Editor’s note: This article appears in the Tahoe Business Monitor, former Tahoe Daily Tribune Managing Editor Elaine Goodman’s monthly periodical available in newsracks throughout South Shore.
The elephant in the room is a Jay Turser electric guitar.
A full-line music store, Guitars @ Tahoe, a Division of Elephants Music, has returned to South Lake Tahoe. Ricky Westt has for 20 years owned the business, which has been located on James Avenue and on Emerald Bay Road before moving to San Diego. After being away seven years, the pachyderm migrated north back to Tahoe, unpacking instruments, books and gear last October in the Swiss Chalet Village, 2540 Lake Tahoe Blvd.
The space was at one time home to Mad About Music, which is now in the Bijou Center at 3447 Lake Tahoe Blvd.
“The city life wasn’t for us,” Westt said. “We’re pretty happy here. We couldn’t ask for a better spot. Somehow we managed to squeeze in here.”
Ranging in prices from $99 to $700, there are more than a dozen different lines of guitars, including Ibanez, Cort, Washburn, Schecter, Oscar Schmidt, Savannah and the aforementioned “JT,” which Westt predicted would be sold within one business day.
“It’s an American tradition to be a guitar player,” Westt said. “It’s the easiest thing to learn. Everybody plays guitar.”
However, with a 50-plus member ukulele club in town, the smaller stringed instrument is the biggest seller.
The store sells myriad instruments, from drum kits and congas to harmonicas and slide whistles. New and used equipment is available. The store rents horns and accessories to all of the South Shore schools. Music lessons are conducted upstairs, where there is a recording studio.
Public address systems, amplifiers and sheet music and songbooks are available. Instrument repairs and parts are offered, too.
“It’s a full-line music store,” Westt said. “Pretty much anything and everything is here.”
Westt has been here awhile as well. He’s mostly lived at Tahoe while he had a manager operating the San Diego Elephants. In addition to Guitars @ Tahoe, Elephants Music also books bands.
A drummer and vocalist, West has played in bands with bass player Norm Koba for 30 years. Their band, Hipbone, includes guitarist Geoff Valentine and new singer Molly Taylor.
The music scene at South Shore, which was bustling in the 1990s, is rising, he said.
“It’s starting to pick up now,” Westt said. “There’s an eclectic group of bands. It goes from hard rock and rap of Lavish Green to us with Hipbone to Doug Schwartz’s band (Deep Fryed Mojo). And then you have the prima donnas and the people too good for their own selves so they end up playing by themselves.”
Westt explained the key to his business survival.
“You have to have an overwhelming love for music to make it in Lake Tahoe because there’s no money,” he said. “So you have to be diligent and you have to be sober. Without all that, then you end up crash landing.”
Guitars @ Tahoe, a Division of Elephants Music, is open Monday through Saturday. The phone number is (530) 600-3333.
“Everybody still calls it Elephants Music,” Westt laughed.
South Lake Tahoe residents never forget.