The famous Mansons Guitar Shop in Exeter, England, is to close its doors after 31 years, during which time it sold gear to the likes of John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl and Matt Bellamy of Muse, who would become a co-owner of Manson Guitar Works in 2019 and help steer its electric guitar design.
The Mansons Guitar Shop was formed by Hugh Manson, Adrian Ashton and Jay Henson over three decades ago, and has been a mainstay of the UK’s gear retail scene since. According to Mansons legend, they first convened in the pub and like any self-respecting entrepreneurs they wrote the business plan down on the back of a beer mat.
With the store’s lease due to expire in June 2023, Manson and Ashton had made the decision to step down, and hoped that a new owner could be found. But speaking to DevonLive, Manson said the economic headwinds facing independent retailers, allied to a cratering UK economy under the short but disastrous tenure of prime minister Lizz Truss, made that impossible.
“We had someone who was really, really interested in taking the shop on and then Liz Truss got in,” he said. “Single-handedly, within two weeks she destroyed the British economy. Our industry is all traded in dollars which has also had an effect.”
Local government was little better. Manson said parking costs, public transport issues and business rates was making retail “incredibly challenging”.
“Exeter City Council seems to be hell-bent on destroying any independent retailer,” he said. “You just have to look at transport, parking, rates and so forth. Who is going to pay £2.60 to park to buy a set of strings?”
Now Mansons will slowly be wound down until June 2023, as it clears stock and offers its repair service. Part of its success was down to the personalities involved. There was Manson, the luthier with all the contacts in the industry. There was Ashton, the Bass Institute of Technology alumni and law graduate. And Henson was a music graduate who was working in music retail.
But it also enjoyed the imprimatur of many high-profile players. When the shop opened its doors on February 7 1992, it invited former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones as guest of owner. Jones, who was the owner of a number of custom Manson basses, even cut the cake at the opening ceremony. The likes of Noel Gallagher, Hank Marvin, Joe Bonamassa, Dave Grohl and Steve Howe were customers.
The shop and the guitar brand’s history are intertwined, so much so that Manson Guitar Works was created as a separate entity to avoid confusion. Once the shop relocated from its old building to the larger premises it occupies today at McCoys Arcade, Manson Guitar Works moved in in its place, notably designing and building Bellamy’s ‘De Lorean’ custom T-style – a groundbreaking design that set the table for what would follow from MGW. Ashton is now co-owner and CEO at Manson Guitar Works following Hugh Manson's retirement.
“We could literally write a book of the tales and adventures at Manson’s Guitar Shop and we will be sharing the printable ones with you in the coming months,” wrote Manson and Ashton in a blog. “We remain fully open with all our services operating across the coming months including repairs, but we will slowly wind each department down heading towards June. So thank you to all those that have worked here, purchased here or maybe even just dreamt here. The adventure was only complete with you all. Thank you.”