There's a great music scene and a lot of gigging musicians living in Houston, but few places to get musical equipment fixed when time is a factor. When I was playing in bands a few years back, any problem with a guitar or one of my amps meant I had two basic options: take it to one of the guitar shops scattered around town and let one of their repair guys fix it, or try to remedy what was wrong with it myself.
Lots of places have offered me good repair work, but the problem has always been the amount of time it took to complete. I might drop a guitar off for something that seemed relatively minor and then still wait a week or more for the work to be done. But I didn't always have six or seven days to spare, as I often had shows to play sooner than that.
Inspired by that exact same scenario, a new guitar-repair and musical gear shop recently opened in the Heights. Nightclub owner and occasional rock star Mitch Burman decided to open Heights Guitar Tech this summer with music producer and artist Steve Boriack after realizing that Houston musicians were facing unreasonably long wait times to have their instruments repaired.
"There simply wasn't an existing shop in Houston that could repair a bass guitar in less than three to six months," Burman explains.
Frustrated by that situation, he decided to branch out from running Jet Lounge and reached out to friend Steve Boriack, who loved the idea of a stringed-instrument repair shop with an emphasis on fast turnaround. Housed in a colorful former locksmith shop, Heights Guitar Tech is conveniently located at 742 West 20th Street in the heart of the Heights.
Entering the small building, one realizes that the shop isn't a typical "guitar store." Guitars for sale hang on the wall behind a long counter, but a pinball machine also waits for anyone who wants to play a game or two while there. Boriack has deep ties to Houston's music scene, having produced for ToneZone Records as well as photographing countless bands, and wanted his store to not only serve local musicians' needs, but be a relaxed environment they would enjoy hanging around in.
On one recent visit, a young longhaired guy was picking up his Flying V that had been in for a setup and bridge repair. The work had been expertly done by repair tech and longtime musician Ed Loco, veteran of Houston bands Verbal Abuse and Vatos Locos, as well as tours with national acts DRI and Gang Green. He has also played in the local hardcore band U.Y.U.S. for 20 years, and learned guitar repair from mentors Mike Simon and Jim Fulton.
The guy has been around, and is still heavily involved with the local music scene, one of the reasons Heights Guitar Tech appeals to him. Loco quickly made it clear that his main focus is working in the new shop.
"There are no tours in the works right now," he says. "Concentrating on Heights Guitar Tech is my main motivation."
That seems to sum up everybody's dedication to Heights Guitar Tech: Everyone is either a musician or connected to the music scene in some way, and wants to provide the best quality repairs with the fastest possible turnaround. Depending on how complicated the issue was, they said most simple repairs could be finished in a few minutes or hours, while more complicated repairs should be completed by the next day or two. For a person with a show or recording session coming up, that kind of speedy service is a godsend.
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Besides Ed Loco, the shop also features the talents of Bob Hensley, a musician and luthier with more than 20 years of experience. Hensley has a deep knowledge base concerning every type of stringed instrument and tube amps, and can repair guitars, basses, banjos, mandolins, fiddles, cellos, violins, ukuleles, dulcimers and more. He has that focused intensity that exceptional techs usually seem to possess, and gave the impression he could probably fix just about anything I put in front of him. Also expected to join the team later in the fall is current REO Speedwagon guitar tech Jimmie Emerson, whose talents will be on display when the classic-rockers play the Mitchell Pavilion with Chicago this weekend.
While quick and expert instrument repair is obviously the store's main mission, they do sell guitars and in the near future will also offer lessons in a nicely equipped practice room. Among the featured teachers is Spin Doctors bassist Mark White, who will be available when the band gets back from a European tour.
The collective dedication and excitement of all the folks working at this new guitar shop was obvious. It makes a great alternative to giant chains such as Guitar Center, where getting an emergency gear repair in a timely fashion can be a challenge.
As I said my good-byes and turned to leave, Steve Boriack smiled at me and pointed at the pinball machine near the door.
"You want a quick game for the road?" he asked. "Well, see you next time, man."
I'll definitely be back soon. I have five guitars that need setups, and a quick repair on my Telecaster would be very cool. Heights Guitar Tech seems like just the kind of place that could help me with that stuff.
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