Looking At Guitars

Mar 11, 2021

I read last Friday that Henry Goldrich, proprietor of Manny's Music in New York, had passed away at the age of 88. As kids, my friends and I tended to treat guitar stores more like museums or petting zoos than places of transaction, which was no doubt immensely annoying to those in charge. I have as many recollections of where I first saw or played a certain instrument as I do of where I actually found the ones I bought. I knew about Manny's because of their long-running full-page ads in Guitar Player, which I began reading religiously at age 13, but did most of my looking and shopping at The Instrument Exchange in Harvard Square and The Music Emporium, located for many years in Porter Square before moving to Lexington sometime in the late 1990s.

The Instrument Exchange was mostly about electric instruments, and like most Boston-area music stores, its proximity to Berklee made for a brisk trade in used gear. Not that such negotiations were always conducted in good faith; there was the time we witnessed an interaction between the proprietors and a would-be seller of a silver-finish Fender jazz bass which ended with a discrete phone call to the cops and a discussion afterwards about dilated pupils and unseasonable perspiration that, while not completely over my head, certainly grazed the tips of my blow-dried hair as it whistled by.

I drank in the presence of Stratocasters and Peavey amps and MXR pedals the way some kids ingested Luis Tiant's pitching or a Corvette's horsepower – as promises of all that would be possible beyond the invisible threshold dividing junior high losers from accomplished independent operators. It seemed pretty obvious that, like one of those fairy-tale huts that turns out to hold a cavernous palace inside, each Fender guitar case contained not only one sunburst axe in good working condition, but also a driver's license, a David Crosby moustache and one regulation girlfriend with a doctoral degree in French kissing.

At the Music Emporium, however, I took my first steps into another kind of future, one in which acoustic music and the instruments used to make it would loom larger than anything made in Fullerton, California. The week after I heard "Alice's Restaurant" for the first time, I was in the Emporium, a long, narrow shop full of clawhammer banjos, fiddles, guitars and more guitars –  resophonics, flattops, archtops – covering every available inch of the exposed-brick walls, on stands in every corner, behind the register. I was looking for my first acoustic guitar, and the idea that a store full of adults would not only let me, but help me, spend an hour and a half playing, comparing, talking about, then playing yet again more than half a dozen instruments to decide what I wanted was a mind-blowing contrast to the vibe wherever Les Pauls changed hands.

I clearly wouldn't be leaving more than a couple hundred dollars on the counter that day, but everyone treated me as if I might be leaving a couple thousand. They talked to me about woods and construction, and pickups or no pickups, and eventually sold me a Yamaha FG-365S, which I ultimately chose because of their assurance that by spending the extra $80 or $90 to reach the lowest-priced Yamaha in the line with a solid top, I'd be getting an instrument that would actually improve with age. It did, and I played that guitar constantly, in every style I got interested in, for the next decade or more, until I bought my OO-18. And it was such a great guitar for slide that, even once I had the Martin, I put pickups in the Yamaha and used it onstage for another decade or more.

By the time I got to New York, I already owned my second instrument from the Emporium, a '60s Guild X-175, and would buy my third, a 1930s squareneck Regal, within the next couple of years. But my first morning in Brooklyn, I spread out a subway map and a street map on the floor of my sister's apartment, worked out the route to 48th street, and went to go catch the train. I was probably going to need some kind of job, hoped to find some way to play music, and had zero idea how to go about either, but first, I was going to go look at some guitars.

Henry Goldrich, Gear Guru To Rock Stars, Is Dead At 88