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On April, 12, 2012 The Herb David Guitar Studio will celebrate its 50th anniversary in business; creating custom instruments and repairing instruments (often for musical legends), teaching lessons, and selling brand name guitars. David distinctly remembers his first day in business.
“April 12, 1962 at nine o’clock in the morning,” David Said. “And why do I remember that– because April 12th is my birthday.”
His studio is at the top of two narrow creaky staircases that lead to the hidden inner bellows of his guitar studio. On his third-floor hideaway, two string-less custom ukuleles lay on his cluttered work bench. A custom headstock, intricately carved into a frog’s head, is lying unattached nearby. These are the most recent projects on which Herb David, owner of The Herb David Guitar Studio is currently working.
The Herb David Guitar Studio began as a place for David to teach guitar to his many students, a task that previously took place in the basement of his home. David said it was his wife that pushed him out of the house and into his own shop due to the overwhelming amount of students coming and going from the house. It was only when students began to have their guitars break that David tried his hand at wood working and repairing.
It was April 12, 1962 at 9 am when The Herb David Guitar Studio opened for business at 209 S. State Street in the basement of a small bookstore. Twenty years late he moved his store to 302 E Liberty St, where it still resides today.
“I was a psychologist–that was for my family, to get an education so I could bring honor to my family—but my real [passion] was music. That’s what I really wanted to be involved in,” David said.
Involved he did become.
MUSIC’S MIGHTY GIANTS VISIT
It was the early 60s and Ann Arbor was a hot bed for the political change movement that would define the decade. With the birth of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), many teach-ins, sit-ins, and concerts promoting change in the midst of political unrest, The Herb David Guitar Studio was in the thick of it all with a front row seat.
TWO OF US
During the Free John Sinclair concert in 1971, John Lennon came to town with Yoko to perform an original song called “Free John Sinclair”, among others. He wasn’t slated to perform until around 3 am, so he hit the town and Herb David’s shop.
Herb David recalls:
“He (Lennon) just came in to just say ‘hello’ because he was bored. He was hanging out in town…and [he wasn’t] playing until three o’clock in the morning…So he hung around [the shop] for most of the afternoon. He walked in and I said: ‘oh, you’re John’ and he said ‘no, I’m not John.’ I said than ‘who are you?’ and he said ‘I’m his cousin.’ I said ‘Well, okay, cousin.”
Lennon sat in a little wooden chair in The Herb David Guitar Studio and played guitar that afternoon. Patrons of the shop can still see and sit in the chair today. The sign on the chair reads: “John Lennon sat here in 1971.”
David recalls an evening with folk singer Joni Mitchell:
“Joni Mitchell came into the shop to get a set of strings and we tore down Washtenaw Ave (a main drag in Ann Arbor) going the wrong way on our way to my house to welcome my wife home from a visit to Greece and Turkey, to join up there with Jack Elliot and a hot local blues group called the Prime Movers. She had jet lag so the party broke up early.
CORNFLAKES FROM A BYRD
While he was still playing bluegrass music with The Colonels, Clarence White (who later played guitar for The Byrds) ran over his guitar before a gig and brought it to David.
Herb David recalls:
“It (guitar) looked like a box of Cornflakes. He (Clarence White) came in on Monday said ‘I have to record out in California on Friday. Can you out it together for me and don’t use any new wood.’ You couldn’t even tell it was fixed [when I was finished] and it’s still going.”
KNOCKIN’ ON HERB’S DOOR
“Bob Dylan came into the shop,” David said. “You could see him in town for 60 cents at the beginning. He was a Woody-Guthrie [type]. He was hitch hiking and riding trains. He (Dylan) wanted to be seen in that kind of image. He and I played at the same hootenannie. Everybody said ‘boy, he’s a terrible guitar player and he can’t sing, but he sure can write a song.’
THE DEAD CONCERT THAT ALMOST HAPPENED
“The Gratefull Dead came to town to play at Hill Auditorium. Jerry Garcia came to the Herb David Guitar Studio we talked about a guitar problem he had and my apprentice Dan Erlewine (now a well-known and highly respected writer and repairman) talked with him about a guitar he made for Albert King and discussed making a guitar for Jerry.
I asked Jerry what the band was doing that afternoon and if maybe they would like to play a short set at the Canterburry House, a coffee house in the alley across from The Arcade. They agreed to do it I passed the word around the show could go on at 1:30 pm. By 1 o’clock the line of around 200 people wound around the area. At 1:15 the Dead’s manager called off the event saying if the show went on ticket sales would suffer. There were lots of disappointed people including The Dead and me.”
THE CREAM-OF-THE-CROP REPAIR
According to David, it was a student who was involved in organizing local hootenannies that brought guitar legend Eric Clapton into the Herb David’s shop. It was sometime in the 70s after a fan knocked his Gibson SG off the stage and broke the peg head and the neck off the body of the guitar.
Herb David recalls:
“He (Clapton) brought it to me. He broke in such a way that I had no hope that I’d be able to fix it overnight, but it’s still going. I think it was in the 70s, but the guitar is still going. It worked; I don’t why it worked, there must have been some magic in what I was doing back then.”
And the magic continues decades later.