The Guitar Center story began in 1959 when Wayne Mitchell purchased a small appliance and home organ store in Hollywood, California. By 1961, he’d changed the name of the company to The Organ Center. In 1964, Joe Banaran, President of the Thomas Organ Company, approached Wayne in search of an outlet to sell a new line of guitars and amplifiers, called Vox.
The timing was right, and Wayne saw the chance to seize a new retail opportunity. He was in the midst of relocating his original Hollywood Organ Center location to a new site, and he agreed that rather than closing down the old store, he would stock it with Vox guitars and amplifiers. Wayne named the store The Vox Center. By the late sixties, it had become evident that the future of musical instrument retailing lay in guitars and amps, not organs, and The Vox Center was re-christened The Guitar Center.
In 1972, the second Guitar Center opened its doors in San Francisco. San Francisco was a city amidst an explosive musical transition, just exiting its heyday as the 60’s “flower power” capitol. The old Guitar Center building had a charm and character that attracted musicians from all over San Francisco. In 1973, Guitar Center San Diego opened its doors. This location proved to play a pivotal role in the growth of the company, as this store was to become the home of the company’s first Central Management Office. Ray Scherr started with the company in 1975 behind the accessory counter of Guitar Center, San Francisco. By December of 1977, his talents had propelled him to the position of the Company’s first General Manager. His business savvy sparked the flame of success; his creative marketing and innovative promotions set it ablaze. In 1977, Larry Thomas began his career with Guitar Center. He started in the San Francisco store as well and quickly moved through the ranks. Larry’s personal drive, his organizational skills and a tenacious approach to problem solving lead him to play a crucial role in the development of the company. Marty Albertson started with the company in 1979, and has held various positions of increasing responsibility.
With the onset of the new decade, Guitar Center was opening a new store with each passing year. 1980 witnessed the opening of the second Chicago store. This North Chicago location had previously been a grocery store, and its conversion to a Guitar Center heralded the onset of a musical instrument “Superstore.” With its high ceilings and open floor space, it possessed the ability to support massive merchandising. In 1982, Guitar Center, Sherman Oaks opened on Ventura Boulevard, and thus became the eighth Guitar Center. In 1983, Guitar Center lost its founder Wayne Mitchell, who left a skilled Management Team behind to tackle the challenges that lay ahead. The company’s position in the Bay Area was further solidified with the opening of the Oakland, CA location. Just one year later, in 1985, the Guitar Center chain witnessed the Grand Opening of two additional locations- Lawndale and Covina. That year also marked another significant event in the Guitar Center timeline, with the Grand Opening of a new Hollywood store on Sunset Boulevard. The huge 18,000 square foot facility was a testimony to the original flagship, and on November 13, 1985 – amidst gala festivities – was dedicated to Guitar Center founder, Wayne Mitchell.
The opening of this Hollywood Music Complex also gave birth to RockWalk. RockWalk is a sidewalk gallery dedicated to honoring those who have made significant contributions to the music industry, by immortalizing their handprints in cement. Today, any customer who enters the Hollywood Store can share in recognizing the accomplishments of such notable artists as Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Chuck Berry, James Brown, The Doobie Brothers, BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Smoky Robinson, Roy Orbison, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Wonder and many more.
You could say that in the 90’s Guitar Center underwent monumental changes that impacted both the company and a nation of musicians, and earned G.C. the phrase, “The largest Musical Instrument retailer in the world.”
By this time, Larry Thomas had assumed the position of Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer, while in 1996 Marty Albertson became President and Co-Chief Executive officer. The company’s growth in this time period surpassed any other Musical Instrument retailer in the world, with the opening of nearly 70 stores during the decade. With a clear-cut vision of where they wanted to go, G.C. opened stores in smaller markets, helping cultivate the Musical Instrument Market. Grand openings were taking place at a rate of 1 to 2 stores a month. A Guitar Center grand opening is not your typical store opening. These events draw hundreds of kids and adults, local news media, and sometimes major networks like MTV, VH1 & CNN.
1997 marked the year G.C. went public. Soon after, they purchased the catalog company, Musician’s Friend, and have seen solid revenue growth with the acquisition.
Guitar Center plunged into the new millennium with the forward-moving momentum of the previous decade and a vision of vast expansion. Guitar Center reached the 100th store mark with the Grand Opening of the Little Rock store on February 21, 2002. In 2005, G.C.’s acquisition of Music & Arts Center brought 62 new stores throughout the US, catering to a completely new instrument market. With clear-cut goals and good old fashioned customer service that caters to the musician’s every need, Guitar Center still proves more than ever to be a strong link between musicians and the tools of the trade.
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