It takes a special something to gain the trust of a celebrity. George Gruhn has befriended numerous celebrity clients over the last 40 years in business. He has helped build several important collections that reside with the likes of Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, Steven Segal and Vince Gill; just to name a few.
In 1968 he was attending the University of Tennessee studying animal behavior when he met Hank Williams Jr. Even as a college student Gruhn had an affinity for guitars and was buying and selling them as opportunities allowed. Unfortunately, there wasn't a large collector base in Knoxville.
It was at Hank Jr's urging that he leave school and move to Nashville. He promised to get an apartment for Gruhn and help establish a music store on his arrival. The store partnership never came to fruition, however they remained close friends, spending a few days each week together.
By 1970 Gruhn had his feet firmly planted in Nashville and opened up shop with two other partners, Tut Taylor and Randy Wood. You can still find him in Nashville; his store as successful as ever!
RH: Were you ever a collector of guitars or always just a dealer?
GG: I started collecting guitars in 1963. I had interest in guitars, banjos and mandolins. At the time, I was a student at the University of Chicago. Through the University, I was introduced to the Folklore Society. They sponsored many of the local concerts and from there I was introduced to numerous musicians. I learned that many musicians preferred vintage instruments over new. There was no Internet, or vintage dealers in town really.
I became a dealer by accident. In my hunt for my own collection, I often came across other guitars not suited for me, but guitars priced to where there was money to be made selling them. By acquiring and then selling the ones I didn't want, I was able to fund my personal collection.
RH: Why do you think celebrities come to you to build their collections?
GG: I don't find dealing with celebrities to be much different from dealing with anyone else who is in a similar income bracket. My reputation is based on providing accurate information, having excellent quality instruments, and offering an honest value. I am in this for the long haul. If you treat people according to the principles of the "Golden Rule," they will be repeat customers and will refer their friends to you. If you take advantage of a customer it may be possible to make a quick profit, but they will eventually find out that they have been taken advantage of and they will tell hundreds of people about that experience. Also, provide an excellent selection of high quality instruments.
RH: Is there a story you can share with us about the one that got away?
GG: I started collecting guitars and other fretted instruments in 1963. Anybody who's been collecting for that many years has innumerable memories of the items they wish they had bought or deals that went sour because sellers reneged on their commitments. When I started out collecting, many items back then cost $75 to $100. Today, the same items would bring tens of thousands of dollars and a few over $100,000. When I think of the things that got away, I recall not only the ones I wish I had bought but didn't, sometimes because they were priced $20-50.00 more than I was willing to pay at the time, but also I recall numerous items I sold, sometimes after being bargained down a few dollars, which today would be worth many multiples more. It is a sobering thought that some instruments which were available for $100 in the mid 1960s today would bring more than I paid for my house.
RH: For those reading who are considering collecting guitars, can you please give them a few quick tips?
GG: While guitars have certainly appreciated greatly in value over the years, my advice to people wanting to collect is not to focus on cash value alone, but take the time to study what interests you in-depth so that you will achieve a level of understanding and appreciation which transcends monetary value concerns. Market values, especially in uncertain times, can be volatile. Artistic, aesthetic appeal, quality of workmanship and materials, and tonal quality transcend time and monetary concerns. Truly fine musical instruments are some of the ultimate works of art. While a painting can be appreciated only visually, a fine musical instrument may be appreciated visually, by touch, and sonically. The finest instruments have soul and personality such that the player bonds with them as a partner. For the non player, the best comparison I can offer is the difference between a great high performance automobile and a reliable, but uninspiring one. High performance instruments on the other hand, are fun to play, and have proven to be great investments over the years!
Visit Gruhn Guitars at: 400 Broadway, Nashville TN -- or his website at www.gruhn.com