What is it like to be a dealer at a guitar show?
Everything is bigger in Texas: Me and my business partner, Ben Sopranzetti,
resting against a quartet of Acoustic 360 rigs.
Big guitar shows—I live for them. I plan my year by them and set my watch by them. Orlando in January, Dallas in April, Philly in July, Arlington in October, and back to Philly in November. Then we throw in a smattering of small shows—be it Nashville, Spartanburg, Charlotte, or Chicago—to alleviate the jonesing after our big show fix. Sound like fun? To be honest, it is. I’m writing this month’s column in the aftermath of the Dallas Guitar Show, and am still hazy three days after wrapping it up. Johnnie Mason, a fellow Premier Guitar reader, and I were talking in my booth on Friday and he had a great question: What is it like to be a dealer at a guitar show?
Well Johnnie, my business is a wonderful business. Most of my friends are fellow dealers and many of my friends are clients. Every few weeks, we congregate at the Temple of Gibson, Fender, and Rickenbacker to do what we do best—buy, sell, and trade instruments.
Dallas is easily the most physically taxing of all the shows because the floors are concrete and the walls are cinder block. By day two, your knees are shot. By day three, your ears have a ring, and by day four every joint in your body is inflamed, you’re exhausted, and your stomach is upset.
The show starts with a 2:45 a.m. alarm on Thursday so I can catch the 6:30 flight from Newark to Dallas. After picking up the rental car and driving to Dallas Market Hall, I meet my truck around noon and unload 40 or so cases of basses, stands, mobile office gear, and coolers by hand. Bob “The Swami” Hynosky and Dr. Ben Sopranzetti, my “A-Team,” are with me all weekend to help out. After the gear is unloaded for the crew to display, I scour the show looking for basses. The weekend is spent walking (or running) up and down aisles looking for basses—it’s a delicate balance between saying hellos and peering under stones. The four-day, 1000-yard stare is in full force. You are constantly scanning for a bass case or a prior client who may have a treasure for you.
In actuality, the show starts about two or three weeks prior to the main event. You have to determine your inventory, pack it, and deliver it to your carrier— making sure you confirm proper insurance. You and your accountant become good friends so you can figure out your purchase capital. Your computer is loaded up with all necessary info.
After the show, you then have to pick up your gear from the freight guys. Every bass you’ve bought needs to be verified, documented, photographed, cataloged, and delivered for retail sale. Then you update your books, your website, and your database. A major guitar show takes a few hundred man-hours to do right. The show itself is the easy part and thankfully, I fly to the shows and don’t have to drive the way many others do.
The great thing about the Dallas and Arlington shows is that they’re centrally located, so the East and West Coasters are all in the same room. It provides both the dealers and show attendees an opportunity to mix it up a little bit more. In fact, the central location allowed me to make my largest deal (figuratively) to date as Kebo’s Bass Works.
Now for some highlights of the Dallas show, where the opportunities are endless. One of my buddies from Louisiana asked if I wanted to buy an Acoustic 360 rig—actually, four rigs. Well yeah, where else on the planet would someone have four rigs in a hotel room and then walk them over to my booth? We were able to procure five ’60s and ’70s T-birds, including two we received from Tom Petersson— great news since we haven’t been able to buy a good Thunderbird in nearly six months. In a 10-minute span, we had George Lynch, Rick Derringer, Bugs Henderson, and representatives from three different magazines and the Dallas newspaper stop in and say hello.
There were many basses to ogle in the hall. One dealer had a series of Russian-made basses that looked like the cool old Euro-trash basses from 40 years ago. Southside Guitars had an incredibly gorgeous 1959 blonde EB-2! The interesting part of this year’s show was seeing almost no big-dollar bass gear. I’d say 99 percent of the wood was under $5000, and 75 percent was under $3500—a major difference from even a year ago.
The shows are always loaded with laughs, and this one was no exception. Let me start by telling you that we wear recognizable bowling shirts at every show. I had just taken mine off and gone outside to the dealer “chill” area, where I quickly had a cold beer in one hand and a Savinelli pipe in the other. I was enjoying the company of my fellow exhausted brethren for a drink, smoke, and a little brain drain, when a relatively newbie dealer asks if anyone was interested in buying a newer boutique bass. I told him I’d be interested, but he presented me with an offer to buy a $2000 retail bass for $2700. Respectfully, I declined. This new dealer got all ticked off and said, “You guys want to steal everything! I just spoke with my friend Kebo, the big bass dealer, and he said if it’s still here in 20 minutes, he’ll walk over and pay me $1800!” The dealer then asked what my name was, since this was the first time we’d met. I said, “Nice to meet you, I’m Kebo.” We all laughed for 30 minutes on that one.
This show was also different because we had a solemn moment. A good bro of ours, Zeb Cash Lane, passed away earlier this year. Zeb was the first person I met at my first Dallas show more than 20 years ago, and the last person I saw when I left Arlington in 2010. We had two small gatherings in my booth with Zeb’s family and friends, and hoisted a glass to our departed compadre.
Well Johnnie, I hope this answered your question. See you all in Philly!
Kevin Borden has been playing bass since 1975. He is the principal and co-owner, with “Dr.” Ben Sopranzetti, of Kebo’s Bass Works (visit them online at kebosbassworks.com). You can reach Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to call him KeBo.