Cream City Music and the Journey of Being Musicians

Apr. 28, 2017
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All photos courtesy of Cream City Music

Cream City Music has taken on a few iterations before becoming what it is today. The business, initially WarpDrive Music, was an eBay-only operation based out of Joe Gallenberger’s bedroom, where the first item sold was a used Pearl Jam CD. Two years later he moved the business into a storefront in Bay View, right next to Rushmor Records. He changed the name to Cream City Music two years after that. With a new space and name came a sharpened focus on selling new, used and vintage guitars, basses and amps.

The business moved to their current location (12505 W. Bluemound Rd.) in Brookfield in December of 2006. The change of scenery was not limited to the new neighborhood. The Brookfield showroom is nearly quadruple the size of what they had in Bay View.

Throughout the years, Gallenberger hired John Majdalani, Brian Douglas and Ben Derickson, who took over the business when Gallenberger and his wife decided to move on. 

“At first we saw that as pretty daunting and thought, ‘gosh, we’re three guys working in a music store, how could we pull this off?’” Douglas said. The excitement of a new challenge eventually outweighed the fear, and by April 2013, the three of them owned Cream City Music.

“We went into it not knowing what we didn’t know,” Douglas said. “But we also knew that we were fast learners with a propensity to learn by doing.”

They immediately reinvested in their retail showroom and began developing a greater sense of community among local players. “Our shop tends to have a bit of a clubhouse feel at times,” Derickson said. “People come in and just want to hang out because it’s a cool place to be if you love guitars. A lot of our customers are literally our friends. Some even from before I worked here.”

This friendly atmosphere has allowed them to more easily seek out feedback on what their customers are looking for. This has led to an increase in the depth and breadth of the products they carry. For example, they now carry close to 1,000 effects pedals, where they carried maybe 100 before. They’ve also almost doubled their bass selection over the past year based on customer requests.

A point of pride for Cream City is their vast selection of vintage guitars. To obtain these rare, sometimes-historic pieces, Majdalani travels to trade shows all over the country using his keen eye for quality to seek out the best vintage guitars he can find. “I’ll take guitars from the shop to sell, but the goal really is to cast out a broad net and take in as many guitars as I can,” he said. On a tour of the store I was shown an archtop, 1920s Gibson L Junior, a rarity the staff was especially excited about.

Upon coming back from a trade show, Majdalani gives his haul to Ron Jones who gets the guitars ready for sale. Jones works in the store and is a master luthier, which is an expert at building and repairing string instruments. Jones is the only true luthier working full-time at a guitar shop in the area according to Cream City’s owners.

A recent addition to the Cream City Music retail space is their acoustic room. The space is a homey, tan walled, naturally lit space with hardwood floors and acoustic guitars lining the walls and metal stools scattered about. Another row of guitars sits above a red patterned rug in the middle of the room.

The space originally housed “Gretsch World,” where they displayed their Gretsch brand guitars, but they began to notice that the electric guitars in the same showroom as the acoustics were drowning acoustic players out. Customers naturally left the main showroom to play their quieter instruments in “Gretsch World.” Eventually they built the acoustic room out of necessity.

“This room is an extension of what our customers have been asking us for,” Douglas said. “They’re part of the family so this is their space as well. We created all of this to give the musicians in the community a place to be.”

In another effort to fulfill their goals of building community around guitar playing, Cream City recently began holding events with local musicians. This began with the grand opening of the acoustic room on April 22, and future events include the Fender Custom Shop Day 30th Anniversary on April 29 and the Heritage Guitar Workshop featuring David Becker on May 11.

The three Cream City owners all feel an obligation, not only as shop owners, but as musicians themselves, to help people on what they refer to as “the journey of being musicians throughout our entire lives.”

“We are here to give people the tools they need to unlock their creative potential,” Douglas said. “It’s a gift to be able to do that.”

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