With over a Million Guitars still Sold Annually, Servicing Your Guitar is Still King at Neely Guitars from Nashville to Sunset Boulevard
“I’ve been making a living off playing guitar since I was 15, so I think like a guitarist and I relate to other players. As soon as I open up a customer’s case and I hold your guitar, you’re talking and I’m sizing it up. Within seconds, I can tell you everything wrong with it. I’ve got this catalog in my head, ‘Okay, turn to page 247 in my handbook.’ I’m already suggesting what my experience is telling me. But I also need your feedback, maybe you tune or play it differently. But that’s how it works here. I’m working for you, and you’re going to leave here happy.” — Dave Neely, the guitar whisperer
If you’ve got a problem with your guitar, you know that special instrument that you love and treasure — who you gonna call? Well, call Dave of Neely Guitars on Sunset Boulevard, of course.
The Nashville-born and former touring musician is the go-to man when you need someone who’s on your side. Someone who grew up idolizing the unique talent and technique of Nashville native Chet “Mr. Guitar” Atkins. Someone, who’s been servicing guitars for over 40 years, and who’s got gold standard certifications on his wall from the major manufacturers — Taylor, Gibson, Fender, Martin, Epiphone, Jackson, Yamaha, ESP. Someone whose client list has included iconic Stephen Stills, Guitar Player Hall of Fame inductee Steve Howe, to Bob Dylan’s grandson, Pablo, and customers from Saudi Arabia.
Dave Neely is a true alchemist when it comes to stringed instruments — acoustic and electric guitars to mandolins, baja sextos and lutes. And his roots are his calling card: “I’m a guitarist from Nashville, Music City, a crossroads of genres — country/western, rock and roll, gospel, bluegrass. I was born in that soup, and we take it very seriously, man. You got to do your homework and practice, or those legendary guys aren’t going to talk to you. But if you work hard and when you play, you sound good, those guys make a note of it.”
His service and custom shop, close to the Sunset Strip, is like an easy-going drop-in center, a way station for guitars coming in, or in a state of repair and then ready to go back out in their cases with their happy owners. When I visited, first a local medical doctor brought in a guitar that had mysteriously been cracked near its headstock; and then an Argentinian restaurateur popped in to both pick up and drop off.
Meanwhile, a stream of calls on the speakerphone come in — people who’ve been referred by major retailers or manufacturers, or repeat customers, and even customers sent from women’s musical organizations.
Neely loves telling stories: about Chet Atkins mowing his lawn and waving at young Dave riding around on his new 1964 Honda 90cc motorcycle with his pals; or, watching young Jimi Hendrix playing rhythm, upside down on a right-handed guitar, in the King Kasuals, the house band on Night Train TV; and, playing at mafia clubs straight out of high school back east — “you can’t be giving excuses to them.”
When it comes to customers, he tells it like it is:
“I don’t care what color, creed or background you have, when you come in, we talk the same language, we talk guitars: ‘Oh yeah, that’s been a problem for 25 years but I know how to deal with it,’ That’s how it works here.”
Even big retailers send their screwed-up repairs to Neely. And those problems include fret buzz, nut issues, warped necks, uneven frets, tuning, etc. He adds:
“Often, the action is too low, not adjusted properly or badly installed. When it comes to broken necks, it’s usually accidental due to family members’ carelessness. So, never loan your guitar, or your car, to friends. Also, did I mention the airlines?! For the most part, manufacturers have little idea how their guitars are used in the real world. Or, how a guitar player thinks, with split-second timing. You can’t afford to be hung up on, ‘Hold on, guys, I’m out of tune again.’ Hello!”
Yes’ legendary guitarist Steve Howe once just dropped in a couple of years ago, and Neely recalls him being a great English gent, a guy who was voted “Best Overall Guitarist” in Guitar Player five years straight:
“He says, ‘Hi, I’m Steve, I’ve got a bit of a problem with my guitar [his own Gibson ES-175]. My bridge is little worn.’ I took my template, saying. ‘Look at the spacing, it’s not even. Do you want me to make it like this old one or make it correct?’ ‘Correct, please.’ I then asked, ‘Can you leave it?’ ‘No, I can’t possibly leave it. But, I’ll wait!’ We started talking while I worked, and had so much in common. When I told him I was from Nashville, he replied, ‘Those boys can really play.’ He then had me look at his Martin Steve Howe Signature model. Afterwards, he graciously said, ‘Dave, I’m not big on shaking hands, but I’d like to shake yours.’”
This encounter underscores what his shop is about: “This is a respite, we go into a zone, don’t talk politics, girlfriends, bills, it’s just guitarists talking with no hero worship. And, everybody leaves happy, like Disneyland.”
Neely’s advice for young guitarists includes:
“If you want to learn to play, find someone who’ll teach you how to hold your guitar properly. You have to relax, playing guitar is hard. And, we all started at the beginning, doesn’t matter who you are. Clapton, Hendrix all started there, and the beginning is learning chords. And if you can get past that, get your guitar set up nicely, so it’s comfortable.”
As for the guitar industry, over a million are still sold annually, and the instruments are affordable and versatile, offering rhythm and melody. Then there’s players like Ed Sheeran and his innovative percussive style making a fresh new impact.
The guitar has a rich history, having been around for over 400 hundred years, and as Dave Neely notes, “Just look around at events around world, the guitar is still king…”
So, once again, if you’ve got a guitar question, who’re you gonna call!