The San Jose Guitar Showcase continues to strum

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Editor’s note: The Biz Beat is a series highlighting small businesses and local restaurants in Silicon Valley.

The Santa Clara area is rich in rock music history, from the foundations laid by early hits like The Syndicate of Sound’s “Little Girl” to the chart-topping releases of 2020 Hall of Fame inductees The Doobie Brothers. For the past 57 years, these local bands have shared one thing in common: guitars and gear purchased from the Guitar Showcase in San Jose.

“This whole area is nothing but musical innovation, and Guitar Showcase was a launching point for the local music scene,” said San Jose Rocks co-founder Dan Orloff.

Electric Guitars at Guitar Showcase. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Music studio owner LV “Bud” Eastman founded the store in 1965, selling guitars out of a rented duplex in Cambrian Park.

“It was great because we could go see all these instruments that the professionals were playing that we had never seen in the music stores,” said Syndicate of Sound bassist Bob Gonzalez.

Quickly outgrowing this location, Eastman moved the business to a house at the corner of Bascom and Jewel Avenues, near the store’s current location at 3058 Bascom Ave.

“Bud Eastman was very well known in the guitar community,” Gonzalez said. “He befriended people like luthier Leo Fender. He was smart enough to take advantage of the groups in the area, hiring some of us to work there and also teaching classes. At that time, it was very difficult to find a place where you could get guitar lessons for rock music, and he knew how to get parents to buy instruments for their children.

Electric guitars and amps at Guitar Showcase. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Eastman went on to found Guitar Player magazine in 1967 before selling the store to Barry Wineroth in 1968. He ran it with his brother and current owner Gary Wineroth, and it continued to be a gathering place for local musicians .

The business continued to grow until 1974, when it moved to a two-story building on Bascom Avenue. The inventory has grown to include instruments of all kinds, as well as recording and technical gear. In its heyday it operated there, as well as a swap shop next door in a former recording studio.

“Gary is over seventy and heading for a bit of a step back,” said David Zimmerman, COO of Guitar Showcase. “He sold the larger building, which came in handy before the pandemic and the closings. We brought in the guitars and stuff that are really our specialty and left behind the drums, keyboards and pro audio that didn’t do as much for us.

The current store is also home to the Vintage Vault, dedicated to classical guitars and collectibles, such as a 1968/69 Gibson J-200 signed by Pete Townshend of The Who, and a hand-painted yellow Beatles-themed guitar. submarines.

Custom painted Beatles guitar. Photo by Robert Eliason.

magic of music

Eastman believed in not overselling to the public, ensuring that what he sold met the customer’s needs and budget, a philosophy that remains intact. Orloff remembers his first visit in 1994 when he decided, after playing less expensive instruments for 30 years, to buy a high-quality guitar.

“In my mind, it was a Martin guitar that sold for around $4,000,” he said. “I only had about $3,000 in the bank and rent to pay, but I decided I was going to make a totally irresponsible purchase and buy this guitar.”

When he came to buy the Martin, the salesman suggested he try a Taylor guitar instead, a brand he had never heard of.

“He told me it was a great guitar and that Bruce Springsteen and other great guys played it,” Orloff said. “He said, ‘I want you to play the Martin, then the Taylor and see what you think. The Taylor outperformed the Martin and I walked away with it for $970 including tax and case.

Along with crowds of aspiring players, the store attracted big-league musicians, like Tiran Porter, who played bass for the San Jose-based Doobie Brothers during their peak years from 1972 to 1980. He joined the band for their second album, “Toulouse Street,” and in 1974 he bought a Fender Precision Bass at the store which he used on the single “Takin’ It to the Streets.”

“I started shopping at Guitar Showcase when they were selling out of the garage,” Porter said, “and I’ve been buying from them ever since. The people who work there are experienced and friendly and if you can describe what you want, they can make the best suggestions in the world.

Custom inlaid collar. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Although the locations have changed over the past six decades, what the store sells remains reliable and of high quality. The store also sells new and vintage guitars online, but Zimmerman prefers the tradition of in-store customer service.

“Selling online is just not us,” he said. “It’s not our community and it’s not what people expect of us. You can enter the store and handle the instruments. Each is unique. You have to hold them and play them to understand them.

Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected]

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