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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, April 20, 2014

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In Music

Distinctive Guitars stocks high-end gear that averages about $4,000 a guitar.

In Music

This is not your everyday guitar shop.

Distinctive Guitar shifts high-end axe boutique from Chicago to Bay View


It's not every day a business pulls up stakes in Chicago and replants them in Milwaukee, but that's just what's happening this week as Distinctive Guitar Boutique Guitar Gallery opens in Bay View this weekend at 2505 S. Howell Ave.

The shop was started by Josh Wright in 2007 in the Windy City as an e-commerce company and, says marketing manager Noah Saydel, it expanded rapidly.

The company carries more than a dozen high-end brands, including Suhr Guitars and Amplifiers, Knaggs Guitars, Grosh Guitars, Michael Tuttle, Rocketfire Guitars, Melancon Guitars, Giffin Guitars, Fibenare, LsL Instruments, John Greven, Kauer Guitars, Red Rocket, Red Plate Amplifiers and Hiwatt Amplifiers.

The shop also stocks rare and collectible guitars from the Fender Custom Shop, Gibson Custom Shop, and Paul Reed Smith, says Saydel.

The shop will buy, sell and trade gear and can also help customers get a custom guitar designed and built.

"Each brand has their own unique style but they are all hand crafted by some of the best builders in the world. Aside from the craftsmanship, the wood selections, finishing, and attention to detail is what sets these guitars apart from the rest. We take trades and always look for vintage gear so we always have a handful of rare vintage gear too. With the exception of a few European brands, everything in our shop is American made."

So, why not Chicago and why Milwaukee?

"After consistent growth as an e-business we got to a size where we wanted to expand the number of brands we offered. Many of the elite boutique brands require a retail presence in order to become a dealer," says Saydel.

"Once the decision to open a retail store was made we had to find a location. Chicago is already saturated with boutique shops and Milwaukee doesn't really have anything on that level so it seemed like a good fit and not too far away.?

And, more specifically, Bay View, where there is already an established and respected guitar shop – Top Shelf – around the corner?

"Erik Miller, our general manager found Bay View as a nice up and coming neighborhood with a good community and was able to get his two kids in the public Montessori school which was a big advantage for him.

"Milwaukee offered us a more affordable space with less competition."

Saydel, who lived in Waukesha and Appleton, notes that Wright continues to live in Chicago and will travel to work at his shop on weekends.

"With email and instant messaging we're able to work just as easily as if he were here," he says.

As for the proximity to Top Shelf, run by Jeff Benske, a veteran local music with deep ties to the local scene, both sides see a synergy more than a threat.

"Top Shelf is a bit smaller than us and they focus more on mid-level guitars from the big brands like Fender, Gibson and Ibanez," says Saydel, who notes the average price of a guitar at Distinctive is around $2,500 though there are instruments that cost around $4,000 on display, too.

"We offer a higher end product and try to match that with a very personalized customer experience. E-commerce is still the backbone of our business but we feel there's a lot of opportunity to offer these brands to people in Milwaukee."

Benske says, "I'm not worried at all. The more the merrier. If it brings people to the area, then I'm right around the corner. They're a completely different market than I am and it looks like they're going to be by appointment only."

You can see what's on offer at Distinctive Guitar when the new shop celebrates its grand opening on Saturday, Dec. 7. Call (414) 877-1666 for more information.

Distinctive Guitar is open Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. and by appointment only Sunday-Tuesday.


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