In the online age, Promenade Music in Morecambe is heartening evidence that the bricks-and-mortar guitar shop still plays a vital role. Founded in 1989 by the charismatic David Wood, you’ll find everything here from flagship solidbody electrics to arguably the best selection of connoisseur acoustics in Europe. But, as Wood reminds us, his beloved shop is about more than stock levels and SKUs, with Promenade representing a pillar of the local community.
What’s the focus of Promenade Music?
“The main focus is to represent each kind of guitar well. So in the solidbody electric stuff, we’re very good at things like PRS, Guild and Fender. We have a big bass department, probably 100 basses
“Our main focus is to represent each kind of guitar well… We’re a destination store” DAVID WOOD, FOUNDER
in stock. We’re the UK importer for GFI and Mullen, who are like the Fender and Gibson of pedal steel guitars. In our acoustic department, we obviously do all the standard acoustics and electros, but we’ve probably got about 25 resonators in stock and maybe 60 classicals, which not many shops have. Even in our left-handed acoustic range, we’ve probably got 16 models, including a Martin D-28.”
Can you give us an idea of how diverse your acoustic range is?
“We’re very strong with brands like Martin and Larrivée. We’re the UK importer for RainSong, the carbongraphite guitar maker, and sell Northwood, which is handmade in Canada by John McQuarrie. We’re also about the only UK dealer for K Yairi – people like Paul McCartney have owned those guitars – and sell the actual Japanese Yairis from the original workshop.
We’re also the UK people for another carbon-graphite guitar called KLOS. One of the bestsellers in the acoustic department is Maestro, by a guy from Singapore called Hozen. So we’re a destination store because you can’t always buy the stuff we offer. We have guys flying in from Berlin for brands like RainSong because we’ve got the biggest range in Europe.”
What’s your best advice for anyone setting out to buy a guitar?
“I think it’s a bit like speed-dating. I’ve never done it myself, but I know there’s certain people who you gel with immediately. Guitars are like that. If you pick up a guitar and don’t really like it straightaway, chances are, you won’t fall in love with that guitar. My advice is that when you’re trying out different guitars, you should play the same thing on each one – whether that’s a couple of solos or rhythm stuff – and also use the same amp and settings.”
What sort of price range will we find at Promenade Music?
“We like to top out at about £3,500 in every area. Don’t get me wrong: we just had a Martin D-45 in, which sold for £8,000 last week. We’ve also got a David
Pelter in stock, which is £6,500. So it’s not just the token-gesture £99 classical guitar. Some buyers – especially mums and dads who are new to it – might go online and think, ‘Well, I’ll just buy a cheap guitar to get my kid going.’ But those kids will never get going. When you’re a beginner, that’s when you need a really well set up guitar. That’s what puts a lot of people off. It goes under the bed and then it’s forgotten.”
When should you walk away from a guitar?
“If it just doesn’t feel right or doesn’t suit you. Truthfully, I’ve got to tell you that I don’t know many guitar shops that sell bad instruments. I do see a lot from online purchases, though. We get guitars brought into the shop that people have got from wherever; they might have a terrible bridge or sharp frets. Sometimes you have to be honest with the customer and say, ‘Listen, there’s no point paying us to put goodquality machineheads on a rubbish neck that already has frets sticking out.’ But my experience is that none of the guitar shops are selling that kind of product.”
What are your bestsellers?
“If we take out the brands that we are the UK distributor for, then we sell a lot of PRS, Fender and Squier. On acoustic,
we do incredibly well with Martin and Tanglewood. Bass guitars, it’s probably Fender and Cort. Classical guitars, we sell a lot of Ramirez. We’re big into amplification, too. Marshall, Fender and Orange, I’d say, are the three biggest sellers, and Boss has to be in there as well. On the bass side, we do a lot more brands. So we do stuff like MarkBass, PJB, Eich, a lot of Aguilar, Gallien-Krueger. I think bass players are maybe more adventurous with trying out the smaller amp makers.”
What should customers expect from a good retailer?
“I think the guys here are really good at honing in. It’s about asking questions and listening. A customer could say, ‘Oh, I love this track,’ and you’ll know it’s a Guild semi-hollow. It’s about not putting guitars that won’t interest them in their hands. You want to be a bit like a dating app, matching people to guitars. Y’know, if they’re into country and talking about Danny Gatton, you know they’re probably going to be interested in a Telecaster.”
What brands deserve more attention, in your view?
“Mine! We actually own the Mendieta and ResoVille brands, and what people don’t realise is how much work it takes us to make those guitars. We make the Mendietas in Valencia, and the work that goes into the design, bracings, different woods – it’s months before that guitar ends up on a hook in the store. I think, generally, the art of guitar making needs to be championed more. I think every player should go to a factory to see one being made, or enrol on a guitar building course, just to see what actually goes into it.”
What changing trends in guitar-buying habits are you seeing?
“I don’t think it’s what guitars are being sold; I think it’s how the customers want their information. I mean, we’ve done amazingly well just by offering WhatsApp and FaceTime video demos. People aren’t just happy with a generic video or pictures – they actually want to look at the guitar, get one of the team to show them the action or play a few bits on it. Lockdown has meant that some of our customer base, who maybe didn’t do technology before, have had to learn. It’s like the bulb has been lit: ‘I can speak to my guitar shop online now!’”
What’s your favourite guitar in the shop and why?
“In the acoustic department, there’s a particular Northwood. It’s called the M80 and it’s an OM shape with a Venetian cutaway. It doesn’t particularly look that special, and it’s £3,299, so it’s not inexpensive. But my God, it is absolutely beautiful to play. When I got it, I actually phoned John and said, ‘This is one of the best guitars we’ve ever had in the shop.’”
What defines great service for you?
“At Promenade, the customers end up being friends. We lost one of our members of staff last November, a guy called Keith Ashcroft. It was the height of Covid, and the hearse went past and stopped outside the shop for three minutes. And you won’t believe this, but maybe 500 customers had heard about this through Facebook. And they stood outside, lined the road and clapped the hearse as it went past. That is what this shop is about. Of course, we need to sell a few guitars to keep going. But it’s way beyond pounds, shillings and pence. We’re at the heart of the local community.”
Finally, what guitar riff gets played most often at Promenade?
“Among the fingerpickers, it’s Blackbird.
But I think because we’re close to Manchester, there’s a lot of Wonderwall.
I don’t think that’ll ever change.”
For more information see www.promenademusic.co.uk