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Each time you walk intothe aptly named vintage musical instrument shop Timewarp, that same old-timey gearhead guy will be behind the counter, brow in perpetual furrow, up to his neck in guitar guts. That’s Shane Gudlow, Timewarp’s owner. Another paradox of time-space: A good portion of the rock & roll canon has already come through, even though Gudlow’s store has only been around for as many years as a bass guitar has strings (i.e., four). Glenn Danzig bought effects pedals. Lauren Hill, sporting a huge afro, oozing diva attitude, alighted from a stretch Escalade, needing to outfit her band with vintage instruments. “Would you want to go on tour with me as my musical instrument coordinator?” she asked Gudlow, regally.
MTV came to him when they needed to make an old Pinto sing (literally) on their show Pimp My Ride. Gudlow picked out a Casio SK-1 sampling keyboard and they hooked it up to the car. Now, when you touch the car’s arm rest, it plays a note. One of the guys from Daft Punk came in to check out an obscure Maestro Rhythm King drum machine. “It was perfect for their music,” Gudlow recalls, “with those superarticulate drum beats.”
When Jackson Browne’s bass player comes in, it’s rare and treasured as a Bigfoot sighting. Stan Ridgway of Wall of Voodoo is a regular. Hang out long enough and eventually someone will bust out with a small impromptu concert, whether it’s Ikey Owens, who played some of the songs from his Mars Volta repertoire — then sold Gudlow an amp — or the young anonymous Asian boy who picks out the melody of Für Elise on a toy piano near the checkout counter.
One Thing Leads to Another
Timewarp is an archaeologist’s dream of a music store. Here is where you go when you desperately need a Duran Duran–era keytar. Or a funky-jazzy Stevie Wonder–style electric clavichord. Or a classic American guitar from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, or any of the vintage effects pedals lined up like pastries in a case. It’s crammed in there, a claustrophobe’s nightmare.
Gudlow points to an oddball instrument in a room of oddball instruments. “We have every possible rock instrument in here ... and a harpsichord.” He bought it thinking Fiona Apple’s producer, who has a soft spot for eclectic instruments, might like it.
Where else on Earth are you going to find a green Flintstones-esque xylophone-like instrument called a bylophone? An artist like Tom Waits might use it onstage, for both its visual and auditory qualities — it has mahogany bars that make a deep, resonant “pong.” Maybe eBay? “But that same customer who buys the instrument for cheaper online will often come back to us to repair it,” Gudlow says. “Still in its bubble wrap and ‘I Bought It on eBay’ box.”
Man, the stuff that comes through. Beach Boys stuff washes in regularly, like the tides. One of Michael Jackson’s original master recordings. Kurt Cobain’s guitar. Tom Petty’s guitar. An amp once owned by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. If you watch Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” video, you’ll spy a 1960s keyboard and classic microphone that came from Timewarp. Instruments are “players grade” (priced for working musicians), not just absolutely pristine pieces — the $65,000 Fender Strats at high-end Norman’s in Tarzana, say — you can only afford to gawk at.
Word of mouth drives both Gudlow’s acquisitions and his sales. Desire for certain instruments is cyclical. For a while people kept bringing in accordions. Lately, it’s been Japanese guitars from the ’70s. After the holidays, kids bring in trumpets they got for Christmas and exchange them for other instruments. A guy brought in a bunch of instruments he’d found in a dumpster: a vintage Gibson Les Paul smashed into an amp smashed into three other guitars. Gudlow traded him $400 in store credit. After Gudlow restored it, that Gibson became one of the best-playing Les Pauls he’d ever heard.
Sometimes people just plain leave stuff on the doorstep. Like a vintage 1930s reel-to-reel recorder. He dragged it in, cleaned it up, and eventually someone else came in and gasped, “Oh, my god! I’ve been looking for exactly that!”
A 300-year-old cello with a broken neck came in recently, the oldest piece yet. Gudlow coaxed it back to life. He reset the neck, replaced the fingerboard. Now the cello is being played by a musician in the New York Philharmonic. “So you see? You never know what the destiny of these instruments will be.”
People come in for the instruments, sure, but they also come in for Gudlow. It’s dog-eat-dog with these music stores, and Gudlow is his own secret weapon. Al Anderson of the Wailers swung by to get an emergency setup for his Les Paul before a gig in El Salvador. He stopped in at 5 p.m. and made it to his 7 p.m. flight. A setup is like a tune-up for a car. In Gudlow’s hands, it’s a precise chiropractic adjustment. “You want your guitar to play to optimal quality. But every guy has a different preference. Some want their strings low to the fingerboard for fast fingerwork. Or high for a rhythm-guitar player who wants resistance so he can dig into the strings without that clacking sound.” He customized a Fender Jaguar for Interpol. A 45-year-old Wurlitzer electric piano for Norah Jones. The list goes on and on. He was watching the Letterman show on late-night TV and saw someone playing an instrument he’d worked on just that day.