GEARHEAD: Kingston Guitar Shop

In the world of musical instrument shops, there are generally two categories. Most of the larger stores (i.e. Long and McQuade) carry new stock, meaning guitars and other instruments straight from the factory. Then there are the “boutiques”, which are specialty stores that sell the rare and unusual instruments that you cannot find in the corporate stores. For today’s GEARHEAD, I am featuring my favourite guitar store in the world: the Kingston Guitar Shop.

Kingston as a town is steeped in music culture, and the Guitar Shop reflects this. They always have the coolest, most unusual things in stock, sourced from guitar aficionados across the area. My first visit was many years ago, and I always make a point to stop in because you never know what they are going to have hanging on the wall. The shop mostly sells rare guitars on consignment, meaning that people bring them in to be appraised or sold, and the shop handles the sale and takes a commission for themselves. The rest of the money goes to the owner. It’s a pretty common arrangement in the rare instrument game, and it ensures that all parties are committed to finding the right buyer.  Think of it as rare guitar antiquing; everything in the shop is vintage. They also have unique old amplifiers, steel and pedal guitars, effects units, and a friendly dog. The owner, Gord Mylks, is also a trained luthier (the most exalted of titles in the repair game), and he handles all of the major rebuilds, restorations, custom setups. This is a huge advantage for the store, as vintage instrument repair is a very specialized field.

The Kingston Guitar Shop introduced me to the most beautiful guitar I have ever seen in my life: the Fender Coronado. [Full disclosure: I have an obsession with guitars, especially the extremely rare and weird]. It was a semi-hollow model that Fender released in the mid-1960s to compete with Gibson. There are a number of extremely unusual things about the Coronado that will I will explore in a future post, but suffice to say they are extremely rare. Fender stopped making them after only a few years, and I’d never actually seen one in real life. On one occasion, I walked into the Kingston Guitar Shop and they had three Coronados hanging on the wall (priced at about three thousand each). I inquired as to their origin, and was told they were part of a rich man’s private collection. He owned several, and simply sold them off when he needed cash.  I relate this story to you only to illustrate that this shops values the rare and unusual above all else, and has earned a reputation as such. You don’t take your super-rare Fenders just anywhere to be sold, after all. As we shall see…

On my most recent visit, I once again encountered a beautiful, one-of-a-kind Fender hanging on the wall. This is a Fender Stratocaster Thinline, which means that unlike pretty much every other Strat ever made, this guitar is semi-hollow. Hollow chambers on the inside of an electric guitar change the tone significantly, and the difference between a solid-body guitar and a semi-hollow is one of the big tonal palettes available to the electric guitarist. I have never ever heard of a hollow Strat (and I am a man who loves his Strats). The reason they were designed was to create the ultimate solid-body guitar, so hollowing it out is like a rich man’s perverse custom feature. This thing had all the crazy, tricked-out custom features: butterscotch finish, tortoise shell offset fret markers (another thing I have never seen) with matching pickguard and binding, and of course the single f-hole. It was, in a word, breathtaking. This guitar is a really beautiful update on a classic design, like when you see an old Cadillac that’s been completely customized.

The Thinline Fender Stratocaster

Gord told me that it was built in the Fender Custom Shop by famous master luthier John English, who worked there for over 50 years. It was one of only four Thinline Stratocasters ever made. And what was the price? A whopping, but appropriate, $15,000. Gord said that Fender must not have liked the design much, because they never made them again.  Strat have thin bodies, so hollowing out a chamber in such a narrow piece of wood probably required a lot of expensive custom work. The cost to build likely made the company less inclined to produce more of them.  This is definitely a wealthy person’s guitar, and obviously that person knew that the Kingston Guitar Shop was the place to take this priceless artifact. Their reputation has earned them the right to deal in the most valuable instruments, and that reputation is due to the work of Gord Mylks.

He agreed to answer a few questions for me via email, so next time we’ll have our interview with luthier Gord Mylks, owner and operator of the most awesome Kingston Guitar Shop.

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