Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Music Has Died On 48th Street

Manny's Musical Instruments from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Any musician from the 60s through the 90s knew of 48th street between 6th and 7th Avenue was a mecca for music stores. In fact, these were arguably the best music stores maybe in the world, always with the latest gear and the best prices. The famous Manny's Music would battle it out with cross-street rival Sam Ash while Alex Musical Instruments, Rudy's Music, We Buy Guitars, 48th Street Music, Colony Music Center, New York Woodwinds and Brass, and a few others that I can't remember picked up the crumbs.

If you had gear lust, like every musician has, this was the place to either go to or stay away from. It was actually worth the 125 mile trip from my home in rural Pennsylvania not only for the best deal, but for the best sites as well. You never knew when a star or two or three or four would be in one of the stores (especially Manny's) buying an instrument for stage or studio. The autographed pictures on the wall always had us in awe.

I can remember one day near 6PM when Manny's was about to close when in came a young and fresh Eddie Murphy along with Joe Piscapo, both on a roll at the time from being on Saturday Night Live. While the staff set a kit up for Eddie to try right there on the main floor, I remember having a nice talk about Martin guitars with a rather subdued John Sabastian. And remember, I lived 125 miles away from the city at the time. My head just about exploded. I always thought to myself after leaving, "Image who I might meet if I lived in the City and went there more often."

Sam Ash eventually bought Manny's as well as most of the other stores on that famous 48th Street block, which subdued the scene a bit since the competition was now gone, but now it looks like the music on 48th Street is about to die forever. Sam Ash has now signed a new lease for a huge new store on West 34th Street, and will move its stores there one by one. What's happening is the classic "going condo" in the 48th Street area, and now it looks like the famous and beloved Music Row will soon be just a memory. Goodbye, Music Row. Some of us are going to miss you!

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8 comments:

Jef Knight said...

My wife is from NYC, so I've been there quite a lot these past 23 years. It's a long drive from our home north of Toronto, but worth every second of it.

Her family manufactured Sohmer pianos and had show rooms in Manhatten which weren't far from Music Row.

I think I married her partly because she was so excited about music gear. She doesn't play an instrument, but loves the look of all of it. Barely a day goes by that she isn't flashing a picture of some exotic looking guitar and asking, "Why don't you have one of these?"

I'm in no way a gear hog. I'm kind of an anti-materialist, sort of, though you wouldn't know it to see my studio. It's just that I see it all as just tools of the trade.

I remember the first time she dragged me down there, to Music Row. The feeling I got could only be descibed as a religious experience; overwhelming.

My most interesting experience there was at a very small, dungeony place with thick steel bars on the window and door. It had a doorman that looked like an eviler version of Mickey Ruorke, if that's possible. He let us in and gave us a "mystery look" like he knew something that we didn't.

Inside there was a counter and a plexiglass enclosed room enshrined in steel bars, guarded by what appeared to be Hell's Angels or some other thuggish clique.

I could see through the never-been-cleaned plastic wall that this arc housed some of the most amazing vintage guitars I'd ever imagined. I had a sudden epiphany of materialism. Pretty sure I drooled a little.

I approached the very large, bearded man at the counter and rather sheepishly asked if I could examine some of his collection.

With the smirk of a Kentucky drug dealer being asked for a "front" he softly replied, "No".

With that my wife and I gave each other a look that said, "I think they kill people who can't afford this stuff" and bolted to the relative safety of Manny's where they let me play a $20k Gibon "Corvette" Les Paul.

That was 1994. I still have the t-shirt that says, "Manny's - Music is not a spectator's sport".

Cheers

Brett R said...

I visited NYC for the first time in 94 and was so excited to walk down 48th...for a guy from Melbourne it was a real buzz, and just confirmed my daydreams of what NY was going to be like. Got there again about 07, noticed a lot less stores and could see the writing on the wall. Sad to hear of what seems to be its final demise.

CaptainVictory said...

One of the first amps I bought came from that Sam Ash store. I was in Houston at the time. Also, my uncle used to clean bars on weekends, and would always bring me the guitar picks he found on the floor. Half of them had "Manny's" emblazoned on them. And two years ago, my family vacationed in Manhattan. I took my son (a classical pianist who attends Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts) to Sam Ash. It was a first for both of us. Now I'm glad we stopped in!

scullo said...

You can't mention Manny's without mentioning one of their most famous salespeople: Rick Stevenson. He was the keyboard/programmer EVERYONE knew. He shared more info and helped more people than you could imagine. If you had anything to do with recording you knew (or knew of) him. Also the Goldrich family, Henry, Ian and Judd were very cool people. It was quite a sight just to see the hundreds of signed celebrity photos lining the walls. What a time and place. : >

Leigh Harrison said...

I remember another place on 48th St. you forgot: Silver Horland. And, as a native New Yorker and frequent visitor to 48th Street from 1970 on, I couldn't imagine life without these stores -- or thought I couldn't -- until, one by one, they began closing shop.

The superstores and national chains that have done to the small music stores what superstores have done to mom-and-pop stores everywhere ARE ubiquitous and big! But, despite fears to the contrary, they are filled with salespeople who are just as informed and helpful as were the people at the old stores. I miss the days when 48th Street was a mecca for musicians, but I can still go to the ones that remain -- or the superstores, such as Sam Ash, Guitar Center (and Musician's Friend online) and get wonderful guitars, and knowledgeable service. And after buying guitars for over 40 years (I have 11 guitars) I can honestly say that the dearth of 48th Street stores is a far less pressing problem for NY musicians currently than the laws in NYC that prohibit live music in many places, and (for world musicians) than the toxic moral situation that allows many people to ignore artists' IP and copyright when they pirate music with complete disregard for a creator's right to earn a living from their work.

And you can still see the "stars" in the big superstores, too....

Anonymous said...

Music Row has been a depressing cross between a used car dealership and a porno shop for more than ten years... being treated like a criminal as you check in your bag, fluorescent lights glaring, untrained staff, horrible merchandising, being sold manufacturer refurb equipment... terrible. Meanwhile places like Main Drag Music have more than filled the gaps and followed the scene. There is nothing surprising here and nothing even to be sad about if you've tried to buy there in the last decade.

Anonymous said...

That place with the plexiglass that Jef Knight wrote about was We Buy Guitars (I seem to remember also calling We Buy We Sell, but I'm not sure on that). I remember going in there and asking to look at some guitar and being growled at, "Let me see your money." If you showed them a wad of cash they'd let you touch the guitars.

I did end up buying a 1959 GIbson ES-175 there for $475 or something, the going price at the time. Foolishly sold it a few years later for not much more. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

I lived in New York during the Giuliani administration and stopped by Manny's regularly to buy something, if only just a pick. Sadly, many of the places I used to go are gone, not just on 48th st. But Matt Umanov is still there on Bleeker Street.

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