By Tom Beaujour
There’s an autumnal nip in the air and a leaden sky threatens rain as I prepare for my final Triumph Guitar Safari excursion of the year. So I’m all too happy that today’s ride will be made on my very own Triumph Tiger 800XC, a bike that not only features an extremely forgiving ABS system but heated grips to boot.
While this Adventure series bike excels on country roads and even the occasional mountainside fire trail, the 800XC is also an extremely able urban assault vehicle that navigates tight lane-splitting squeezes, gaping potholes and cobblestone streets with a stiff upper lip and resilient suspension.
Today’s journey will involve threading the needle of three underwater tunnels and one badly maintained suspension bridge crossing, so an unwavering confidence in one’s ride is of paramount importance.
Our destination today is Main Drag Music, a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, institution that features not only guitars, but drums, keyboards and almost everything else the musicians in the area’s thriving scene could require to ply their trades. Co-owner Karl Myers started Main Drag with his girlfriend in a 500-square-foot space on Williamsburg’s principal thoroughfare, Bedford Avenue, in the spring of 1997.
Photo: Main Drag owner Karl Myers (Photo by Struan Oglanby)
“At the time, you had to go all the way into Manhattan — either to the East Village or to 48th Street — to get strings and stuff like that,” Myers recalls. “The space we took over hadn’t been used for anything except storage since before World War II, when it was a Chinese laundromat. Strangely enough, the owner of the laundromat mysteriously disappeared the day after Pearl harbor, so there was probably a little foul play involved.”
Far from disappearing, Karl Myers and Main Drag thrived. The neighborhood around the store was rapidly becoming a world-renowned epicenter of alternative culture to which musicians flocked. In 2002 Myers incorporated with partner John Fell and the shop relocated to a much larger space that was not, however, on the Bedford main drag. “People thought it would be our death to not be where the foot traffic was, but we were psyched about that because it had already become clear that it was a destination store,” Myers says. After three and a half years at this second location, the store moved again, this time to its current 6,000-square-foot digs at 330 Wythe Ave.
Although the sales floor at main Drag is expansive (There are even several isolation rooms available for customers to test amplifiers, effects and drums), much of the establishment’s square footage is taken up by the various expertly staffed repair departments for guitars, drums, amplifiers and keyboards. “We’ve always felt that repairs are a super-important element of what we do, and the nature of repair is that it takes up a lot of space,” Myers says. Recently, the store recruited master luthier Ian Davlin, formerly the production manager of Breedlove guitars and a restorationist at Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, to manage the repair department.
“Ian sees an opportunity to build a real facility here, and the level of work has already skyrocketed,” Myers says. “In the New York market, the case has always been that there’s one dude who’s the really good $50 setup guy, and that’s who you go to when you’ve got a gig on Friday. And then there’s the craftsman who will reset the neck on your Martin. If you build the right facility, you can have a place that services all of those things. It’s exciting for the client because they’re like, “I took my guitar to get set up, and this guy was having a $10,000 Martin refretted.”
It’s difficult to bring a guitar in for repair to Main Drag Music without being sorely tempted to purchase another one, as the selection of instruments is positively mouth watering. Although there are certainly a fair number of pristine collectors items on display (A minty 1964 Gibson Firebird and a 1959 Fender Esquire Custom are just two notable treasures here today) Ricky Valente, the sales manager who oversees the guitar department, says the store’s real specialty is curating a collection of instruments in “player vintage” condition. “The philosophy here has never been to strictly stock collector guitars,” Valente says.
Sales manager Ricky Valente holds a Lawsuit Greco ES-335 copy.
“We like curating the shop so that the guitars that are here may be collectible and vintage, but you’re not afraid to take them off the wall and play them. For example, there’s a 1940s Gibson ES-125 here with changed tuners, a new bridge and a lot of changed parts; and where that guitar would be $2,200 if it was in totally straight museum-quality shape, here we can put it on the wall for $1,500. Someone who loves and understands a guitar like that but can’t afford the museum piece can have the instrument and take it out to shows and beat the hell out of it.”
All of these instruments, even less costly ones like the Mexican Fender guitars that are extremely popular with the clientele, are inspected by the repair department before they are accepted in trade or purchased outright by the shop.
“When you bring in a instrument here to sell, there can be a bit of a wait, because we want to assess it,” Valente says. “We want to check the originality of the instrument, make sure that neck is straight and that the truss rod isn’t frozen. Our staff is made up of skilled working musicians who understand what the customer is going through,” he concludes. “Our customers are our peers, and we don’t want to sell them an instrument that we wouldn’t use ourselves.”
For more information, visit maindragmusic.com.