What is it about music stores that simultaneously make our heart swell like a crescendo, while soothing our souls? Perhaps it’s this heady combination: rows of glistening instruments, piles of sheet music, and the sounds of guitarists noodling out chords. It makes music stores pulse with pleasant possibilities.
The Los Angeles area is fortunate to boast many terrific music stores. Here we bring you three favorite independents worth a visit for their history, merchandise, classes, concerts, and even coffee (!), and for a taste of camaraderie in the community of music lovers.
McCabe’s Guitar Shop
Since 1958, McCabe’s in Santa Monica has catered to customers with an interest in acoustic, folk, and global music instruments like guitars, banjos, mandolins, dulcimers, fiddles, sitars, and ouds. It’s a store, a music school, and a concert venue with an idiosyncratic spirit that reveals itself in the wide selection of instruments for sale or rent—including some that we’ve never heard of (psalteries and bouzoukis, anyone?) —free coffee waiting for you in the entryway, and customers that run the gamut from famous musicians to neighborhood toddlers.
McCabe’s is friendly, quirky—pleasingly frayed at the edges—and for music lovers, somehow perfect. We love the “about us” posted on their website: “We have rentals for the cautious, lessons for the eager, truth-telling for the fearful, repairs for the clumsy, concerts for the devoted, and free coffee for all.” Upstairs the store offers classes for musicians of all levels and ages, including McTots, a six-week series of music, dancing, singing, and general fun for children 18 months–4 years old ($150/six sessions).
Musicians are often strumming songs in the aisles at McCabe’s, but their first official concert was in 1969, and the opener was a young songwriter named Jackson Browne. Their shows, which take place in a cozy, 150-seat back room lined with guitars, have continued since then, and the list of performers who have played there is exhaustive and legendary (http://www.mccabes.com/perflist.html). Families should note McCabe’s kids’ concerts, which take place on weekends and usually cost $10/ticket (free for children under the age of 2).
McCabe’s is open Monday-Thursday 10 am–10 pm, Friday and Saturday 10 am–6 pm, and Sunday noon–6 pm. Metered street parking is available on Pico Blvd.
Don’t forget to grab a free pick on your way out!
3101 Pico Blvd. // Santa Monica CA 90405 // 310-828-4497
If you have never visited the Japanese American Cultural Community Center (JACCC) in downtown Los Angeles’s Little Toyko, you’re in for a treat. You approach through a historic, one-acre plaza designed by acclaimed sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi, a native of Los Angeles. The JACCC features art galleries, the 860-seat Aratani Theater, and the James Irvine Japanese Garden, where you can stroll beneath giant timber bamboo and by a 170-foot cascading stream. But perhaps the most unexpected pleasure of the JACCC is U-Space, a hybrid coffee cafe, music school, repair shop, and retail store that focuses on ukuleles.
A colorful array of ukuleles line the walls at U-Space, and a coffee cart in the shape of a vintage VW Bug sits in the corner of the store. Savor a coffee at tables facing out toward the plaza, catch a ukulele performance, or take classes to learn how to play the charming, four-string uke. U-Space offers classes for adults as well as children ages 6–13, and a family class is in the works, as well.
The ukulele was introduced to American culture via Hawaii, where it’s thought that Portuguese immigrants brought with them a similar instrument called a machete. Today the ukulele is an essential part of Hawaiian culture, and you’ll sense a sweet “island vibe” in the store, where the look is contemporary but the general feel is relaxed and welcoming.
Note than on April 18 at 11:30 a.m. you can help U-Space break the world record for the largest uke ensemble at the LA Ukulele Expo (http://www.jaccc.org/laukuleleexpo)! Last year some 1,500 ukulele lovers showed up to try and break the world record (currently 2,370), so arrive early to register! If you don’t have your own ukulele, inexpensive instruments will be on sale at the event.
U-Space is open Sunday 1–6 pm, Tuesday-Thursday, 9 am–6 pm, Friday 9 am–5 pm, and Saturday 11 am–5 pm. They are closed Monday. If you don’t locate nearby street parking, Joe’s Garage on 2nd Street is adjacent to the JACCC plaza.
U-Space // 244 South San Pedro Street // Los Angeles CA 90012 // 323-577-5567
Folk Music Center
The next time we’re headed to Claremont, or maybe as a driving break to or from the desert, our to-do list is topped with a stop at the Folk Music Center. Part store, part museum, part school, and part performance venue, the Center is known for its extremely wide variety of instruments for folk, blues, and world music, including everything from guitars and banjos to dulcimers, African drums, mandolins, violins, cellos, sitars, harmonicas, and more.
The Folk Music Center is the Claremont equivalent of McCabe’s in Santa Monica, and it is interesting to note that both were started in 1958, a time when the nation’s budding liberal consciousness sparked an interest in American vernacular music and global music, arts, and cultures.
The Center was founded by noted music aficionados Charles and Dorothy Chase, grandparents of Grammy-winning rock, folk, and blues artist Ben Harper, who recently purchased the store to keep it in the family and alive for generations to come. Harper’s mother, singer Ellen Chase-Verdries manages the store now, and Ben, who essentially grew up there, credits that part of his upbringing with shaping the musician and person he is today. We can’t wait to check it out!
Folk Music Center is open Tuesday-Saturday 10 am – 6 pm, Sunday 11 am – 4 pm, and closed Monday. Street parking is available, and there are also spots in the alley behind the store.
Folk Music Center // 220 Yale Avenue // Claremont, CA 91711 // 909-624-2928
Article by Stacey Ravel Abarbanel