If you walked into Wichita Guitar Works on Tuesday you might have thought you’d stumbled into a rehearsal for an all-star band featuring some of the city’s best-known musicians.
There was Wayne Gottstine of Split Lip Rayfield demonstrating how fast an electric guitar can be played while bluesman Dustin Arbuckle plunked a bass nearby. Minutes later Gary Powell and Michael Carmody, two more veterans of the city’s music scene, took their turns.
“You can’t tune the guitars all together or you’ll end up with a hootenanny,” joked Curt Mitchell, who opened Guitar Works with two cohorts this week.
While sales are naturally the goal of Guitar Works, Mitchell and his buddies hope the shop also becomes a gathering place for the musical community. Early indications are that it will.
Chris Glamann is the owner. He recruited Mitchell and another longtime friend, Scott Kern, to run the operation with him. All three had previously worked together when Glamann ran GMI Music on west Central from 1991 to 2000.
After selling that store, Glamann sold boats until the economic downturn made it clear “there’s not too much call for $100,000 boats right now.”
Kern and Mitchell went on to work in other music stores – interspersed with “a little freelance hoboing” on Mitchell’s part – until Glamann decided the time was right for another music store.
“He showed up on my doorstep and said, ‘I’m going to change your life,’ ” Mitchell said.
“It was something we loved to do,” Glamann said.
The trio’s plan for making their store stand out in what they call a very competitive market is to offer guitar and amplifier brands, usually made by small companies, that are otherwise not available in Kansas.
“There’s something of a renaissance in guitar and amp building these days,” Mitchell said.
“We felt like there was a lot of great gear that wasn’t being made available,” Kern added.
That includes electric guitars made by RS Guitarworks, Kauer, Paul Rhoney and National Reso-Phonic; acoustic guitars made by Boucher; and amps made by Vintage 47, Swart and Top Hat. In addition, Wichita Guitar Works sells ukuleles, banjos and guitar accessories.
Asked how they split work responsibilities, Mitchell said, “We just yell at each other until it gets done.”
In reality, Glamann handles the business end of things, Mitchell seems to supply the energy (and humor), and the quiet Kern has the most experience with guitars.
The 1,800-square-foot space the store occupies had just been renovated for a short-lived tea room next to the Donut Whole, giving it a decidedly different feel from most music stores. Vintage music posters from Wichita’s past line the walls. In one display window sits the harp used by Betty Glamann, a Wellington native who was Chris’ aunt and who played with Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
Carmody, co-owner of the Donut Whole, didn’t seem upset that his new neighbor might be noisier than tea drinkers.
“Now I’ve got a toy store next door,” he said.
Glamann, Mitchell and Kern are using their personal connections and social media to spread the word about their store. They plan a grand opening on July 28.
“Just as much as a retail space, we want to be a community space for musicians,” Glamann said.