Anytime I travel the second place I seek out is usually a guitar shop. Breweries come first but only because of the strict barley diet I’m on due to my gluten dependency. This is the first of what I intend to be an ongoing travelogue as I visit guitar techs, builders, and retail shops when I travel. Why not supplement one pipe dream (successful guitar tech) with another (writer).
My one stop flight to the syrup city began with another airline PR disaster as the gate agent shook and gagged on her offer of $500 for a volunteer to take a later flight as our cartoon trainer jet had been overbooked and over stuffed.
Being sensitive to the plight of flight peddlars I heroicly stepped forward to take that $500. Tragedy struck however as a couple slow no shows didnt make it to the gate and I was dragged onto the plane kicking and screaming without my $500. No expensive duck poutine for me.
Waking up in a foreign land dehydrated, confused, and without cell service isn’t as terrifying or exciting as I expected. Later today I’m meeting with Mike of Indian Hill Guitars to talk about his work, his shop, and the community of artisans Montreal has fostered. Until then I’ll be wandering around, sniffing out Wi-Fi signals, and listening for anything with six strings.
Walking down St. Catherine street it’s hard not to be in awe of the historic cathedrals nestled in between the majestic strip clubs. One block after another, XXX in neon beckons the pious observer. Oddly I don’t see a single parishioner enter any of these houses of worship. My only conclusion is that sex doesn’t sell here and the churches are all now nightclubs.
It’s difficult ignoring all these tempting attractions but I hear the faint wails of what can only be a guitar store. Archambault, my first expérience de guitare foreign. At ground level it looks like an old timey cd and movie shop so I walk past, assuming the random guitar plunking to be leftover PTSD from my days in retail though as I turn back I see a Fender banner beckoning me inside. Above the plastic circle floor is the stuff used to make the noise on all those plastic circles. Guitare et plus guitar. Quite a fine selection of Fender, Godin, Fender, and more Godin. Some practice amps, great string selection, even had Fender bass VI in stock. This is not a comprehensive review, only my fragmented and distracted impression, I’m really just looking for a bathroom. So as I look for a place to déposer un ou deux I round the corner to the acoustic room. The Quebecois appreciate 000 and OM styles more than big fat dumb Americans with our Jumbos and Dreadnaughts. Plenty of Martin and Bourgeois, nes pas toucher!
Further down St. Catherine two famous concert clubs are being scrubbed of puke and piss. The Metropolis and Club Soda.
Ok, eager to get on with it after getting lost in the subway I find myself at the first meeting place, Mile End Guitar Co-Op.
They’re a in big fucking building. Used to be a factory making useful things now it’s carved up into artisan spaces, co-working computer labs, and I dunno maybe web cam parlors or something. The co-op is occupied by nine Luthiers all doing their own thing, scraping wood and scraping livings together. Very impressive work here by my gracious host Mike of Indian Hill Guitars (click the link already). I was surprised and impressed to see this number of people working together to create a space where they can all thrive and learn from each other. I imagine places like this exist in the states somewhere, definitely not Denver what with rent and yea yea yea. I believe Mike is showing at the La Conner guitar festival this weekend if you are in that area. I wish I could say more about these handcrafted instruments and their builders but we mostly talked shop, our way through this strange “career”, and hated on all the retired engineers crowding us young guys out. Just relax and enjoy the pictures.
Kind of a blur, went to a metal fest, met cool people, drank beer, normal stuff.
Can’t vouch for the accuracy of this timeline, just imagine it’s a Jordorowski film or mushrooms and don’t fight it. Walked enough this day to begin to feel my age, back stiff, feet sore, fuck this. Nah it’s cool though, more guitars and buildings!
Steve’s in old port is the best of the retail shops I visited (keep reading anyway for a big surprise at the end). It’s one of those old, cramped, bad ass shops that we all love. Tons of pedals, nearly every brand and size of string, big amps, used shred guitars, new shred guitars, synths for days. I’d be happy to work in a place like this. The repair tech looked rather happy. Wanted to chew his ears but he appeared to be deep into and explanation of string theory and vibration calculus. Possibly, it was all in French so could have been talking about his latest trip to his mama’s. STFU pics or it didn’t happen!
More guitar builders! Today we meet Gab of Markott Lutherie. Actually I met Gab earlier in the trip, runs in the same circle, we became pals, he’s my pal now. Gab works out of an even larger co-op, in another former factory, with nearly twenty builders. Again, talked shop, talked future projects, talked about our wood collection. Gab also does R&D for Godin! I think that stands for Rat Delousing. It’s interesting to note that these co-ops are organized as non profit entities and each new member must bring a communal machine to join. Bench fee’s are quite low and some of these lucky fools have gotten grants from the government to further their businesses. The roads may suck but I’ll walk everywhere if it means more support for the arts, music, and the people making culture more interesting. Check out L’Atelier de la Corde to see what sweet lumber comes out of that place.
Wrapping up the trip I had to see Moog Audio. A friend here in Denver recently visited the place since they sell the synths she builds and I couldn’t quite believe a place like this exists IRL. They sell synths. Lot’s of synths of all styles with the draw being modular eurorack modules with the plugs and cables and knobs and voltages and strange farty sounds. They had a bunch of guitar pedals too. I was kicked out for setting a wobbly bass drop on infinite repeat, the building may not be there anymore.
Final day. What have I learned? I like Canadians. I already knew that but now I like all kinds of Canadians. I may like the French kind better, at least until I’m invited to Vancouver, we’ll wait and see. There seems to be more guitar builders here than most other cities on the continent. No shit, not kidding. I couldn’t list everyone I met in this business because I was drinking and don’t speak the language. So trust me. Or google it, whatever. So, 5 am flight, a pat on the head, a pat on the butt, and off I go. Here are some more random shots of the trip if you wish to live through me. Who doesn’t really?