Tag Archives: small business

Mike & Mike’s Guitar Bar at the Spring 2013 Seattle-Tacoma Guitar Show

IMG_7084-impYesterday (May 19, 2013) was the 2013 Seattle-Tacoma Guitar Show at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, and it was a blast! A veritable feast for the eyes for any one even mildly interested in guitars, the Guitar Show is always the perfect way to showcase the dealers, builders, artists and players as well as the fine instruments that inspire the music we connect with on a day-to-day basis.

A Plan, a Van, a Can-Do Attitude

IMG_7078-impFor Mike & Mike’s, the show started well before Sunday. We’d been carefully plotting what we would take with us for the last two weeks, when ol’ Ballsy went on a gear-buying spree using his talent for sniffing out great deals to ensure our having a bevy of beautiful guitars, amps and effects to excite the senses. (Mission accomplished!)

Last week sometime we started really deliberating on the virtues of taking some pieces with us; some were no-brainers on both sides of the spectrum – you know, this goes, that stays – but others were somewhat nebulous. For instance, we have these two massively cool Fender Twin amps, one blackface from ’66 and the other a silverface drip-edge model from ’68. Now, if you don’t know, Twins are great amps but also unwieldy, being as big and heavy as they are. The question: do we really need to bring both? At first it seemed that no, we did not. Last minute though, Mike had a change of heart and there we were, at the show with twin Twins. For the record, I’m glad we took ‘em both! Our table looked quite nice…

When you’re a dealer at the show, it’s always a good idea to get there as early as possible. The loading dock at Meydenbaur usually opens around 6:30, and because there’s only a limited number of hand carts available, the many shops and each of their host of gear translates to a LOT of waiting around. In order to get the jump on the day, we got all of our gear sorted out on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning we packed our rented van at 5:30am shoving off at 6. Not too shabby.

Staking Our Claim

IMG_7085If we’re being honest, setting up our three tables took a good hour at least, not counting carting our belongings to the fourth floor via Meydenbauer’s only service elevator. But the real problem (and biggest time sink) is creating an attractive display that invites wandering eyes to hover – nay, dance – from piece to piece; while it might be easy to simply ‘put out’ guitars in some random fashion, it takes a keen eye to present them in a well-executed, thoughtful way. The three of us brought everything out, and from then on it was a series of friendly, barked opinions which sounded something like “DOES THIS GO HERE” and “I LIKE WHAT YOU’RE DOING PLEASE CONTINUE” and “YOU’RE FIRED”, but only in a j/k sort of way.

As Mike and I later conceded, three tables was exactly the right amount of space for the gear we brought; we didn’t have to stagger any of our instruments, with something like 25 guitars and 5 amps alone, not to mention the other odds and ends we had with us. And did we mention the kick-ass banner our good buddy Jake made for us? Sex appeal to the max, right there.

It Starts

After I was thrice fired and re-hired, the doors opened and the game was afoot, Dear Reader! New friends and potential customers trickled through the door and I’m proud to say that we drew a lot of really great reactions! Also presenting at the show were many of PNW’s guitar elite: Emerald City Guitars, Thunder Road Guitars, Rick King and Guitar Maniacs, amongst others. But for the first time in my life I felt like we were running with the big boys, even drawing the attentive and discerning eye of Jay Boone of Emerald City Guitars, who commented about how impressed he was with the calibre of gear we had with us. From him, that’s a huge compliment!IMG_7089

As the show carried on, it was clear which of our instruments were the stars of our show. Our 1967 Antiqua Fender Coronado, for instance, was the source of many hushed gasps. Also on display was the amp we’ve been calling, “the cleanest Deluxe Reverb on the planet”, a silverface Fender that is downright immaculate, shiny, and perfect. If you were ever curious what old amps looked like when brand new, do take a look at that one at our eBay store!

What was most moving for me personally was the amount of kindness and attention directed toward our stock of Mike & Mike’s Guitar Guards. Nearly every person that dropped by the table, many of whom I’m sure wouldn’t have engaged us otherwise, deliberately stopped to tell us how much they liked the idea of pickguards made from old vinyl records. Many of them took photos, asked how much we charged, how we made them, and if they could send us a particular record. Almost everyone was floored by the idea, and I shook a lot of hands simply because they’d “never thought of it!” Plainly stated, it just felt good to have that little labor of love be recognized on a large scale, and anything that gets our shop that kind of attention is a blessing.

Gear Highlights

IMG_7090

The Teye “La Canastera”

I’m certain that what I thought was cool is going to disappoint most of the guitar lovers around; I don’t have any photos of the ’59 Gibson Les Paul across from our table, nor do I have any of the ’55 Fender Stratocaster adjacent to us either. Both were superb instruments, of course, but what really impressed me this year was the range of gear available. There were plenty of instruments that I’d either never seen before or hadn’t seen in years – things that most guitar buyers might overlook or pass on simply out of ignorance.
IMG_7109



The first thing that caught my eye in the morning was a few tables down from us: a Teye “La Canastera”, an alluring work of art that I’ve only ever seen in magazines. I didn’t dare pick it up, but I really enjoyed being able to glance over at it throughout the day like an especially attractive young thing, too shy to strike up conversation. Honestly, it’s even more beautiful in person. The same vendor – I forgot to ask the name – also had more S-series Teye guitars in stock, including the models adorned in three-dimensional abalone pearl.

IMG_7095Another surprise waiting for me at the show came in the form of two nearly identical Squier Vista Series Jagmasters, one with original pickups and one with replacements. These were guitars I greatly admired when I was in high school, but back then nobody wanted anything to do with the Squier brand, so of course we had no idea how great the guitars of the Vista Series were. I did have occasion to play a sunburst model just as they were released and I loved it, but that headstock decal made me wonder if something was going to go wrong after I bought it. I regret dismissing them so quickly, but seeing these two at the show reminded me how far I’ve come from being the biased idiot I was in high school. (SPOILER ALERT: I’m still pretty biased!)

Winner of the ‘Silliest Bass at the Show’ award was this Pink Floyd-themed Fender Jazz Bass, with airbrushed The Wall graphics all over its body. It’s sort of cool in a way, but the sad thing is this bass is actually a very early 1960s model, so I’m really curious to know what’s underneath the paint scheme. The neck, which I neglected to photograph, had new tuners and was modified for fretless play, but had its original nicotine-soaked finish.

Vendor Highlights

IMG_7094Out in full regalia was the table and offerings of our good friend Joe Riggio, a Tacoma luthier that builds the most breathtaking ‘50s and ‘60s F-style guitars I’ve ever seen. Not only are his neck and body shapes super authentic but fully customizable, his finishes are hands-down the most beautiful and right I’ve ever seen. Seriously, the quality and attention to vintage detail belies the true youth of his instruments, and if you ever get a chance to just touch them, you’d likely agree that there’s no way these are new guitars. They look, feel, sound and play far better than any relic you’ll run across, and if we ever start making our own brand of custom offsets, we’re gonna give this guy a call. He’s our favorite.

Also at the show was another of our favorite guitar finish gurus: Gord Miller. Say you had a 1950s Les Paul Jr. double-cut that was stripped and had a broken neck. If you brought such a guitar to us, of course we’d be happy to repair the neck, but when it comes to restoration, it’s Gord for us all the way. Seriously, his finishes aren’t your run-of-the-mill kind of relic job; with a dedication to authentic finish techniques, the right laquer colors and formulas, and dead-on wear and checking patterns, you’d be hard-pressed to tell his work apart from the real thing. Go to his website, which has a quiz of sorts on his website, begging you to guess which guitar pictured is a refin, a near impossible feat! Just check out that Les Paul Custom! He even had a display of vintage-correct colors sprayed on squares detailing the original look and his various levels of aging! Really impressive!IMG_7102

The most truly exciting discovery I made that day came by way of the proprietor of eBay store fenderparts, and let me tell you, I’m completely stoked over this guy’s work. He stopped by the table to congratulate us on our vinyl pickguards, asking questions and telling me how great the idea was. He mentioned that he made pickguards himself, and while I was interested I didn’t expect the level of work he was doing. He showed me his wares at his table, and in all honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever buy a guard from any one else, ever. Why? This man is fighting the good fight!

His guards are exactly the right color, shape and are cut with an attention to vintage detail that I just haven’t seen from other parts resources. His mint green ‘60s guards are the perfect color and has the correct middle black layer, and his tortoise shell is not only more beautiful than most repro guards, but they’re actually made of genuine celluloid sourced from Italy. Add to that the fact that his aging process – which he wouldn’t divulge – is both tasteful and produces a guard that’s a dead ringer for the real thing. Seriously, you honestly cannot find another retailer that’s doing it as right as fenderparts. If you didn’t know better, it would be hard to tell it apart from the real thing. I’ll be picking one up ASAP! And if fenderparts is reading this, I am SO sorry for forgetting your name. I’m the worst. I’ll be ordering my Jazzmaster guard very soon!

Shaking Hands and Kissing Babies, but not the Other Way Around

IMG_7100

Detail of the Stratocaster guard made by fenderparts, which you can find easily on eBay. Amazing stuff!

Look, honestly the reason we go to these guitar shows isn’t that we think we’re going to clean house and sell everything we bring; to think that way would be a total error of logic and purpose. The Guitar Show is really about connection with customers (we’ll call them new friends) and other vendors, and when that’s your criteria for success there’s no way you can lose. We made a lot of great connections throughout the day, gave out a bunch of business cards and price lists, and if that was it we’d be thrilled. Job well done, all of that.

Icing on the cake: we sold a few things, among which was the dreadnaught case we provided to the husband of the elevator attendant at the convention center, which was a great way to start the day. We also sold two very old parlor guitars (one from the 1880s and the other from 1920) to Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. And yes, we were all pretty excited to speak with him, especially Matt. We’re all big fans!

What a day. A 12+ hour day, but a great one nonetheless.

All in all, the 2013 Seattle-Tacoma Guitar Show was a lot of fun and we loved meeting all of you that came by the booth! Thanks for making us feel like the belle of the ball!

And to think, I didn’t hear “Smoke on the Water” even once…

IMG_7101

Gord Miller finish sample goodness!

– Michael James Adams

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Couch Guitar Straps: Vegan and Sweatshop-Free in the USA

IMG_4087By Michael James Adams

This year, my birthday was a tough one; the more my wife and family asked what gifts I wanted, the less I could even think about answering that question. Truth is, I didn’t really want or need anything, at least as far as I could tell. That is, until my wife reminded me of something I’d mentioned ages ago: I was getting tired of my lame black straps, and had been obsessed with Couch Guitar Straps for years. Bingo.

Like many of my friends, my first exposure to Couch Straps – at least that I can recall – was from Nels Cline, guitar wizard and purveyor of atonal noise/free jazz extraordinaire. I picked up a promo copy of Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky back in 2007 and was blown away by both his ferocity and tact, so you can imagine how little time passed before I started analyzing his back catalogue, his gear, his technique, tone and style. And in every photo I saw, there was that same jet-black strap with the offset white stripe running its entire length, not simply holding up his guitar but elevating it, enhancing it.

I’m in an italics kind of mood. Can you tell?

Now, that man is the epitome of cool in my book, so I had to find out who made that strap. It’s been so long that I don’t remember exactly how I found them, but eventually I did, and so I spent three days just soaking in all of the colors, materials and options, of which there are many. For whatever reason, though, I never ended up making an order, likely because of my legendary gear distraction, where I get hooked on something and then forget about it once another great piece of kit comes along. But fast-forward a handful of years and here I am, all Couched up.

This Los Angeles-based company has been around since 1999, and prides itself on making quality, road-tested straps that are sure to hold up to the rigors of rock n’ roll life and looking sharp while doing so. Their straps are made from finish-friendly vinyl and vintage, deadstock and recycled materials. Ever been inside a Mercedes from the 1980s or a ’70s Volkswagen and thought, “I want this seat near my guitar, like, all the time.” Well, guess what! Couch does that.

Also a point of interest is that Couch Straps are vegan and sweatshop-free, which is easy on the soul and conscience of the would-be customer. And they make a good point about their business philosphy, too:

Look, most guitar straps are either really bad or really overpriced. On top of that, hardly anyone is making them vegan and sweatshop free in The United States. Why can’t someone else just make a guitar strap that isn’t either completely generic like the music store ones or looks pretty good but cheaply made and overpriced like the fashion strap companies? …[We’re] not into purchasing the actual hides of leather and then stamping the tabs out of asymmetric sides of beef before sewing them on our straps. The buying and selling of animal skin carcasses was a little too weird for us, thanks.

Well, I’m sold!

My wife and I spent nearly an hour pulling out my guitars that desperately needed cool straps and discussing our favorite color combinations. The company’s Racer X straps alone have three pages of color options on their website, so for us this was no easy choice. After much deliberation, screaming, hopelessly deadlocked voting and tearful apologies, we finally decided that my Sonic Blue ’07 Fender Thin Skin Jazzmaster (which I affectionately call “Artoo”) would be best served by a white Racer X strap with an orange stripe, in keeping with the Rebel Alliance color motif. It was also decided that my 2011 Fastback ’52 Telemaster needed a cool strap of its own, and I couldn’t think of anything better than the Vintage Cadillac Sunburst Deadstock Luggage strap. And, because I just stuff bills in my left front pocket, my wife bought me the company’s Jet Age Slimline Wallet!

When the straps finally came – and quickly, I might add! – I didn’t even have to open the package to know that I was in for a treat. It’s not often that companies will put in the time to make customers feel like they’re really appreciated, but imagine the feeling of unbridled giddiness I had upon pulling this one out of my mailbox:IMG_4196

Even my invoice had this personal touch, with a sort of tree/man hybrid flailing his arms/branches praising the Jet Age wallet with glee. I was thrilled, and the straps were cool, too. The end.

NO! Not the end. The straps? Amazing, actually.

IMG_4070You might be able to tell from the pictures, but I can’t make it clear enough that the materials and workmanship are both top notch on these straps. Made from soft automotive grade vinyl, there are no harsh edges or stiffness, no skipped stitches, not even an unsightly hanging thread to be found. The straps, if you didn’t know, measure at about 67″ when fully extended, whereas most straps are around the 60″ mark. This means there’s a lot of room for adjustment when you first don your new strap, and maybe a bit more than you’d expect.

The white vinyl on my Racer X strap was pure and unmarred by shipping, and the contrasting orange stripe was expertly applied. The strap ends look sturdy as hell, with plenty of secure stitching throughout and three rivets on the rear tab for extra reinforcement. Everything about these straps screams quality.

The Racer X strap really excels at adding to, not taking away from the already hip looks my my instrument. While the Couch strap certainly does stand out, it’s neither gaudy nor overly flashy. Ah yes, the Couch Strap knows its place, never overtaking the stately presence of a well-chosen instrument.

To be sure, I’m absolutely in love with the Racer X strap, but what really surprised me was how ‘in love’ I fell with the Vintage Cadillac Sunburst Deadstock strap, made from actual Cadillac Hardtop vinyl. When we ordered it, I was positive it would look great, but not necessarily any different from the other black straps I already have. I was wrong; as soon as it was out of the bag the waxy shine of the vinyl caught my eye, and the vibrant orange and yellow-orange stitching really looked great even in the light of our crappy apartment. And no matter which of my guitars I paired it with, it just fit. At first I thought that maybe I could get away with it being a community strap for all of my axes, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be ordering more straps from Couch in the future. This one is staying on the Telemaster.

IMG_4097Often when I wear a leather or vinyl strap from other makers, I expect that the strap will have a rough material on its underside and that the weight of the guitar will pull whatever shirt I’m wearing into an uncomfortable bunch on my shoulder. Not so with Couch, ladies and gents. It’s clear to me that a lot of thought went into designing these straps, and I can honestly tell you that they are the most comfortable 2″ straps I’ve ever used. Ever had a strap “bite” your neck, rubbing it raw during a show? That’s not going to happen here, folks. That vinyl is soft and smooth.

It seems to me that Couch’s offerings are tailor-made for the working musician, and they’ve taken into account all of the things that non-musical designers might miss. In fact, the thing that really gets me about Couch is that they’re not only made for musicians, but by musicians. Other Mike’s Band Goldie Wilson has shared the stage with 60’s power-pop band The New Fidelity, which is led by Daniel Perkins, founder of Couch Guitar Straps. Of course, The New Fidelity rocks Couch straps and the makers have been using the same couch straps since 1999.

As for the Jet Age Slimline Wallet, I can vouch for its 1960s TWA cool and ability to organize even the messiest of pockets. Made from vintage blue vinyl with orange and white racing stripes, this wallet has a My bills are cozy, all tucked in together while my cards, gym badge and other miscellany are held tight in the Jet Age’s amply-sized pockets. Like the straps, the wallet is soft and well-made, and all of the stitching is top-notch. The interior pocket is lined in fabric inked with the Couch logo, and though the website warns that the ink may rub off on bills for a short time after initial use, I haven’t noticed anything like that. IMG_3994

The wallet fits great in my pocket, and though I can’t speak for every pair of jeans on the planet, I’d imagine that the size – maybe 20% or so larger than a wad of folded cash – would slide into most pockets with ease.

After a week of normal use, going in an out of pockets and being pulled apart to insert all of the crazy amounts of money I make and consequently flash at all of the fanciest of clubs, the wallet is starting to break in a bit. The edges are loosening up and becoming more flexible, not that the material was stiff to begin with. I’ve already managed to partially rip the double stitch on the left side of the orange stripe, but I doubt that has anything to do with the quality of this piece. I tend to be hard on things like this, and I’ll admit that until I had this I wasn’t a ‘wallet guy’ and haven’t used one for quite some time. I usually keep them in a coat or bag and not on my person, so this one is getting a lot of use. All of the stitches that are holding the thing together are intact and tight. Another positive note: this wallet is getting all kinds of stares and compliments each time I pull it out to pay for something. ALL KINDS.

While the products of this small company are truly great in their own right, I would point out that the photos on the website aren’t as helpful as they could be when it comes to selecting a complementary color scheme for your instrument. While the photos are individually fine, the colors vary a bit from shot to shot, making it difficult to nail down exactly what you’re getting. While this is a minor quibble, I could see how that might be a problem for some customers.

IMG_4101The only other thing I could think of that might be a problem for some would be how long the straps are in relation to the adjustment buckle. Because I’m used to shorter, more standard-length straps, it took a short while to grow accustomed to the buckle sitting in the low shoulder area of my back instead of between my side and instrument. This isn’t necessarily a complaint, and something that most players may not even notice. (OCD is a hell of a drug!) The buckle is virtually undetectable as it is, and after a few sessions with it I no longer feel the difference. I thought it worth mentioning this because I tend to be way too positive about things I like and therefore gloss over the negative aspects of things, however slight. I’m trying to be objective! So there. Fine. I’m sorry, Couch. *folds arms*

As I’m sure you might have guessed, I’m extremely happy with my Couch straps and wallet. I never dreamed that I’d have straps that feel comfy AND look cool. Until now, those two attributes seemed mutually exclusive! These days, guitar shops seem overrun by faux-rock designs peppered with checkerboards, skulls and vaguely indie branding that borders on twee at best. With Couch, the designs are solid, timeless, and sometimes a little bit cheeky. With Couch, $35 gets you a hell of a lot of strap.

Go buy some now, please. And while you’re at it, you forgot my birthday. Buy me more! You might even see Couch Guitar Straps at the Guitar Bar in the coming months…

-Michael James Adams

IMG_4072

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: