Distinctive Guitar Brings Boutique Guitars to Bay View

The Milwaukee shop specializes in guitars you won't find elsewhere

Dec. 11, 2013
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distinctive guitar bay view milwaukee
Guitar aficionados rank George Harrison’s “Rocky” Fender Stratocaster, hand-decorated by the late Beatle using day-glow enamel paint and nail polish belonging to his first wife, Pattie Boyd, among the most famous celebrity guitars of all time. Originally Sonic Blue, Harrison’s colorfully customized version was first seen in the Magical Mystery Tour film. Today, the first of only seven “Rocky” replicas built by boutique guitar giant Tom Anderson Guitarworks is housed at Distinctive Guitar, a new bright and airy 1,600-square-foot specialty store located in the Bay View neighborhood at 2505 S. Howell Ave.

“Our goal is to highlight and celebrate the individual builder by showing all customers that these builders often have high quality, familiar lines and lower price points than their bigger box counterparts,” says owner Joshua Wright, who previously operated Distinctive Guitar in Chicago as an online-only business established in 2007.

Indeed, at a time when big-box retailers are reducing in-store inventory or closing their doors altogether, here comes a boutique business whose owner and employees consider Milwaukee the “perfect choice” for a high-end guitar shop. And it’s no coincidence that Distinctive Guitar occupies the building that formerly housed Mastermind Recordings, a Grammy-winning mastering studio. “The location and the area have a rich reputation for appreciating the arts,” Wright says.

“When you only have an online store, you don’t feel rooted anywhere, your neighbors are other websites, and competitors are a thousand miles away,” adds Noah Saydel, marketing manager for Distinctive Guitar. “The shop gives us the opportunity to fill a void in Milwaukee, and cater to the city and its growing music scene. Plus, it’s a lot more fun to grab a guitar and plug it in than look at it online. Having a brick-and-mortar store also allows us to carry more top-tier brands that strictly online retailers wouldn’t be able to.”

The store boasts an inventory that includes guitars built by Fender, Knaggs, Red Rocket!, Roger Giffin and Suhr, and it also accepts trade-ins. Prices that start around $2,500 (and average around $4,000) may keep beginning players away, but Wright and Saydel strive to make Distinctive Guitar accessible to a broad customer base—including musicians, hobbyists, business professionals and collectors. “On the back of all of our price tags, there is a story why every guitar or builder we carry is special,” Wright says.

Details like that lend the place a museum-like atmosphere.

“Most customers at this price range have a pretty good idea of what they want,” Saydel says. “There’s a lot of browsing to find that perfect guitar. Some are willing to wait for the perfect piece to come in; others come to us to have us custom order a unique guitar just for them from one of our builders. Most of the guitars we have you won’t see anywhere else, so there are people that come just to soak it all in."

One of the store’s specialties is helping buyers “who know what tone they are looking for but not exactly how to get it,” says Erik Miller, the store’s general manager. “We are gear hounds here and take pride in knowing how to help spec a guitar to achieve that tone by working closely with the builders.”

Future plans call for renovating the store’s basement to expand retail space, as well as adding boutique acoustic guitars, effects, amplifiers, basses and left-handed instruments. “And we will definitely be involved with Summerfest,” Wright promises.

After a successful grand opening on Dec. 7, he’s even more convinced that this city is the right place for Distinctive Guitar: “We were encouraged by how many people said they were waiting for a concept like this to come to Milwaukee.”

Distinctive Guitar’s website is www.distinctiveguitar.com.


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