Sunset Boulevard’s Guitar Gulch

Whether you’re shopping for a guitar or just get warm fuzzies being around them, visiting the businesses making up Sunset Boulevard’s “Guitar Gulch” in Hollywood, CA is a must. Sadly, there used to be several more shops in the area, but over time these gave way to factors like competition and trading in ‘brick and mortar’ for ‘click and order’ presences online. But fear not! There is still PLENTY to keep you enraptured for hours.

Note: Many of these stores deal in more than just guitars but guitars are the focus of this article.

GUITAR CENTER (guitarcenter.com)

7425 Sunset Blvd. / 323-874-1060

Guitar Center is the largest presence in the area in square footage, inventory, and recognition. This is a plus in that there is so much to see and sample, serving as a possible one-stop shop for anything you want or need. The downside is that it can be overwhelming, flooding your senses and making your head spin and your ears buzz.

VIBE: Large and overwhelming like a mall but exciting. Loud (background music + employee intercom + people sampling gear). Friendly staff eager to help or leave you alone. Overall staff seems happy to be there and knowledgeable though it can sometimes feel like they’re pushing products.

INVENTORY: HUGE! Everything from cheap intro packages to the highest end vintage instruments. All the major brands and a few lesser known brands. Guitars are divided by room: main floor carrying current electrics, used guitars, Platinum room for current high end guitars, Acoustic room, Vintage room (split into electric and acoustic).

HANDS-ON: Try anything. They are very cool about letting customers play whatever they want including the higher end guitars. I picked up a $21,000 1960 Gibson ES345TDC and all the salesman asked was if I needed any help.

AMPS & ACCESSORIES: Everything from small name brand practice amps to larger boutique. Tons of accessories.

SERVICES: Basic setup and maintenance. Referrals are provided for higher end repairs.

SALES POLICY: 30 day price protection against any authorized US retailer online or retail. 30 day full refund return policy for instruments in new condition with original packaging. Pro Coverage extended service plan.

EXTRAS: Rock Walk (hand prints of famous musicians set into the sidewalk as well as bronze portrait plaques); legendary instruments and memorabilia on display; small museum/shop (photos, t-shirts, postcards, etc.); live “Sessions” events 2 – 3 times per month (performances and artist Q&A, demos, talent contests)

FACTOIDS: This location is the flagship store. Prior to becoming a music store in 1959 it was the Granada Theater. The arched ceiling behind the accessories counter is architecture held over from those days.

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SAM ASH (samashmusic.com)

7360 Sunset Blvd. / 323-850-1050

Sam Ash is like the little brother to Guitar Center. The floor space is not as vast and the inventory not as deep, but it’s still packed floor to ceiling with gear and not as loud and overwhelming.

VIBE: Similar to Guitar Center the staff is friendly and accommodating. They’ll leave you to roam around on your own but also make known their willingness to help you find what you’re looking for and cut a deal.

INVENTORY: All the major brands from cheap intro packages to higher end professional instruments. High end models top out around $6,000 with higher priced specialty guitars available aside from standard inventory. No vintage inventory. Guitars are divided among three rooms: main floor carrying current electrics, acoustics, higher end electrics. Used guitars are mixed in with new models and designated by a “USED” sticker.

HANDS-ON: Try anything.

AMPS & ACCESSORIES: Major brands from small practice amps to larger models. Some boutique options but not many. Decent inventory of parts and accessories.

SERVICES: Full service done on the floor in plain sight. Full body painting is referred to outside sources.

SALES POLICY: 60 day price protection against any authorized US retailer online or retail. 30 day full refund or 45 day full exchange return policy for instruments in new condition with original packaging. Optional extended service plan covers two years of setups and maintenance.

EXTRAS: Live events (samashmusic.com/events), Twitter presence (twitter.com/SamAshLA).

FACTOIDS: Sam Ash pawned his wife’s wedding ring to open his first store in Brooklyn, NY (they bought the ring back later). The business continues to be family-run today.

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CARVIN (carvin.com)

7414 Sunset Blvd. / 323-851-4200

Carvin is a direct-sell manufacturer of guitars, basses, amps, and pro audio gear. Operations and manufacturing are based in San Diego. Customers are served online and through satellite stores like the Hollywood location.

VIBE: The showroom/store is neat and tidy and the environment quiet and friendly. The staff is knowledgeable and casual, allowing you to roam around on your own but happy to help you with any questions or trying out gear. The small, but well stocked store is divided into the main floor featuring guitars (acoustic and electric), some amps, and accessories; a room dedicated to pro sound; and a couple sound-proof rooms with more amp choices where you can crank it up.

INVENTORY: You won’t find every model of every product Carvin produces, but the inventory covers a wide range of their wares. Given that there are numerous customization options available, this wouldn’t be practical anyway, but you get a good enough sense of what they have to offer based on what is in-house. No used gear.

HANDS-ON: Try anything. The Carvin staff has a “Go right ahead and try whatever you’d like and let us know if you need any help” attitude.

AMPS & ACCESSORIES: Amps cover the Carvin line. Accessories include Carvin pickups, strap locks, Floyd Rose tremolos, and a few other hardware related items. They did have a couple effects boxes but you’re not going to come here for a wide assortment of extras.

SERVICES: All work is done in-house unless major work requires going back to home base in San Diego. Trucks come every Thursday so turnaround time is reasonable and there is no charge for shipping. Service is focused on repairs rather than adjustments and modifications.

SALES POLICY: Full service 5-yr. warranty. Friendly warranty – Carvin is more interested in happy clients than being sticklers about the warranty so while they won’t fix a guitar you swing into a wall of amps like Pete Townsend and then light on fire a la Jimi Hendrix, they are sympathetic to unintentional mishaps. 10-day full refund return policy for instruments in new condition with original packaging.

EXTRAS: none

FACTOIDS: Carvin was started by Lowell Kiesel in 1946 as a pickup manufacturer. The business remains family-owned and is run with the help of Kiesel’s four sons. The Hollywood store opened in 1986.
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MESA/BOOGIE (mesahollywood.com)

7426 Sunset Blvd. / 323-883-9090

Mesa/Boogie is well known for their line of high quality boutique amps. What many people don’t realize about the Hollywood location is that they also carry an impressive inventory of select boutique guitars, basses, and effects.

VIBE: The store is relatively small but well organized and clean. It’s somewhat divided between the main floor up front featuring amps and guitars, and space further back where you’ll find basses, effects, and the counter. The staff is chill and knowledgeable, available to help and just as content to let you browse the goods on your own.

INVENTORY: An impressive selection of amps (Mesa only) adorns the floor space, unique guitar brands (Jerry Jones, Nash, fano, Tom Anderson, Suhr…) line the walls, and complete collections of boutique pedals fill glass cases. I even spotted a theramin! There is some used gear on consignment but not much – it’s all about the new stuff.

HANDS-ON: You’re welcome to try whatever you like but the staff is understandably cautious about the higher end instruments. They have a demo guitar available specifically for demoing the amps.

AMPS & ACCESSORIES: This place is amp heaven. The selection is vast and the cabinets are gorgeous. Several custom cabinet options are available. The pedal selection is equally impressive with full lines of boutique pedals from manufacturers like Fulltone, Maxon, and ElectroHarmonix (to name a few). You’ll have to shop elsewhere for mainstream pedals.

SERVICES: Full service amp repair for Mesa/Boogie amps only done in-house.

SALES POLICY: 5 days cash back, 6-30 days store credit for equipment in new condition in original packaging.

EXTRAS: none

FACTOIDS: Mesa/Boogie was started by Randall Smith in Northern California in 1969. He continues to work on the amps to this day. The Hollywood store opened in 1992.

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VINTAGE GEAR GUITAR SHOP (vintagegear.la/store/)

7501 Sunset Blvd. / 323-876-9862

Second only to Guitar Center, this store has the largest selection of high end vintage instruments in the area and the largest selection of vintage pedals.

VIBE: Tags on instruments within reach warn against touching. A wide front counter serves both as a display case and barricade. Access to the treasures hanging all over the back walls like a guitar sultan’s proud display of riches is limited to a single private entrance. This shop is for serious buyers only.

INVENTORY: Impressive. Think name brand. Think popular models. Think high end. Think vintage. Guitars line the walls floor to ceiling.

HANDS-ON: Nope, not unless you’re a serious buyer. This shop caters to the person who walks in the front door knowing exactly what they want and is prepared to pay for it.

AMPS & ACCESSORIES: There are vintage amps to be had but the focus is on guitars and pedals. The pedal selection is very impressive and you can find effects here that you’ll have trouble even finding online.

SERVICES: Guitar repairs are referred to trusted outside source. Full service amp repair. Free verbal appraisals. $30 written appraisals good for insurance policies. Appraisals apply to most other types of instruments as well.

SALES POLICY: 30 day store credit.

EXTRAS: none

FACTOIDS: This store claims to be the last vintage store of its kind in LA besides Guitar Center. Half the business happens at the store and half is done online. Average turnaround for instruments is 15 days!

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THRIFT STORE MUSIC (shop.ebay.com/thriftstoremusic/m.html)

7561 Sunset Blvd., Unit 101 / 323-798-5504

The name says it all. This is a thrift store for instruments.

VIBE: Spartan, chill, organized – like walking around someone’s huge basement full of instruments.

INVENTORY: I counted approximately 60 electrics, 30 acoustics, and 15 basses. You’ll also find keyboards, amps, drums, banjos, a lute… Inventory includes online eBay presence.

HANDS-ON: Try anything. The friendly guy behind the counter is very accommodating.

AMPS & ACCESSORIES: As everything is used there’s a random collection of amps – whatever happens to be on sale at the moment. There are a lot of pedals, including a cool selection, on display in glass counters.

SERVICES: Same as Vintage Gear Guitar Shop.

SALES POLICY: 30 day store credit.

EXTRAS: none

FACTOIDS: Opened approximately nine months ago in direct response to the recessed economy. Sister store to Vintage Gear Guitar Shop.

All images © 2010 by Dan Coplan

 

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  • Travis

    Vintage guitar is closed as is Future Music (thrift store music)…

    • Thanks for the update Travis. The article was submitted about a year ago. Too bad they had to close… another sign of a rough economy.

  • Tracy

    🙁 More Of Hollywood’s landmarks disapearing. It’s barely recognizable anymore.

  • isaac flemming jr.

    hellow my name,s big isaac my band is called babysuperman heavymetal ilove to play leed i hope some day i will turn out to be another jimmy hendricks please send me a free music guitar catalougue at my address in mail so ican some day purchase some music item,s from your store my address is 1613 w.saginaw way fresno ca.93705 thank you and have a rockinroll day

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