Tuesday, January 20, 2015

TOP STORY >> Happy 40th, Jacksonville Guitar

Leader staff writer

Not much has changed in 40 years, Jacksonville Guitar Center owner Steve Evans told The Leader last week.

He said the store, which marked four decades in business this month, has “tried not to (change) because we have a kind of formula that works and don’t want to mess it up. Maybe my philosophy is to keep it fun here.”

Evans continued, “We don’t get into things that won’t be fun, that we don’t really understand, like maybe some electronic gadgetry. We don’t want to get too high-tech because us guys aren’t interested in the real high-tech stuff. We keep things kind of going normal.”

As for merchandise, “a lot of the same model guitars that were famous then are still the famous ones today,” he concluded.

But, of course, there has been at least one notable change — electronic tuners. Bobby Appleby, who has worked at the store for 22 years, said everything on its walls have built-in tuners now. There were no built-in tuners when the store opened in 1975.

Evans opened the shop when he was just 18, and he was the only employee for a while. His dad would watch the store so that Evans could take lunch breaks.

A senior in high school, he had been a guitar teacher at the local shop when its owner left to open a store in Colorado. Evans was left to run the store in Jacksonville for three months. Then the owner closed it.

Evans had made plans to attend the University of Central Arkansas, but “as my dad pointed out, I wasn’t really studious. He suggested that I open a guitar store to take the place of the one (that had closed).”

His father, who had owned businesses before, gave Evans a $7,000 loan for the first batch of merchandise. Evans said he paid that loan back quickly because, still living at home, he was fortunate to not have expenses like rent and other bills.

Now Evans has second- and even third-generation customers. Dads and granddads bring their sons and grandsons to the guitar store they frequented back in the day.

But the clientele has changed a bit, Evans said. Most of those coming into the store decades ago were teenagers in garage rock bands. Now he sees a lot of church bands coming in to buy instruments.

The back wall of the store is plastered with photos of the once popular garage bands that bought instruments there, probably from both store locations.

The store’s second and current location is at 1105 Burman Drive by Knight’s grocery store in Jacksonville.

The first location was on Dupree Drive. Evans said he was there from 1975 until 1986, when the operation moved to the current store that is four times larger and built for it.

The store can now house an average of 350 guitars on the floor and pack in up to 500 just before Christmas — its busy season.

Since opening, Evans’ business has made it through two recessions.

What is the secret to success? The owner said, “I think, I hate to brag, but I think I’m smart on what to order.”

Evans explained that, in Arkansas, getting the “really expensive Rolls-Royce” guitars doesn’t make sense because no one will buy them here.

Another advantage Jacksonville Guitar Center has is its employees, Evans noted.

Appleby — whose job is to make repairs, adjustments and re-string instruments as well as gluing the occasional broken guitar neck — was 21 when he was hired.

He and its other staffer, Bob Tanner, have also been working there for 22 years.

Evans said he, Appleby and Tanner are guitar players. They know what’s popular and can play the guitars that are ordered to see what models are the best values, the owner noted.

Evans added that he’s also proud of not using high-pressure sales tactics like bigger music stores.

The store has a guitar teacher, too. Steve Hudelson rents out space with a portion of his earnings.

Although he’s not considered a longtime store employee like the others, Hudelson has been giving lessons at the center for 10 years.

To find out more, stop by the store. Also, wish the staff a happy 40th anniversary to receive a free set of Peavey guitar strings.