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Shop Talk: Carter Vintage Guitars in Nashville

Shop Talk: Carter Vintage Guitars in Nashville

Heralded as “Nashville’s Friendliest Guitar Store,” Carter Vintage has certainly earned that reputation in spades.

This 8,000-square-foot shop is not only incredibly inviting (with great benches and private rooms) but the collection of guitars is downright jaw-dropping. During my last visit, I chatted with the staff while Pete Townshend strummed guitars only steps away. Yes, Carter’s is a must-visit.

NUMBER OF INSTRUMENTS CURRENTLY IN THE SHOP
Walter Carter
(Owner): Counting amps, around 1,600 pieces.

COOLEST INSTRUMENT CURRENTLY IN THE SHOP
A 1967 Martin 00-21 with Merle Haggard’s name inlaid on the fingerboard. It’s the guitar on the cover of his 1969 Jimmie Rodgers tribute album, Same Train, a Different Time.

FAVORITE INSTRUMENT YOU EVER SOLD
The very first cherry sunburst Les Paul Standard. We got it from the original owner and sold it to a collector.

MOST EXPENSIVE INSTRUMENT YOU EVER SOLD
We can’t tell you who we sold the first ’burst to, or for how much, but we listed it at $625,000.

MOST SOUGHT AFTER INSTRUMENT BY CUSTOMERS
Everyone has different tastes. We have customers looking for the holy grail in every genre—sunburst Les Paul, blackguard Telecaster, Loar-signed Gibson F-5 mandolin, pre-war Gibson flat-head banjo or pre-war Martin D-45. We’re always on the lookout for all of those models.

BIGGEST PET PEEVE AS A SHOP OWNER
We have the same issues with manufacturers, customers, employees, etc., that every other brick-and-mortar store has—but it’s really hard to complain. We still look forward to coming into the store every day.

FAVORITE CELEBRITY ENCOUNTER
Because of our location in Nashville, we have lots of celebrities in the store. Without exception, they have been normal people who wanted to check out some guitars, and that’s the way we treat them. Kevin Costner sat on a bench in the showroom and played acoustic guitars for 20 minutes without anyone giving him a second glance. Justin Bieber didn’t draw a crowd until he sent out an Instagram letting his fans know he was in the store.

Carlos Santana asked us if he could get a picture of himself in front of one of our wall murals. It’s hard to top that. It’s always a special moment when someone like Pete Townshend grabs a Sixties J-200 off the wall and plays the lick from “Pinball Wizard” and then buys the guitar. Any time a great player picks up an instrument, something special is going to happen. One of our favorites is the impromptu YouTube video Brian Setzer did on a 1941 L-5, which now has over 360,000 views.

STRANGEST REQUEST FROM A CUSTOMER
The first one that comes to mind was a guy who wanted a Calton case with a hot pink sparkle finish. We were able to fill that request.

MOST COMMON SONG OR RIFF WHEN TRYING GUITARS
“Stairway to Heaven” is making a comeback, and we hear “Sweet Child O’ Mine” a lot. The banjo players inevitably play “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” Mandolin is more interesting. The bluegrassers are partial to Bill Monroe’s “Jerusalem Ridge.” The Chris Thile disciples will play Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 1,” and the simply curious will hit the lick from Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road.” Fortunately, there’s enough variety for us to keep our sanity. The very first cherry sunburst Les Paul Standard. We got it from the original owner and sold it to a collector.

For more information, visit cartervintage.com.

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