Gill Braswell with his custom Larrivee OO-05.
I first learned about the fine folks at Capo’s Music Store in Abingdon, Virginia, when I was looking for a guitar for my son about four years ago. I had a line on a pretty good guitar from another retailer, but an internet search brought up Capo’s and I gave them a buzz before making a purchase. I am certainly glad I did. Gill Braswell, co-owner of Capo’s with his wife Amy, steered me in the direction of a beautiful Larrivee guitar that has been a perfect fit for my son.
Amy and Gill met during their time working together at the vaunted Barter Theater in Abingdon. Gill was a stage performer and a North Carolina native, Amy a local who spent a decade working on the theater’s logistical side. I recently had the chance to catch up with them and chat about running the store and Gill’s own very special Larrivee guitar.
BRO – This isn’t exactly the best economy in which to open a small business. What drove your desire to open your music store?
Gill – Amy and I put our heads together and tried to figure out what would keep us in this area, something that we enjoy and love to do. Amy’s passion for the artistic side of things – the Appalachian history, art, and literature – and my passion for stringed instruments became Capo’s, a place where you can experience acoustic music and other cultural aspects of this region that we should all be proud about.
Amy – We were both at a point in our careers where we were looking for that next step. We don’t have kids, just Capo, our dog, and it was just the ideal time to do it.
One of the things I found, marrying a musician and not being a musician myself, is that wherever we went, we ended up in a music store. I started looking at music stores from the eyes of a non-player and tried to create an environment that would cater to players but would also be comfortable to spouses or others like myself that don’t play but get drug along.
BRO – You guys are hosting lots of events that have engrained you in the local arts community.
Amy – Sure. We do host a weekly musical jam and recently were recognized recently as an affiliated member of the Crooked Road. We also try to do a lot of educational programs – we offer summer camps, guitar camps, a really strong lesson program, and we try to host events in the spring, summer, and fall with workshops that bring people into the store. Most are free or very low cost. We also get out to lots of music festivals in the region and that has won us a lot of friends.
Gill – We also offer the Capo’s Scholar Scholarship. Every spring, we give two $250 scholarships to graduating seniors in the seven county area here in Southwest Virginia. You don’t have to be going into music to earn the scholarship. We see that as a way to give back to our community.
BRO – How does a smaller store like Capo’s compete and survive against the big online retailers and box stores?
Gill – There are a number of ways to tackle that. Our ace in the hole is our ability to have a one-on-one conversation with our customers. And, if they purchase an instrument from Capo’s, they get us, somebody to give them and their instrument personal attention.
Amy – One of the advantages of being small is that we can create who we want to be. We don’t have to go through a board of directors. We pick and choose what we want to carry in the store. One of the ways that we have made our niche in the worlds of bluegrass and old time is carrying small shop brands. The instruments are very detail oriented and are made by master luthiers. You can’t necessarily find them at big box retailers. We have expanded that area over the last three years. We have also taken advantage of social media and the internet. We pop up on Google just like the big stores.
BRO – Gill, I have heard about a pretty amazing Christmas present from Amy. Tell me about your new guitar.
Gill – Oh, yes. That guitar sprung out of my sneaky wife asking me some very pointed questions – “If you could have any guitar, what size would it be?” and “What would the sides, back, and top be?” and “Would it have a natural or sunburst finish?” I would just answer the questions, not really paying attention. Amy went the extra mile by ordering a custom guitar from Larrivee, which turned out to be this beautiful OO-05 Custom. Amy also sent them a picture of Capo, our boxer that is an incredibly important part of our lives. Wendy Larrivee, the wife of company owner Jean Larrivee, does all of the custom inlay work for the company, and she made a masterpiece of this picture by inlaying Capo’s image in the headstock with abalone, mahogany, and rosewood. It became a shimmering piece of art. My jaw just dropped wide open and I couldn’t really say anything. I just sat there and picked this beautiful guitar.
BRO – Amy, I hope he got you something just as nice.
Amy – Not yet, but he’s working on it!
Any visit to Abingdon, Virginia, demands a visit to Capo’s Music Store. Take a minute and wander the rooms, which are stocked with beautiful stringed instruments for any budget. Take a couple down and pick a bit. Most likely, someone will join in. You can read more about Capo’s Music Store at www.caposmusicstore.com.