D uring lockdown, my newfound ‘you only live once’ attitude took an unexpected twist when I bought a neon pink guitar from a man in Germany. When it arrived, it certainly brightened up the house. But to brighten up my playing, it first needed a little fettling. Off I went to Southsea Guitar Centre on Highlands Road.
‘Oh, my eyes!’ exclaimed the Centre’s Mike Wilson when I opened the case to reveal the shockingly hued guitar in all its garish late-80s glory. Being more of a tasteful acoustic guitar player, it’s not really his thing.
But owner Steve Wright’s eyes lit up. He takes pride and pleasure in setting customers’ guitars up so they play perfectly – and here was a rare bird indeed. Much friendly chat ensued and when I returned to collect my guitar, freshly restrung and adjusted, it was night-and-day different.
We’re unusually fortunate in Southsea to have not one, but two, independent musical instrument shops serving the community (the second being Street Level on Albert Road, whose owner Barry expertly repaired my acoustic guitar when it suffered a crack).
The last decade has been a story of small brick-and-mortar music shops closing across the country, unable to compete with massive internet-based ‘box shifters’.
The secret of our local shops’ success? Quality of customer service. As the wall-mounted ‘message of the week’ in Southsea Guitar Centre recently read, ‘JEFF BEZOS WILL NEVER MAKE YOU A CUP OF TEA!’
Steve is clear that ‘personal service’ will always be central in his mission to revive the shop. He first worked there 20 years ago, but when he took ownership in 2016 there were just 26 guitars left in a place which once boasted 750. Steve says, ‘The only option was to start again, gradually building up, and people who had stopped coming, are coming back.’
Mike recognises that ‘music shops are intimidating places.’ This is a pitfall the small team at Guitar Centre work hard to avoid. He recalls, ‘We had a lady come in here directly after visiting a national chain where she’d been standing for 15 minutes and nobody spoke to her; we made her a cup of tea and she left with a nice guitar. We’ve had beginners coming in for strings and
they’ve ended up getting an hour’s guitar lesson for free.’
There’s a friendly, open and sociable atmosphere inside. Locals regularly pop in to shoot the breeze about all things music and guitar. And people travel from as far afield as Bristol to have their guitars serviced or repaired, because of how much they trust Steve’s work. No surprise since, as Mike says, ‘Steve can’t let things off the bench until they’re good enough for him.’
He’s also honest to a fault. A few years ago, he was featured in The Portsmouth News after brokering a deal on behalf of a local lady. She had taken her late husband’s pristine vintage amplifier to Southsea Guitar Centre and asked Steve if he would take £200 for it. He insisted it was worth much more – and, after doing plenty of research, sold it to a collector in Canada for £2,500.
Good old customer service is alive and kicking at Southsea Guitar Centre. Please do shop local and show our independent music shops your support – we really are lucky to have them.