Two experienced music shop workers are gearing up to do in downtown Aberdeen what they did best in Seattle — sell and fix vintage guitars and other music equipment.
Ron Harless and Joe Backus, who worked for The Trading Musician in Seattle, have worked together for about 20 years. Both men, with music interests spanning from classic rock to heavy metal, new wave and grunge, hope to bring a niche to the downtown core. Their store, Guitar Galactica, is slated to open in April at 204 S. K St., which is inside the Side One Building. The city of Aberdeen recently proclaimed Feb. 20 as Kurt Cobain Day. Cobain, from Aberdeen, founded Nirvana. On Feb. 20, Cobain’s birthday, Lee and Dani Bacon, who own the Side One Building, lit it up for the first time in front of hundreds of onlookers. The building will soon be the home of much Nirvana fanfare.
“(We’ll open) as early into April as we can,” Harless said. “We’re excited to get going.”
The store is clean and full of personality. The future check-out desk the two men made in Harless’ garage features a chorus line of green alien figurines standing in front of a foil backing. Plexiglas covers the art. A planetary-like sphere and a space shuttle sit atop the desk.
“That’s what happens when you hand me tin foil and a hammer,” Backus said, laughing.
While the vintage guitar shop is called Guitar Galactica, the store will also sell amplifiers, synthesizers, a few other types of instruments and other audio equipment. On Wednesday afternoon, the pair had vinyl records from Harless’ personal collection in a rack that sat in the corner of the shop. The rack was full of records from Pacific Northwest bands — Nirvana, Alice in Chains and The Melvins.
There were only four guitars on display Wednesday, but when the shop is operational, it will hold a lot more. Backus sounded proud of what their store is going to be able to offer Grays Harbor’s music enthusiasts.
“I think a lot of people are gonna come down and just want to see the cool, vintage guitars in one spot,” Backus said. “Usually you see two or three, but here they’ll see 60 to 70 in one spot. It’s gonna be pretty cool. It should be a good attraction for people.”
On Wednesday, the guitars on the wall included a Univox electric bass. The instrument had a natural finish with a tortoise shell pick guard, according to Backus. Another one was a tiger-striped Aria Pro II electric guitar, which is from Japan.
“The quality of the Japanese stuff is really cool,” Harless said.
Another one of the guitars was a black Gibson SG Jr. Special, with DiMarzio Super Distortion humbuckers.
“Nothing else sounds like a Gibson,” said Harless, who also included a little salesmanship about the humbuckers, which only add to the quality of the electric axe. “That’s my favorite pickup ever produced.”
The other guitar was a John 5 Fender Telecaster Triple Deluxe electric guitar. The guitar is called a Triple Deluxe because it has three pick-ups. Both Harless and Backus really dig the sound that comes from the guitar, as well as the guitarist it’s named after — John 5, who played guitar for Marilyn Manson. Now he plays guitar for Rob Zombie.
Even though Backus has collected guitars for decades, he doesn’t want people to worry about handling them, as if the shop’s some sort of museum.
“It’s all used stuff,” Backus said. “I’m not uptight. If someone pulls one down and it gets a scratch on it, that’s a bummer, but whatever. It’s a used guitar. They’re meant to be played. That’s always been my thing. They’re always meant to be played. They’re not meant to hang on the wall.”
Backus recalled on Feb. 20, the night the building’s owners Lee and Dani Bacon lit up the Side One Building, how his shop hosted groups of people.
“A bunch of kids came in here on the lighting ceremony night,” Backus said. “We brought down a whole bunch of guitars. It was fun watching the kids pull them down and play with them.”
Harless said he remembered one kid tried every one of the guitars inside the shop.
“His eyes lit up,” Harless said.
While the guys want to open up their shop in early April, there are a few things they still need to do.
“There’s a lot of hoops you’ve got to jump through when you’re opening up a business,” Harless said. “You’ve got to make sure everything’s all ready to go. Like getting your licenses, getting fixtures made, a sign, getting accounts set up with vendors to be able to carry accessories and strings — all the various things that people are gonna ask for. Just all those little things.”
And then Backus has to continue to get himself set up in his new town.
“It’s been a lot,” Backus said. “I’m relocating my whole life to do this. It’s a big thing for me, too. I had to get me a place to live and get that all sorted out. Everything’s been working out just awesome. I love my new apartment.”
Backus said his short time in Aberdeen has been a good one.
“It’s refreshing from where I’m coming from in Seattle,” Backus said. “I’ve been in the same apartment for, going on 20 years. It’s a nice change.”
Harless is glad to be back in Aberdeen. He grew up in Aberdeen. He worked for Rosevear’s Music Center after high school. Part of Rosevear’s history is installed inside Guitar Galactica.
Harless explained part of his reason for moving back to Grays Harbor.
“My family lives here, so I wanted to move back from Seattle,” Harless said. “I’ve lived in Seattle for the last 18 years and I just wanted to move back here and be close to my dad and my family. Just the timing and everything worked out. There wasn’t a music store here. It’s something Joe and I have wanted to do for years. It just kind of worked out that the opportunity came here. So here we are.”
Harless and Backus are happy about the help they’ve received from the Bacons, as well as from other local places — the other businesses inside the Side One Building, such as Game Freaks and Rick Moyer’s photography business, Moyer Multi Media LLC.
“I think all the businesses in this whole building are going to ping pong off each other,” Backus said. “I’m also a skateboarder and there’s a skateboard shop in the comic book store next door. It’s all gonna be a great community of fun, art-based stuff.”
The pair is happy about finding their new South K Street address, especially with the nearby burgeoning emphasis on music history.
“I think the history and everything that’s here, is also gonna go and expand out to the community too,” Backus said. “There’s a lot of musicians out here. … We all need each other to survive. It should be really good.”
Harless added onto those good feelings.
“I feel great about the fit,” Harless said. “I don’t think we could have asked for a better spot to be in. Lee and Dani, at least I heard, they were looking to bring a guitar shop in here. So, the timing of it worked out. We were happy to (come here.) It’s really exciting.”
As far as the shop itself, it’s a hand-in-glove fit for Backus, who has collected guitars for more than 30 years.
“Collecting guitars is like collecting baseball cards. You just keep going …” Backus said. “But I couldn’t enjoy having that many guitars in my apartment. I couldn’t get to them because there were so many guitars in front of them. So, I’m happy to bring them back out to the world and let other people have fun with them.”
Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at email@example.com.