By Tom Beaujour
While selecting the destination for the second installment of this year’s Guitar Safari series (which finds me riding a stunning 2013 Triumph Street Triple R to my favorite guitar stores), I realize I owe a visit to my good friend (and, for the purposes of full disclosure, former employer and officiator at my wedding) James Mastro, owner of Hoboken’s funky and friendly Guitar Bar.
I set out for the shop on a beautiful, cloudless late summer morning and take my time getting to the shop, enjoying a sprint down Hoboken’s Sinatra Drive (This is, after all, the birthplace of Old Blue Eyes), a waterfront thoroughfare that provides a breathtaking view of the New York City skyline directly across the Hudson River. The Street Triple R, with its compact geometry and low center of gravity, loves taking curves aggressively, and my heart is still pounding when I pull up in front of the shop, where Mastro, just back from a stint as the musical director of former Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter’s Rant Band, greets me.
Mastro, who also has played guitar with Patti Smith, John Cale, the Bongos and the Health and Happiness show, started Guitar Bar in 1996, when a 100-year-old-flower shop on Hoboken’s First Street became available for rent. “I didn’t change anything when I got here,” he says. “I love the old fixtures and details. It give the shop a sense of permanence and a vibe I really appreciate. I actually like being here and coming to work!”
Mastro isn’t the only touring musician who enjoys the vibe of the Guitar Bar. The owner prides himself on employing working musicians as teachers and giving them the freedom to take time off when the road calls. “I’m pretty much the worst culprit of the bunch when it comes to taking off work to go on tour, so I could never hold it against the staff,” Mastro says. “Plus, I think the fact that our teachers are out there playing, having new musical experiences all the time, and growing as players makes then much better at inspiring their students.”
In addition to providing lessons, Guitar Bar sells new and vintage instruments and amps, as well as an extensive selection of new and used pedals. The shop is particularly fond of older Guilds, as they were manufactured a few blocks away in Guild’s Hoboken factory on Newark Street. “Every year, one or two people who bought their Guilds directly from the factory walk into the store with their guitars,” Mastro says. “It’s great to be in a town with a guitar heritage like that.”
Mastro learned about Guilds as well as other vintage guitars during an early-Eighties stint on New York’s storied 48th Street at We Buy Guitars, a place where he admits to, “having almost dropped more than my fair share of D’Angelicos. The owners saw the first wave of the vintage guitar craze coming and they were ready,” he says. “Everybody would come through there when their tour stopped in the city ... I even sold Angus Young an SG I had put together.”
With that, Mastro rises to help a customer who has just walked in looking for aa killer fuzz box, and I wave goodbye and head back outside, where the Street Triple R patiently awaits my return. It’s much too nice of a day not to get in a bit more riding, and I think I’ll zip past the old Guild factory on the way out of town, just for good measure.