Plucking without pretense: The ethos of Orphan Guitars
Dwight Weeks wanted to open a guitar shop like the ones he grew up visiting.
You won’t find many big, legacy brands like Fender and Gibson at Orphan Guitars, a tiny storefront in Carroll Gardens. Instead, Weeks favors playable, affordable, oddball instruments. The proceeds from the sales go toward music lessons for local kids.
“You should not have to spend a fortune to get an awesome guitar,” Weeks said. “When I was a kid, you took your eighth-grade graduation money and you mowed lawns … and some smelly, old rock-and-roll guy helped you buy a cool used guitar. But that’s really hard now. I just wanted there to be a store like that.”
Big box stores like Guitar Center may have friendly attendants, but the sheer volume of instruments belies the relatively narrow selection of guitar makers. At the other end of the spectrum, vintage and boutique shops can be full of tension, intimidating attendants and high-priced niche items.
Weeks, a former stay-at-home dad, baseball coach and musician, was looking for a middle ground. In April, he launched Orphan Guitars. (If you’ve been driving on the BQE through Carroll Gardens over the past several months, you may have noticed the words “Orphan Guitars” spray-painted over a closed storefront beside Almost Ready Records.)
At Orphan Guitars, used is the name of the game. The guitars here are “orphans” from the era in which Weeks grew up, overlooked oddities nursed back to health and professionally set up for maximum playability.
“I love Japanese copies from the ’70s and ’80s,” Weeks said. “There’s a whole world of that stuff out there … if you know what to look for, you can really find amazing, beautiful instruments that are a third of the price of the equivalent that say ‘Gibson’ on it.”
There are some Fenders, like the Stratocaster that was fished out of the garbage, refinished and refurbished, and donated to the shop. But you’ll also find guitars like a 1978 Aria Pro II Les Paul copy in a cranberry-sunburst finish.
“If you put a ’78 [Gibson] Les Paul next to it, it might not be as good,” said Weeks of the copy. “It’s a beast, and only 800 bucks. So, if you’re the type of person that needs Gibson on the headstock, well, go pay for it.”
Then there’s the other half of the Orphan Guitars business model — the giving back.
“Originally, I wanted to have a guitar store that also sells hot dogs,” Weeks said. “But my wife, who knows business, told me that was stupid.” The donations — which go toward providing music lessons to neighborhood kids — were subbed in.
“I’ll donate instruments to kids or schools that can’t afford to get one, or I’ll work on instruments for free for kids that have them but need them worked on.” So far, Orphan Guitars has donated three instruments, and has six or seven lined up for the upcoming school year.
The community has taken to it, so much so that friends of Orphan Guitars have already donated 10 instruments to the store, including the Stratocaster discovered in the garbage. Weeks said that customers enjoy playing around with guitars that they might not have otherwise encountered at the expensive boutique stores that dot Brooklyn, with atmospheres that can be off-putting and strained. “I would hate if anyone said that about my store,” he said.
Justin, a high school kid who was hanging out at the shop, chimed in: “I think that’s the reason why a lot of people don’t want to play guitar now. When I started playing, most of the kids in class would quit because they’d be scared to just play around.”
“You can come in here and suck,” Weeks said. Pick anything up and play it. No one will be mad.
Orphan Guitars is located at 135 Huntington St. in Carroll Gardens. You can follow them on Instagram: @orphanguitarsnyc
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