The Biz Beat: San Jose’s Guitar Showcase rocked with music legends
David Zimmerman, director of operations for Guitar Showcase, in the Vintage Vault. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    The Santa Clara County area is rich with rock music history, from the groundwork laid by early hits like “Little Girl” by The Syndicate of Sound to the chart-topping releases of 2020 Hall of Fame inductees The Doobie Brothers. Over the last 57 years, these local bands shared one thing in common: guitars and equipment purchased from San Jose’s Guitar Showcase.

    “This whole area is nothing but musical innovation, and Guitar Showcase has been a launch point for the local music scene,” said San Jose Rocks co-founder Dan Orloff.

    Electric guitars at Guitar Showcase. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Music studio owner L.V. “Bud” Eastman founded the store in 1965, selling guitars out of a rented duplex in Cambrian Park.

    “It was great because we could go over and see all of these instruments that the professional guys were playing that we never saw in music stores,” said Syndicate of Sound bass player Bob Gonzalez.

    Quickly outgrowing that location, Eastman moved the business to a house at the corner of Bascom and Jewel avenues, near the store’s current location at 3058 Bascom Ave.

    “Bud Eastman was very well known in the guitar community,” Gonzalez said. “He became friends with people like guitar maker Leo Fender. He was smart enough to leverage the bands in the area, hiring some of us to work there and also give lessons. At that point, it was very hard to find any place you could get guitar instruction for rock music, and he knew how to get parents to buy instruments for their children.”

    Electric guitars and amps at Guitar Showcase. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Eastman went on to found Guitar Player magazine in 1967 before selling the store to Barry Wineroth in 1968. He managed it with his brother and current owner Gary Wineroth, and it continued to be a gathering place for local musicians.

    The business continued to grow until 1974 when it moved to a two-story building on Bascom Avenue. The inventory expanded to include instruments of all kinds, as well as recording and technical equipment. At its peak, it operated there, as well as a swap shop operation next door in an old recording studio.

    “Gary is in his seventies and has been heading toward stepping back a little bit,” said David Zimmerman, director of operations for Guitar Showcase. “He sold the larger building, which proved convenient before the pandemic and lockdowns. We brought over the guitars and stuff that is really our specialty and left behind the drums, keyboards and pro audio that weren’t doing as much for us.”

    The current store also houses the Vintage Vault, dedicated to classic guitars and collectibles, such as a 1968/69 Gibson J-200 signed by Pete Townshend of The Who, and a hand-painted yellow submarine-themed Beatles guitar.

    Custom painted Beatles guitar. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Music magic

    Eastman believed in not overselling to the public, making sure what he sold met the needs and budget of the customer, an ethos that remains intact. Orloff remembers his first visit in 1994 when he had decided, after playing cheaper instruments for 30 years, to buy a high-quality guitar.

    “In my mind, that was a Martin guitar which retailed for around $4,000,” he said. “I only had about $3,000 in the bank and rent to pay, but I decided I was going to make a totally irresponsible purchase and get that guitar.”

    When he came in to buy the Martin, the salesman suggested he try playing a Taylor guitar instead, a brand he had never heard of.

    “He told me it was a great guitar and that Bruce Springsteen and other big guys played one,” Orloff said. “He said, ‘I want you to play the Martin and then play the Taylor and see what you think.’ The Taylor outperformed the Martin and I walked out of there with it for $970 including tax and the case.”

    Besides the crowds of aspiring players, the store attracted big-league musicians, like Tiran Porter, who played bass for the San Jose-based Doobie Brothers during their peak years from 1972 to 1980. He joined the band for their second album, “Toulouse Street,” and, in 1974 bought a Fender Precision Bass from the store that he used on the single “Takin’ It to the Streets.”

    “I started shopping at Guitar Showcase when they were selling out of the garage,” Porter said, “and I have been buying from them ever since. The people who work there are experienced and friendly and if you can describe what you want, they can make the best suggestions in the world.”

    Custom inlayed neck. Photo by Robert Eliason.

    Though the locations have changed over the last six decades, what the store sells remains reliable and of high quality. The store also sells new and vintage guitars online, but Zimmerman prefers the tradition of in-store customer service.

    “Online sales is just not us,” he said. “It is not our community and it is not what people expect from us. You can come into the store and handle the instruments. Each one is unique. You need to hold them and play them to understand them.”

    Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected]

    Editor’s Note: The Biz Beat is a series highlighting local small businesses and restaurants in Silicon Valley. Know a business you’d like to see featured? Let us know at [email protected]

    Guitar Showcase: Topping the charts

    Phone: (408) 377-5864

    Location: 3058 S Bascom Ave., San Jose CA 95124

    Hours: Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 12-6 p.m.

    What puts them on the map: A wide selection of guitars both acoustic and electric

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