Herb David Retires
But Ann Arbor Guitars lives on
by Sally Mitani
Herb David is closing?" said former Ark manager David Siglin, stunned. "No, I didn't know. My guitar is in there. I'll have to go get it."
Actually, it turns out, he won't. Even though Herb David Guitar Studio--for fifty years Ann Arbor's most famous acoustical music shop--is closing March 31, the very next day part of the building will reopen as Ann Arbor Guitars, a continuation of the guitar-repair part of the business.
Ann Arbor Guitars is a partnership of Herb David's three luthiers: Hesh Breakstone, Dave Collins, and Brian Delaney. Breakstone says they haven't yet signed a lease with David, who owns the building, but "Herb is giving us very generous terms. Can you say how grateful we are?" Breakstone is the junior luthier of the three in service, though not in age: "I was an exec at GM for thirty years," he explains. "I took my retirement ten years ago and started training as a luthier."
Breakstone says "Herb has encouraged the store to continue taking in instruments for repair for the remaining month it's open. We all want as much continuity as possible, and Herb is helping."
Herb David, who will turn eighty-two on April 15, opened his shop in 1962 on State Street, and from the beginning it attracted the best acoustic musicians in Ann Arbor. It was where they bought, sold, fixed, or taught guitar. David Siglin says he owes his career, indirectly, to Herb David. "I worked behind the counter, taught guitar, and did bookkeeping there," and sometime around 1967, Jim Feiker, who was then running a little church coffeehouse operation called the Ark, "came into Herb's looking for people to play. He hired me and Matt Reynolds. We played there a couple of times, then Feiker's job opened up. [My wife] Linda and I applied for it."
Michael Smith, of the Cadillac Cowboys--the band that began the Friday night happy-hour country music tradition at Mr. Flood's Party and still plays on at LIVE (see
Nightspots), is another ex-Herb David employee from the seventies: "I worked the front of the store and taught guitar. Back in those days, there were several music stores in town, but Herb didn't handle electric music. Every acoustical musician in town had some sort of connection to Herb."
But enough history. In mid-March, the action was on the first floor, and guitars and accessories were flying off the shelves. "I got a text last night from Brian Delaney," said musician David Menefee. "It said 'Sold your M-36 for $1600.'" (It was "his" in the sense that he'd been hanging around playing it for months and wishing he could afford the then-$2400 guitar--Delaney was notifying him that he could give up the dream.) Manager Sean Rogers said he had no time to talk--he was trying to clear a path to the cash register, gently rearranging the crowd that had formed around Laith Al-Saadi, who was giving an impromptu concert in the little glass booth.
Breakstone says some of the guitar teachers may rent the second floor and keep the lessons going, but talks are still preliminary. What's definite is that as of March 31, the retail shop on the ground floor will be gone.
[Originally published in April, 2013.]