If I sent you out in search of world-class guitar stores, where would you go?
New York, NY? Sure. Los Angeles, CA? Absolutely. Nashville, TN? Of course. Austin, TX? You bet. La Crosse, WI? Wait, what, where?!
You wouldn’t expect to find a world-class high-end independent guitar store in this small city – population 51,522 – bordering the Mississippi River. But that’s only because you haven’t met Dave Rogers, the founder, owner, and and collector-in-chief at Dave’s Guitar Shop. But we did on a recent drive up the Mississippi River Road in a Lexus RC350 F-Sport.
Dave grew up in Marshfield, Wisconsin, a small town in the center of the state. He picked up the guitar early, and was playing in a band by the time he was 14 or 15. Plus, he loved the instrument so much that he also began trading and selling guitars by that time. He continued selling and repairing guitars out of his home until 1982, when he opened his first retail storefront, taking over a defunct pizza parlor.
Business was good. Good enough to allow him to move his store to its current location, 1227 South 3rd Street, in 1993. Seven years later, he expanded the store’s footprint to nearly 21,000 square feet, the size it is today.
A Unique Destination for Guitar Players
What’s it like now? Well, if you were to visit the store tomorrow, you’d walk into an absolutely eye-popping guitar wonderland. Dave showcases about 3,000 electric and acoustic guitars and basses displayed for sale at all times. And he’s top-heavy on guitars from the most desirable and sought-after makers: Fender, Gibson, PRS, Gretsch, Rickenbacker, Epiphone, Martin, and Taylor. Plus he also carries quite a few high-quality guitars from smaller makers, such as G&L, Collings, Tom Anderson, and McPherson.
Be aware that, if you’re a guitar novice who just wants a student-level guitar, Dave’s may not be the best place for you. He sells top-quality guitars primarily to working musicians, including dozens of famous ones, and to middle-aged professionals who are now able to afford the guitar they wanted when they were in high school.
Nearly 300 of the instruments displayed for sale are PRS (Paul Reed Smith) guitars. New and pre-owned, in a stunning assortment of colors, models, finishes, and trim levels. If you have your heart set on owning a PRS, this is a marvelous place to start – and end – your search.
Dave enjoys a close relationship with the PRS organization, and with Paul Reed Smith himself. The two men are the same age, they started their respective businesses the same year, and they hit it off personally. Dave’s been a dinner guest at Paul’s house, and PRS created a special run of guitars specifically in honor of the 30th anniversary of Dave’s Guitar. In Dave’s words, “It’s great being able to talk to Paul. His company is one of the best. And it’s almost like being able to talk to Leo Fender.”
The Lagniappe: Dave’s Personal Collection
An unexpected bonus highlight of the store is Dave’s personal collection of instruments. After you’ve soaked up the eye candy on the main sales floor – and maybe even tried a few out – you absolutely must take time to go upstairs, where the collection is on display. There are between 450 and 500 instruments to ogle – Dave really isn’t certain how many he has. There are also about 75 amplifiers, the vast majority of which are cool vintage Fender.
What are the highlights? If you’ve ever wanted to see one of the holy grails of guitar with your own eyes, these are some you can find here!
• ’59 flame-top Les Paul Standard
• ‘59 Korina Flying V
• ’59 Korina Explorer
• ’50 Fender Broadcaster
• ’51 Fender “No-Caster”
• ’59 blond Gibson ES-335 dot neck
• ’57 Taos Turquoise Stratocaster
And those are just the extreme high points. The entire collection is online on the Dave’s Guitar website, so it’s easy to browse at your leisure. Pour yourself a few fingers of Maker’s Mark and prepare to get lost in a guitar fantasy.
We couldn’t resist asking Dave the two obvious questions for a collector of his stature:
What’s the one guitar you still want more than anything for your collection?
What’s the one guitar you wish you hadn’t sold?
To the first question, he responded, “There will always be things out there I’m interested in. Different custom colors in different Fender models and Gibson reverse Firebirds.”
And to the second, “I’ve sold a few ’59 and ’60 Sunbursts that I wish I could have afforded to keep. That being said, I guess you can’t keep them all.”
From the looks of it, however, he has tried.