Dave Hussong has been known to guitar gear nuts regionally and nationally as the owner of Fretware Guitars, which since the late 1990s had a home in the former Franklin National Bank in downtown Franklin. (He’s also known to WYSO listeners as “Shakin’ Dave,” the voice behind the station’s Monday night “Hall of Fame” blues program.)
In recent months, Hussong’s venue has changed. Hussong, a Beavercreek resident, moved his wide-and-varied collection of vintage acoustic and electric American-made guitars — and more than a few well-loved tube-driven guitar amplifiers — to Centerville Music, off Ohio 725.
Both businesses found themselves challenged by a damaged economy and a rapidly changing gear market. In the wake of the Great Recession, many increasingly cost-conscious guitarists weren’t buying as many guitars — or stopped buying musical instruments altogether.
Or players looked more often to the ‘Net to hunt down their next gear purchase, whether it was an acoustic or electric six-string, an amp or an effect pedal.
That put the squeeze on brick-and-mortar outlets like Centerville Music and Fretware. Entrepreneurs like Hussong and Tim Coy, Centerville Music owner, were paying the rent and keeping the lights on at a time when, too often, guitarists were on eBay looking for that next treasured axe.
Besides the Internet, the soaring prices of vintage models complicated matters.
Fueled by the idea that older is better, vintage guitars can be quite pricey, especially the most treasured models — a late 1950s Gibson Les Paul or an early 1960s slab-board Fender Stratocaster. A sunburst 1959 Les Paul can easily carry a six-figure price tag.
And those guitars simply weren’t moving during the worst economy since the 1930s.
“The recession and the advent of the Internet… they seemed to coalesce,” Hussong said.
Hussong readily admits that the Internet is more than “viable,” but it just isn’t his speed. He’s thoroughly old school, and like more than a few guitarists of a certain vintage, he doesn’t quite see how a player can buy a guitar without seeing and hearing it first.
Now, when customers step into Centerville Music, they see more than the new PRS and Ibanez guitars the store has offered for years. They see classic Gibsons, Fenders and Martins — and a lot of them. They also see rows of “blackface” Fenders amps and other amps used to make the classic records of yesteryear.
“People come in here and see this stuff, and they say, ‘Wow, what’s that?’” Coy said.
“Business has been slow since 2008, and the economy has been slow since 2008,” he added. “Anything you can do to get more people to come in is a good thing.”
Centerville Music opened in 1988 and has been in its current location, 495 Miamisburg-Centerville Road, since 2000.
Coy and Hussong have known each other for years. Hussong often referred younger guitarists to Centerville Music, and Coy could rely on Hussong to find a buyer for a vintage piece he happened to have.
“I feel like I bought up a lot of his vintage stuff, and now here we are together, you know?” Hussong said.
“He has a really good reputation,” Coy said of Hussong.
Hussong brought “30 to 40” vintage guitars with him north to Centerville and probably as many amps.
“I get a fair number of people in, that to them, these are just used guitars,” Coy said. “People who realize that they’re vintage are real interested.”
Neither Hussong nor Coy have crystal balls, but they’re hopeful that the simple pleasure of playing a good guitar will never go entirely out of style.
“I really don’t know what’s in store for Internet patronage,” Hussong said. “If enough people have bad experiences and they decide they need to experience (a guitar) physically? Then this is going to be once again a resounding business.”