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Terry Straker, Guitar Works, Ltd.

"I tried to leave Evanston once, but failed spectacularly"

· Music,Repairs
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Tell us about Guitar Works, Ltd.

Terry says: Guitar Works, Ltd. is a full service fretted musical instrument emporium staffed by knowledgeable people who know and love guitars! For the last 39 years we have been buying, selling, repairing, offering straight advice and answering questions about guitars and the meaning of life-- all right here on Main Street!

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709 Main Street, Evanston, IL 60202


Why did you start this business? If you were a superhero, what would your origin story be?

Terry says:  Superhero? My origin is similar to Spider-Man but it was the guitar bug that bit me ... I accidentally broke my own guitar and couldn't afford the repair cost so I learned to do it myself and discovered that I was a much more talented fixer than I was a player. My music-playing friends found out about my abilities and started bringing me their broken guitars. I got tired of them hanging around in my studio apartment drinking my beer while I fixed their guitars so I opened the store.

The long story, from the website: The Guitar Works story begins in 1971 when Terry Straker, a struggling grad student at UIC, dropped his guitar on the way to giving a lesson. His beloved 1933 Martin 00-17 hit the ground and cracked down the side all the way from the neck block to the butt block. Living as he was on a TA’s salary, there was no way he could afford the $100 it would cost him to get it fixed. So Terry did the only thing he could do — he decided to fix it himself. He succeeded and soon friends wanted work done on their instruments, too. Before he knew it, Terry found himself with a thriving little home business.

After leaving school and continuing to work at home for a year, Terry decided to go to work for a local music store, whose owner was a violin builder. There, he learned more about the art of instrument repairs as well as the business end of running a music store. Terry stayed there, gathering experience and knowledge, until 1979, when fate came calling again (see the "Why did you choose to locate your business in Evanston?" section below).

Starting a new business is hard work, but early encouragement came in the form of a telegram from Chet Atkins congratulating Terry on the new enterprise and the arrival of legendary mandolinist Jethro Burns who taught at the store from 1980 until his death in 1989. By the mid 80’s, business was good enough that Guitar Works was able to expand, taking over an adjacent storefront. The store’s hard-earned reputation for quality and service continued to expand and soon, professionals and novices alike were coming in from all over the region. Things were great, but rapidly becoming cramped.

On August 1st, 2000, Guitar Works opened in its new location at 709 Main St. Roughly twice the square footage of the old location, the new store provides an open, airy feel without losing the intimate, homey feel of the old store. Tucked in a corner across from the giant wall of electric guitars, you will still find a small, quiet, room full of the finest acoustic guitars. Teachers give lessons out of state-of-the-art studios in the back. And the expanded shop allows for greater volume of repair work without sacrificing quality.

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What's the story behind the name of your business?

Terry says: The name "Guitar Works" pretty much sums up what we are. Besides, I felt that using my name for the store would discourage business. Do you really want to trust your guitar to a guy named Terry? Dave, maybe ... but, Terry??

Why did you choose to locate your business in Evanston? Did you choose it? Or did it choose you?

Terry says: Both! I tried to leave the Mile once, but failed spectacularly. Literally 5 minutes after quitting my job working in a now defunct guitar shop near Chicago & Dempster, my ultra-reliable BMW motorcycle died right in front of an empty storefront at 709 Main. I knew it was a sign from above ... that said "Store For Rent". I have since learned that Main Street is the perfect location. Not too far North to discourage Chicagoan's from coming all the way out to the 'burbs, but not so far South that the North Shore moms won't let their kids come to the shop.

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What sets your business apart from others that sell the same products?

Terry says: Unlike the BIG BOX guitar shops that abound, we actually have a staff that know about guitars and have worked in this industry for decades instead of weeks. Our prices are competitive with those guys and our repair shop can do actual serious repairs, not just change strings... although we can do that correctly too-- while you wait!

From the website: At Guitar Works, one of our greatest assets is people. We know that our customers are the life-blood of the store and we base our business philosophy on that knowledge. At some other stores, the goal is simply to move inventory. At Guitar Works, our aim is to help you find what you want—the guitar that will suit your playing style, the reason your amp keeps blowing tubes, or the coolest sounding distortion pedal around. Essential to that process is our staff. Unlike other stores where commission-based sales promote high turnover and low knowledge, we take care to develop a loyal staff of knowledgeable employees. Whatever your question, there will always be someone on hand to give you an informed, honest answer. And that makes all the difference in the world.

What advice would you give to someone who was thinking about opening a business?

Terry says: If you want to make a small fortune in the music business, then you will need to start off with a large fortune.