Ready to Rock
Carmel’s new Rumble Seat Music is more than just another guitar store.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
It’s a few days before Rumble Seat Music officially opened its doors Monday, Feb. 4. Owner Eliot Michael, business partner Mark Mancina and store manager Bijan Oskouie gawk at a pair of Gibson Les Paul guitars as if guitar god Jimi Hendrix himself had dropped down from the heavens to take song requests.
The carved maple tops of the sought-after 1958 and 1959 sunburst models gleam in the afternoon sun. The humbucking pickups, tune-o-matic bridge and hyper-fast set neck – with complete access to every one of the 22 frets – are all in cherry condition and every bit as sexy as Marilyn Monroe in her prime. The guitars are works of art and almost identical. Slight variances are noticeable only to the most discriminating eyes. Together, the axes are valued at around $300,000.
In addition to the late-’50s Les Paul splendors, the other crème of the crop includes a Gibson Explorer that Eric Clapton actually used when he was with Cream, a couple of 1958 Gibson Korina Flying Vs and extremely rare 1950s and 1960s Fender Strats with custom colors like “fiesta red,” “sonic blue,” and “seafoam green” (before the colors were discontinued forever, Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles and Corvettes manufactured in the same era shared the same paint).
Rumble Seat Music Vintage Guitar Store
Also on exhibit: The year and make of the guitars The Beatles played (though not the actual guitars they used), custom-made acoustics, vintage Martins, revered classical guitars, guitars used in movie scores and soundtracks including “Hakuna Matata” in the Lion King and the guitar Otis Taylor plays on the The Shooter soundtrack.
RSM is more like a guitar museum, or gallery, than a guitar store, which makes not-quite-rocking-and-rolling Carmel a fitting locale. These instruments are to guitar collectors what an original, signed Jackson Pollock is to an art collector. At least that’s the way Michael looks at it.
“Guitars are art and an American tradition,” he says in a thick Joey Ramone New York accent. “That’s what it says on the sign: ‘An American Tradition.’”
Ninety-nine percent of the guitars on display at RSM are for sale – a few are on consignment and a few are from Michael’s and Mancina’s private collections – if you’re looking to spend upwards of $10,000. But 100 percent are available for a test drive. Unlike the other galleries in Carmel, you can touch any of the “art” on exhibit at RSM – even if an 8-year-old kid wants to strum out “Satisfaction” on the same guitar Clapton played “White Room” on.
Michael, a retired rocker who’s been dealing in the art of rare guitar collecting for years, had his first shop in Ithaca, N.Y. and currently has one in Albuquerque, N.M. Mancina, also a collector, is a Hollywood film composer whose credentials include the aforementioned Lion King and The Shooter. Together, they’ve brought a little slice of guitar Shangri-La to Carmel.
There aren’t many places that encourage folks to handle six-figure items even if they have no intention – or the available means – to shell out the dough and make a purchase. But aside from the hands-on factor and the plethora of rarities, another element that makes RSM stand out: They don’t specialize in one category of guitar.
“We have a variety of the best guitars of all kinds,” Mancina says. “From classical to acoustic to vintage electric.”
With shaggy feathered hair and a leathery rock and roll complexion, Michael looks like he could be the long lost cousin of Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel. Before delving into the world of high-dollar guitar collecting, Michael played with Jayne County & the Electric Chairs, an androgynous psych-glam-new wave outfit that could’ve been fathered by T. Rex, David Bowie and The Velvet Underground. YouTube videos circulating of the group performing decades ago at legendary New York City spots like Max’s Kansas City – churning out tunes like “Toilet Love” and “Putty” – feature Michael loving on his guitar as if it were an extension of his body. The transition from rocker to passionate guitar collector was not a huge leap for him.
“After I retired [from the band], I found something that I love to do just as much,” Michael says.
But how do you get involved in something that entails dealing with astronomically high prices? Michael’s advice for anyone that wants to become a collector: “Start slow and believe in what you are doing.”
When Michael began dealing and collecting guitars, he was doing it out of the trunk of his car at guitar shows. These days, he’s regarded as one of the most respected dealers in the game and is one of the select few that have been called on by acts including The Rolling Stones, John Mayer, Metallica and the Hives to help locate instruments.
As far as the Holy Grail of guitars? There really isn’t one, at least according to Mancina and Michael.
“It’s an endless search,” Mancina says. “You’re always looking and you’re always looking for something better.”
Adds Michael, “It’s kind of the same as it is with women. You’re always looking for something better.”
RUMBLE SEAT MUSIC Carmel is located on Dolores between Seventh and Eighth, Carmel. Open 10am-6pm Tue-Sat. www.rumbleseatmusiccbs.com