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Best Guitar Shops

Catering to the cash-strapped guitar gods of tomorrow, Primitive Sound (1118 W. Magnolia St., Burbank, 818-842-2620) sells retro style on the cheap. The hole-in-the-wall carries a brand-new version of the Montgomery Ward JB Hutto favored by Jack White, while its vintage stock tends toward Italian models shaped like coffins or teardrops and loose Japanese translations of Fenders and Gibsons. You may come out with your signature guitar for less than $400, but its value will surely skyrocket once you’re seen thrashing it on MTV.

More than any independent guitar store, Truetone Music (714 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-393-8232) overwhelms you with gear—walls crawl with Gretches, Martins, Guilds, and Gibsons five guitars high. Fortunately, the testy salespeople will still help you make sense of it all, ripping on overrated best-sellers and steering you toward lesser-known brands. The store’s six technicians can tweak your ax to sound and feel better than when it left the factory.

Faced with soaring Hollywood rents, Voltage Guitars (7529 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, 323-851-1406) owner Lloyd Chiate has vowed to take his vintage dealership strictly online by 2008. After 23 years, that’s an awful shame. From the ’22 Martin Brazilian Rosewood acoustic to the dual-neck Rickenbacker, Chiate’s guitars have a fine, aged feel experienced only by holding them in your hands. Chiate, a guitar sage, offers whammy tutorials that come with tales of his songwriting for Eddie Money and Motown and sketches of past customers like Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Should Chiate close shop, Norman’s Rare Guitars (18969 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, 818-344-8300) will easily ascend the throne, with an inventory so deep you can almost witness the year-by-year evolution of the Gibson Les Paul or Fender Jazzmaster.

If you’re looking to buy your kid her first acoustic, a visit to McCabe’s Guitar Shop (3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-828-4497) will have her well-rooted in West Coast folk-rock tradition from her first strum. Founded in 1958, McCabe’s has equipped nearly a half century of singer-songwriters, and acts from Fairport Convention to Lucinda Williams have performed in its famed back room. The inventory ranges from entry-level Chinese and Canadian instruments to masterworks by Sergei De Jonge and David Eichenbaum.

Photograph courtesy Flickr/juliewolfson306