Monday Profile: Wally Bacon motivated by love of vintage instruments
Owner of Glenwood’s Guitar Cellar has seen it all, and then some, over a 47-year career
The story of luthier Wally Bacon’s early career in the Roaring Fork Valley reads like the story of the 1970s- and ’80s-era Roaring Fork Valley itself — guitars, business start-ups, back-room drug deals (not by him), and even years spent living in other places, destined to return.
Like many who came before him, and many who have arrived since, the young Bacon — now owner of Glenwood’s Guitar Cellar — had planned on a short visit, but ended up staying.
“It was 1973 and I was on my way to California and I stopped to pick up some camping equipment that my brother had left with a mutual friend of ours in El Jebel, and I never left,” Bacon said.
He ended up renting a trailer from Floyd Crawford, and the following year opened his first guitar store — Wally’s Pick & Strum — in a metal building that Crawford had built in El Jebel.
Motivated by his love of guitars and also by the desire to “never have a regular job,” Bacon had been inspired to open his own store after visiting a suburban Detroit music store that specialized in vintage instruments.
“I fell in love with this guy’s shop — he had all these old instruments, and I was always into older instruments,” he said. “What I wanted to do was not sell new stuff; I wanted to sell used gear.”
The midvalley was a very different place in those days, but Bacon soon discovered that he had filled a need.
“All the guys from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were coming into my shop,” he said. “I was rockin’ and rollin’ in that El Jebel store because there was nothing else around — Max’s Music was in Glenwood, and Sandy (Munro) had just bought the Great Divide in Aspen and he was trying to get that store going.”
Bacon wasn’t yet proficient at repairing guitars at that time, but he had a deep interest in learning.
“I was green as could be, but I loved guitars and was working on my own instruments,” he said. “That’s when I first started learning to repair guitars. I had a friend who was a guitar repairman and showed me some stuff, but (I learned) mostly from reading books.”
In 1976, Bacon moved his store into the second floor of Carbondale’s Dinkel Building, where he traded his rent for shoveling coal into the building’s historic coal furnace. He sold that business in 1980, but shortly after opened another music store — Carbondale Music Company — in the office of an out-of-business gas station on the corner of Weant Boulevard and Main Street, right next to Peppinos Pizza.
“There was not much going on in Carbondale then,” Bacon said. “I kicked a lot of hacky sack with Kurt (Trede) from Peppinos, and he wasn’t very busy either.”
Then Bacon said he got “an offer I couldn’t refuse,” from a local drug dealer.
“He wanted to buy my music store so he could use it for a front to sell drugs,” Bacon said. “He owned a building in Carbondale that had this basement — he had a desk down there like a big mafioso — and the front was my music store. He hired me to run the music store part.”
But, of course, the drug dealer got busted, which put an end to Carbondale Music Company.
For the next five years, Bacon made ends meet by driving a bus for Aspen Community School, doing maintenance repair, and buying, selling and repairing guitars on the side, including for both The Great Divide and Max’s Music.
“I was working on instruments and getting pretty good at it,” he said. “So I opened up Wally’s Music, which was back upstairs in the Dinkel Building in a different space.”
After five years there, Bacon sold that business, along with about 20 guitars, to Steve Standiford, who changed the name to Steve’s Guitars. He then moved to Paonia where he continued his business as Wally’s Music out of a house he rented.
“I had a basement where I did my repair work, and I sold probably 20 more guitars to Steve during that time,” he said. (Bacon says he has sold close to 100 guitars to Standiford over the years.)
To Mexico and back again
In 1999, Bacon moved to Mazatlan where he worked repairing instruments for a government-run music school.
“By then I was starting to repair classical instruments — violins, cellos, rehairing bows — and performing there for the tourists,” he said.
He stayed for 14 years, but the little town where he and his wife were living and raising their two young children got tangled up in the drug war, so they moved back to the U.S. — first to Florida for six months, where Bacon hated it, and then to New Castle.
“I started doing repairs out of the house I was living in, but I decided I didn’t want people coming into my place, so I opened up the Guitar Cellar,” he said.
Bacon will soon have to vacate that Grand Avenue space that he’s occupied for the past five years, as the building was recently sold.
“I would love to stay in Glenwood,” he said. “It’s the best place for me because I get work from Aspen, Grand Junction, Vail and Meeker, but I’ll go wherever I can find a space.”
And like most businesses in the age of coronvirus, Bacon’s business has slowed to a halt in recent weeks.
“I’ve got 40-some instruments that I’m waiting to repair of my own, that I’ve never really had time to because I’ve always been busy doing other people’s instruments,” he said. “But this is the first time in 47 years of doing this that I haven’t had a repair job from somebody else.”
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Another sign that things are returning to normal goes up on the grassy lawn at Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs Wednesday evening — with an eye toward a full return next summer.