hang out and play and talk guitars, I’ll be back eventually and we’ll tell all the same old stories and play all those great old guitars. We’ll crank it up to eleven and drive the neighbors nuts just like old times. See you then.

Jazz great Bucky Pizzarelli came in a few Summers ago and went right for the ’52 Super 400. At age 90, he was playing chords I couldn’t even name (let alone play). He was a little disappointed that he only had 6 strings to play on (he’s usually a 7 string player). That’s me in the background trying to figure out how he does that.

16 Responses to “(Anti) Social Distancing”

  1. steven flygare says:

    You are a great writer and I have enjoyed reading so many of your articles! The guitars have been some of the best I have ever seen! So yeah,I looked at the pictures too. I hope the story continues on for as long as you can. Thank you

  2. RAB says:

    Charlie, very sad to hear of the demise of the shop’s tenure in the charming old rail car. You had a good run with many wonderful guitars played, bought and sold and stories told! Best wishes to you and OK Guitars during this turmoil and genuine hopes that the shop will rise again bigger and better! Your customer and guitar pal, Roger

  3. Michael Minnis says:

    Hey, Charlie. I’m sad to hear that the little train car is leaving the station. I always hoped to make it there. Never quite got around to it. Hopefully your next incarnation of OK Guitars will be as charming and even more enjoyable and prosperous. Stay well. Play your wonderful guitars. And thanks for sharing your cool journey with all of us!

  4. davek says:

    Sorry that I won’t be able to visit The Caboose some day – it looked such a cool place.

    I’ll hope to get to OK Guitars new home on a future visit to the US.

    Meanwhile I’ve got time on my hands to play the 2 great guitars Charlie sold me last year some more. Best wishes to everyone at this difficult time.

  5. Thinline says:

    Great shop Charlie and thanks for the thoughtful, informative and inspiring blog. We all appreciate your impressive expertise on 335/45/55s. Enjoy a break, stay healthy, and we all hope the shop returns at some point in some form. Best wishes.

  6. Vincent Moser says:

    Hi Charlie, all the best wishes for you from Germany. I read all your posts faithfully and really enjoy it. Your contribution to thw world of vintage ES- models ( and others ! ) is always a joy to me. It became part of life. I hope you will be able to open another shop ( a new paradise ! ) and continue writing. I´ll never forget your post from May 2015 when you wrote about B.B. King ( my biggist guitar-hero ). The three Blues-bands I´m playing in cannot gig these days and that will continue for a while. Stay healhy !

  7. Klaus-Peter says:

    hi charlie, so sad you have to shut down your store.
    I´m from germany and have read your blog for about five years now. after all i found myself ready to buy a players grade ´68 335 and it is my favourite guitar since then. i never would if you hadn´t shared your fine knowledge with the world. thank you and my you go on with your business soon.

  8. Frank says:

    Best wishes from Germany again to you and your Family.!

  9. Kevin Smith says:

    Endings are also new beginnings. I doubt the railcar was what made your business, and sadly do to the pandemic there will be other charismatic shop coming available. Wishing you luck, please continue the blog!

  10. Jeff Baumgartner says:

    Charlie, I hope you’re back to walk-in business in another charming spot soon–for all our sakes. Looking forward to trying out a few of your 335’s in person one of these days. Best to you and yours.

  11. Bob says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed your posts since I discovered your site the summer of 2010. I had a great time meeting you in person in the rail car a few years ago and getting to play your inventory at the time – what a treat. I’m also grateful for the free advice about guitar purchases over the years. Still trying to scrape together enough to buy direct from you – and glad to hear you won’t be disappearing. Be well!

  12. Steve Newman says:

    Saddened and full of empathy for the closing of your shop, Charlie. I went through a similarly difficult business experience roughly 15 years ago, of course without the virus outbreak adding additional stress and uncertainty. But rest assured, when our medical crisis is over, your loyal followers and plenty of new ones will be seeking out your new venue for the choice instruments and immense knowledge of them you possess. A sincere thank you for your expertise, wit, humor, and willingness to help educate the rest of us about all things ES. Best of luck to you and yours….stay safe in the meantime.

  13. RAB says:

    Steve, your comments are right on! Thanks for expressing so eloquently what so many of us vintage guitar geeks feel! Best, RAB

  14. Brian O Grady says:

    Hi Charlie – I feel very lucky to have made it to your shop last year – no traffic and a beautiful Jan drive. Walked away with probably the cheapest thinline you’ve sold in a long time but the experience was wonderful.
    Hope to get back again when this all blows over.

  15. David Coe says:

    Sorry to hear that you had to shut down your store. I could never afford any of the guitars you sell and live too far away (Florida) to drop by to just look at your beautiful instruments but greatly enjoyed reading your posts. You have a REAL gift at communicating your passion about the ES series and music in general. You probably could have taught Ted McCarty a thing or 2. (Anyone who can make blogs about wiring harnesses interesting is A1A in my book.) Hope you can get your operation up and running again full-tilt real soon. I imagine the folks at Gibson/Epiphone could learn a lot from hanging out with you for a time about what makes a great instrument. If not them, at least the young Turks who will be turning out the great guitars of tomorrow. Be safe and well.

  16. Aloha Mark says:

    Let us remember these words from The Last of the Mohicans:

    “You stay alive! Submit, do you hear? You’re strong, you survive. You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you . . .”

    My friend lost $700K from the recent crash. But, he’s alive. When this is over, most of the money will be recovered. It’s a cliche that life is precious. Ultimately, it is all we have. You sold me (my best) 335 years ago, and finding you took many, many years of searching. Old line dealers like you are irreplaceable.

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