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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

South Hill shop River City Guitars tuned to vintage

Bobby Kluss and Joe Chamberlain have opened River City Guitars, a store that specializes in rare and vintage guitars, on Spokane’s South Hill. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A new business is making beautiful music on Spokane’s South Hill.

River City Guitars officially opened in March next door to Miller’s Hardware on 29th Avenue.

Specializing in vintage acoustic, electric and bass guitars, the 1,000-square-foot shop already has attracted a loyal following.

“In the last week we sold 30 guitars,” co-owner Bobby Kluss said recently.

The store is owned and operated by Kluss and his friend, Joe Chamberlain. Both a part of the Spokane music scene, the two met over another shared passion – cars. Chamberlain also owns Cool Cars, a local used car dealership.

“In December, Joe said, ‘Hey! We should open a guitar shop,’” Kluss recalled. “Ninety days later, we opened.”

First they did some extensive remodeling, including adding a wood-paneled, sound-resistant room for customers to try out the instruments and amps.

Kluss said what sets their shop apart from other stores is their focus on vintage, collectible guitars.

“Things you don’t see very often.”

He pointed to a 1937 Martin guitar. Its $15,000 price tag may make some eyes pop, but Kluss said guitar lovers know pre-World War II Martins are worth every penny.

“They’re considered the best guitar manufacturer in the U.S.,” he said.

But vintage isn’t always pricey.

“You don’t have to spend a fortune to buy a vintage guitar,” said Chamberlain, noting they had a nice six string on display for $80.

On the opposite wall, electric guitars and basses hang in all their colorful glory.

“Electric guitars are one of the things that are truly American,” Kluss said.

The owners know their instruments.

Spokane native Chamberlain, 53, has been playing since he was 7 and performing since he was 13.

Kluss, 30, originally from Lewiston, played bass in middle school and played in a local band at 14.

“I picked up the six string after high school,” he said.

While Chamberlain stuck with rock ’n’ roll, Kluss grinned and said, “We played whatever they paid us to play.”

The instruments at River City Guitars are old-school, and Chamberlain said so is their business model.

“Successful businesses are a byproduct of good relationships,” he said. “It’s a forgotten art for businesses to be really knowledgeable about what they’re doing and helpful at the same time. We are all about the customer and understanding what they want.”

They’re also about the music community.

“We want to put the community of guitar players first,” Chamberlain said. “Every third Sunday from 4 to 6, we do a local spotlight called Sweet Sunday Sessions.”

Music lessons aren’t currently offered at the shop, but Kluss said they hope to offer some workshops in the future.

They do some repairs in-house and have a referral network for more extensive repairs.

If a customer doesn’t see what they’re looking for in the store, Kluss said he can find it for them elsewhere.

“I’m literally never NOT looking at guitars,” he said. “We source stuff from all over.”

In addition to selling guitars, amps, cases and accessories, they buy them, too.

“We’re open to anything,” Kluss said. “Just bring it in.”

The business also offers free appraisals.

For Chamberlain and Kluss, the lure of vintage guitars isn’t just in the quality craftsmanship but also in the stories the instruments tell.

Chamberlain pointed to an electric guitar with a gouge in its otherwise smooth finish.

It seems one night a fight broke out at a bar where the former owner of the guitar played. A knife was thrown and the musician raised his guitar and blocked it.

“New guitars don’t have knife wounds,” Chamberlain said with a grin, then added, “We want to carry guitars that excite and motivate people. We want to give people instruments that inspire them to play.”

And they hope River City Guitars will become a mecca for like-minded musicians.

“There are craft restaurants, breweries and coffee shops – we’re a craft guitar shop,” Kluss said.