If you’re in the market for a guitar shop, you pretty much have two choices. Option one is big, sterile, and tends to reference words like “Center” or “Depot” in the signage. Option two is small, “boutique-y,” and more often than not comes with a built-in intimidation factor. Now, enter Santa Barbara Guitar Bar. Envisioned and realized by S.B. native and longtime gear slinger Jamie Faletti, it’s the latest addition to the much-hyped Anacapa Project, the Funk Zone complex which is also the home of The Lark, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company, and Les Marchands. Just two months in, the Guitar Bar is already living up to its snazzy new neighbors and boasting one of the most beautiful, artfully designed, and welcoming setups this side of State Street.
“Most music stores are not particularly inviting,” said Faletti, speaking last week from the slick white chairs that sit at the center of the Guitar Bar’s showroom. “They tend to have a ton of low-end and just a bit of high-end stuff. I wanted to flip that over.”
As such, the Bar is boasting a veritable treasure trove of musical goodies. Above the checkout, shredders and future shredders can ogle — and test-drive! — all sorts of limited-edition electrics. There’s also a full wall devoted to showcasing bright and shiny new Taylor acoustics. And starter guitars start at a super reasonable $145. “If you’re a beginning guitar player, I can set you up with something great, but I’m not going to bombard you with 500 choices for a $200 guitar,” said Faletti. On the other end of the spectrum, the owner and manager points to a signed Ibanez Jem Vai2K DNA edition, which retails for $15,000 and includes a psychedelic-swirl paint job made (at least partly) of guitarist and designer Steve Vai’s own blood.
“You would have to be a total guitar nerd to want that thing,” Faletti laughed. “It’s ridiculous.”
Still, the Guitar Bar’s inventory is only a fraction of the story. At the heart of the building and its conception is Faletti, a Santa Barbara lifer who has spent more than two decades working in and managing music shops. “I started at Fancy Music on State Street when I was 18 or 19 years old, and I’ve worked at a bunch of stores since then,” he said, “And here I am, 25 years later.”
His vision for the Guitar Bar, he explains, has a lot to do with taking the pretension out of the shopping experience. “A lot of stores, you go in, and there’s this weird club mentality. If you’re not one of the locals in that store, you kind of feel like you’re getting sized up,” he said. “My thought is, everyone who comes in here, whether they’re an 85-year-old woman or a five-year-old boy, we want to treat you with respect and show you the stuff you’re interested in, but most importantly, we want you to have fun.”
And on the aesthetic level, fun is clearly priority one. Step inside the Guitar Bar, and you can’t help but stare agape. Rather than a checkout register, there’s a stainless steel “bar” for customers to sit at and interact with employees over. At the center of the space sit two mid-century chairs, a couch, and a coffee table, replete with reading material for those waiting in the wings. The store’s Yanonali Street side even boasts a stage for folks who want to test their new axes out in the spotlight. There are three beautifully framed rooms, where Faletti is offering private vocal and guitar lessons, as well as two “super soundproof” spaces for customers who want to crank things to 11.
“You can go in there, plug into an amp, and just wail and no one out here would know,” he laughed.
In the coming months, the Guitar Bar will also roll out a “give back” program through which they’ll donate a kid’s starter guitar for every high-end guitar sold. “By far, my favorite type of sale that I’ve ever done is a kid’s first guitar. One time I even let a kid trade in his video game,” said Faletti, recalling a young boy who approached him with $40, an Xbox, and a desperate plea. “That he was that into it, I just wanted to get the thing into his hands.” According to Faletti, the program will kick off at the start of 2014.
’Til then, the Guitar Bar owner and his growing clientele are keeping busy getting comfortable. “The neighbors are awesome. It’s a big lovefest down here,” said Faletti of his new digs. “It’s unlike anything in my life, other than my kids. It’s the closest to what I completely wished for. Every way I look I think, ‘Ah! That’s exactly what I imagined!’”
And the customers? They’re loving the space, too.
“We’ve had some impromptu jams break out in the middle of the room already,” said Faletti. “That’s the point, though. If you’re a musician, you should want to hang out here.”