Neighborhood residents can’t miss Charley’s Guitar Shop, a staple in the Dallas guitar scene since 1976. For more than 30 years, the last 14 at the Royal and Grissom site, Charley Wirz and his successors have been repairing guitars, teaching classes and providing customer service to vintage guitar enthusiasts from throughout the world. Wirz knew that “vintage” pieces were useable, not just junk. Two years after opening the shop, he had an idea: a show just for vintage guitars based on other collectible shows he had attended. The show became an annual event that continued after Charley’s death in 1985; it’s now known as The Dallas International Guitar Festival, one of the largest guitar shows in the United States. We spoke with STEVEN COOPER, a part-time salesman at Charley’s and lead guitarist for alt country/Americana band Black Top Gypsy.

What makes the shop unique?
Charley was a former schoolteacher and bartender, and opened his shop in 1976 as a spot for musicians to go and “be”. He wanted his shop to be a home away from home for all musicians — particularly traveling musicians. The shop is a place where guitarists and vintage buyers can sit and talk about life and music, whether they are making a relaxing stop while they are on the road or are waiting for a repair. We also have strings, picks and amplifiers for sale — pretty much anything a guitar player might need or want to buy.

We [Cooper’s band] get all of our stuff from Charley’s; they’re really good about fixing our broken amps or busted strings on the spot. The shop is pretty family-friendly, too. I grew up here. I’ve gotten the chance to meet a lot of great people from all over the world.

What was it like growing up in the shop?
Well, I started hanging out at the shop when I was 12, and after a while, they decided to put me to work. I loved playing guitars, and being in the shop gave me the opportunity to be around and learn from a lot of powerful male influences. I have sisters, and the guys in the shop are like the brothers that I didn’t have. They kept me straight going. They’d cut me down if I got a little bit too big for myself.

Any celebrities come through?
Charley had a very strong relationship with [the late blues guitarist] Stevie Ray Vaughan. He actually fixed most of Vaughan’s guitars when it was needed, and Stevie thanked him by naming the white Stratocaster that Charley made for him out of spare parts “Charley”. A lot of our customers are Vaughan fans making the pilgrimage to all the old haunts. John Mayer has come in to hang out before, and so has Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. Members of bluegrass band favorite Cadillac Sky have come in a couple of times, as well as local blues legend Lance Lopez.

Any one celebrity affect you most?
[Country music singer-songwriter] Ray Wiley Hubbard. We see him a lot when he’s off tour. He’s helped me out with songwriting for the band — he keeps an eye out for younger musicians.

Any advice on choosing a guitar?
Be sure to go into the shop and play something. Feel the instrument in your hands and really listen to the different sounds and tones that the instruments make. That’s how you find the right instrument for you.

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