When A Musician Visits Nashville

January 26, 2024 5 min read

When A Musician Visits Nashville

Nashville has been (rightfully) called a drinking town with a music problem. This is fitting since both can be found in spades. 

If you don’t indulge too often, there’s still plenty of music in many genres; it’s not just country music happening here.

I’ve visited Nashville several times since 2020 (the first being just before the COVID-19 Pandemic). It has quickly become one of my favorite cities to visit, especially if you’re a guitar and music nut like me.

So, should you find yourself in Nashville, here are my recommended must-visit stops.

For those wanting to shop for guitars - Gruhn Guitars

Please contain your drool when you walk in the door.

George Gruhn is one of the biggest experts and dealers of vintage guitars anywhere. He is also the author of several books on the subject and has designed instruments for Martin, Tacoma, and Guild, among others.

To walk into his store is a sight to behold. The walls are lined with instruments from various eras, from legacy brands like Fender and Gibson to instruments from uncommon makers such as Paoletti and Mervin Davis. The staff are also not shy about letting anyone try anything. Want to play the $20,000 1950s Stratocaster? Go ahead!

Why yes! I would love to try that $18,000 1956 Esquire! Our first visit to Gruhn Guitars was memorable. 

The store is equally renowned for its repair shop, which handles instruments for museums, touring professionals, or your average player. The staff are highly knowledgeable in the field, including Oversight Manager Greg Varos, who has published several articles and educational material on guitar repair. 

For those wanting to shop for more guitars - Carter Vintage Guitars

Located a stone’s throw from Gruhn Guitars, Carter Vintage Guitars is another shop that will incite a Pavlovian reaction in guitar players.

If Gruhn is the proper guitar shop, Carter is (and I say this with a lot of love) the open-air market. There are racks upon racks of instruments ready to be tried and purchased. All makes, models, specs, and years are within reach.

It was one of several guitars I tried, and certainly one of the most interesting. 

Carter is another shop to the stars, as demonstrated by their fantastic YouTube channel featuring some of the best players demonstrating choice pieces from their store. To hear these instruments in the hands of a master is nice, but to play them yourself is something else.

For those venturing on Broadway - Robert’s Western World

“Go see the Don Kelley Band at Robert’s Tonight. Get there at 6:30. They play until 10. Don’t miss it!”

Sage advice from my friend Pierre Lamoureux (another Canadian who divides his time between Nashville and other places). We were flying out on a Thursday morning for our first trip to Nashville in 2020; this was his recommendation on spots to hit. We were indeed not disappointed.

This is my recommended spot if you must be on Broadway (and you likely will if you’re a tourist). The music is mostly country and western, performed by some of the finest musicians. The bonus is that the menu is decently priced (I highly recommend the $6 Recession Special), and some beers are available for only a few bucks.

Don Kelley has since retired, but he was renowned for having some of the best guitar players in his band (J.D. Simo, Johnny Hiland, and Brent Mason, among others). That tradition continues now with Kelley’s Heroes Band (featuring the monstrous Luke McQueary on guitar), made up of Don Kelley’s last gang of musicians who regularly crank out great country and southern rock a few nights a week. Not to be missed!

My other Broadway recommendation would be Bootlegger’s Inn, located on the other side of the strip from Robert's Western World. More live entertainment (usually solo or duo acts, happy to crank out your requests) and a lovely selection of Moonshine. All in a homely environment! Cheers!

For those looking to perform a song or two - The Open Mic at The Fox And Locke

Located about 25 minutes from Nashville, Franklin, TN is a picturesque little town filled with fantastic restaurants and shops (including the Tennessee Turquoise Company, owned by Morgane Stapleton). You’ll also find the Fox and Locke Restaurant, home to a fantastic open mic night.

Hosted by Alex Tinker, there are some procedures to follow to get on the evening’s list, but if you do, you’ll be part of one of the best-run open mic nights I’ve been to. Alex is a warm and inviting fellow who takes the time to speak to the artists, give them the rundown on how things work, and is a dynamic host and performer. 

Performing at the open mic night in 2023 with my girlfriend and stepdaughter was a fantastic experience that I hope to repeat at future visits. Even if you don’t get on the list, get a ticket to see the show; there is some exceptional talent to be heard.

Chantal Paquette and I (as Chanté et Kev) performed at the Fox and Locke's open mic in 2023. It was a great experience!

Now, some people hope to play the Open Mic at the Bluebird Café, which has its own rules and continues to be a popular spot (it’s hard enough to get in just to see a show). However, take a chance and try your hand; you may just get lucky!

For those looking for fantastic records - Third Man Records

Located near both Gruhn Guitars and Carter Vintage Guitars (hey, how’s that for excellent planning?), Jack White’s Nashville shop is a great place to spend hours listening to music and crate diving. Granted, the store only sells music that Third Man Records has been a part of, but don’t think it’s all White Stripes and Raconteurs. 

You’ll find reissues of Chess Records and Sun Records, live recordings at Third Man Records’ performance space, projects produced by Jack White, and much more. If records aren’t your thing, there are several bits of Third Man Records merch to be browsed, as well as musical instruments and guitar pedals.

If you want a unique souvenir, use the 1947 Voice-o-Graph Recording Booth and record your voice to an acetate that can be played on any turntable!

For those looking for a Thalia Capo - The Gibson Garage

Located a few blocks south of Broadway, this is a mecca for Gibson lovers. Here, you can see beautiful instruments from Gibson, Epiphone, Kramer, Mesa Boogie, and other Gibson-owned brands. Those with a hefty wallet can order directly from the Gibson Custom Shop at the Garage.

While you’re there, grab a Gibson by Thalia Capo. We’ve partnered with Gibson for these capos (among others), which makes a nice and practical souvenir! 

These are the spots on my checklist when I visit Nashville (and hardly the complete list). You may also have some of your own that you’d like to share. Do leave a comment with your musician-must-visit spot in Music City! Happy travels!

By Kevin Daoust - instagram.com/kevindaoust.gtr

Kevin Daoust is a guitarist, guitar educator and writer based in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. When not tracking guitars for artists around the world, or writing music-related articles around the internet, he can be seen on stage with Accordion-Funk legends Hey, Wow, the acoustic duo Chanté et Kev, as well as a hired gun guitarist around Quebec and Ontario. He holds a Bachelor of Music in Guitar Performance from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

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