In a world where a kid's first guitar is more likely to be connected to a video-game system than an amplifier, it's nice to know there are still guys like Ed Johnson around, aiming to help keep kids plugged into the latter. You can find Johnson at The Colorado Music Exchange, which specializes in new and vintage guitars, amplifiers and related accessories. At the downtown corner of Pikes Peak Avenue and Weber Street, Johnson and his co-workers have been selling kids their first guitars real guitars, with frets and strings for almost 20 years.
"I have been proud of some of the people who have trusted me through the years," says Johnson, who took over the store two years ago from original owner Russell Spaeth, after more than a decade as an employee. "And some of these kids have gotten really good."
Johnson would know. He's been around long enough to see some of his customers grow up myself included. My first bass guitar came through the Music Exchange as a gift are you listening, Santa?! and it got me through many years of wild and reckless punk-rock tomfoolery, eventually helping shape who I am today. Johnson, as he has been for countless others, was there for me all along.
He's backed by a crew of regular employees. Rounding out the lineup are Chuck Snow, the former frontman for internationally acclaimed "alternative" rock outfit The Autono and current singer/slinger for The Fremont Street Preachers, and Kevin Rodela, a certified Fender guitar tech and hummer/strummer for repeat Indy "Best Of" winners Head Full of Zombies.
(Local legend has it Rodela is something of a "Hispanic MacGyver" according to Head Full of Zombies' Web site, Rodela "once repaired one of our guitars during a show using only chewing gum, a toothpick and some ear wax.")
Between the three salesmen, they have more years of professional guitar experience than most guitar store employees have had birthdays.
"We know everything there is to know about the stuff that we sell," Johnson says, "and we can set up a guitar to play perfectly."
More importantly, they'll help you keep your guitar sounding great by providing free tech-support services on any instrument they sell.
"We aren't going to leave you hanging," Johnson says, "and we're still going to be here six months from now."
Of course, there are those who have found them to be, in the words of infamous Memphis blues punks The Oblivians, sarcastic "guitar-shop assholes."
Johnson doesn't take umbrage: "We don't make everyone happy, and I apologize to the people that might be a little offended," he says. "But I'd rather sell you no guitar than the wrong guitar."
They love playing guitar, Johnson says, and they want you to also.
As for the impact of the video guitar craze, Johnson and the boys aren't worried.
"Some people might be a little offended by the new rock video machine," Johnson says, "but I think it's actually going to make kids want to play the real thing."
After all, it's one thing to play a video game called Guitar Hero, but it's another thing to actually be a guitar hero.
The Music Exchange
305 E. Pikes Peak Ave.
Special holiday hours: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information, call 578-0883 or comusicx.com.