Sam Ash in Springfield, NJ Brings Musicians Together
Any retailer can become a machine interested in nothing more than pushing products on unsuspecting customers, whether they actually need them or not, beholden only to a bottom line, not sincerely to the customer’s happiness or success, as long as the customer’s money is green.
This is most decidedly not the case at Sam Ash Music Store in Springfield, NJ. General Manager George Rigney and I had struck up a conversation months ago when I learned that he too was in the kids’ music game as I am now. He and I performed at some of the same venues including Bronx Zoo.
George and his staff have always been helpful and forthright in advising me in the direction of the right gear for my needs, sometimes persuading me away from higher-priced accessories when lower-priced ones will do just fine.
But the greatest help I was given was in completing our band – twice. Last spring I posted a “Bassist Wanted” flyer which, incredibly, resulted in a store employee, Joe D’Urso & Stone Caravan’s longtime bassist Mr. Lou DeMartino, replying to the ad and joining the band until his very sudden and unexpected death last month. When I saw his Facebook page filling up with “Rest In Peace” messages I was just stunned and shocked. I had no clue what had happened to my new friend. So I called George at Sam Ash and he was able to clue me in on what I needed to know to get some closure. I, in turn, shared with George the details of the memorial arrangements when I learned them.
If there’s one thing I came to know about Lou, it’s how passionate he was for live performance and how much he’d want the show to go on. So after our former bassist Alyssa Menes graciously (and happily) stepped in as a sub for our Bronx Zoo shows the very next weekend, our search was on in earnest for a successor for Lou – not a replacement, because such a thing is just not possible.
I returned to Sam Ash with a new Bassist Wanted flyer that mentioned that we needed a successor to the Late, Great Mr. Lou DeMartino. George and his associates kindly encouraged me to post the new sign on the bulletin board. But then I learned George took it a step further. He struck up a conversation with Sean Wolfle, one of the store’s multi-instrumental teachers, about Lou and about our band. He encouraged Sean to contact us, which he did. Sean knew and liked Lou, which helped us feel a sense of continuity in doing one of the hardest things a band has to do – carry on without a beloved member.
So, when my guitar amplifier I had used for the last 3 years (purchased at another store and just past its warranty expiration) acted more and more erratically and with some big shows coming up, I knew it was time to get a new amp. My decision to return to Sam Ash – part of my music community – was easy in shopping for the new amp. After trying out a few amps and finding their features close, but not exact, to my needs, I asked Dave at the guitar desk for his advice. Dave and Lou were friends, kindred spirits. Dave is a veteran musician and knows the gear the way a musician knows it – not as “technology for technology’s sake” but what sounds right, what you can trust when you’re playing in a big bandshell and your guitar tone decides whether families stick around to hear more songs or they move along because something doesn’t sound quite right.
Dave guided me to a Blackstar Stage 60 tube amp. This amp is powered by vacuum tubes – just like the TV sets of the 50s and 60s! The tubes give the guitar tone a warmth that’s only been duplicated with mixed success in the digital age. Those classic British Marshall amps used by Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and so many other rock legends used tubes. In fact, Blackstar is made up of audio engineers who used to work for Marshall, but wanted to expand the variation of guitar tones beyond the set standards that Marshall had established back in the 60s. When I plugged into this amp and started playing Jungle Gym Jam songs – rhythm parts and solos, everything sounded and felt right about the guitar parts in a way they never quite did with the old amp. I’ve loved every gig I’ve played since we founded the Jungle Gym Jam, but especially at the biggest gigs, I felt like I was fighting my old amp over the tones and other strange unpredictable things that the more digital amp would throw at me.
I ended up purchasing the Blackstar amp, getting a floor-model discount and practicing with it last night, working out the subtleties of the tones I want for the Jones Beach concert this coming Tuesday night.
I’m very glad that when I stop in at Sam Ash in Springfield, I’m not just a salesperson’s easy mark. I’m a member of a community – a musical community. You can find this store location online here.
Do you shop at Sam Ash in Springfield, NJ or any other location? What is your experience like there? Are your kids showing an early interest in musical instruments? Please comment in the space below.