Friday, August 1, 2014

Vintage Fret Shop - Ashland, NH

Martha and Jay Sheperd dragooned us into taking a visit to what Martha described as a "really funky" shop we must see. I was a little annoyed, as this unscheduled trip eliminated my regular nap time....Of course, Martha was right, and I'm sure glad we drove over to Ashland, just a mile or so off Exit 24 of I-93 near Plymouth, New Hampshire to visit the wonderful Vintage Fret Shop and meet its owner David Colburn. From our entrance, greeted by the sound of a strummed guitar, through our perambulations around the compact, instrument and gear filled former blacksmith shop to our leaving after a brief hour's visit, the Vintage Fret Shop was a pure delight.

The Door "Bell" er...Strum

My first impression, walking in the door, was of instruments, new and used, hanging everywhere. Guitars predominate in all varieties from new and used Martins to a large range of other manufacturers. Many of the instruments has some wear on them, obviously played and cared for. Comfortable stools are available, and customers encouraged to pick up any instrument and play it.

A Customer Samples at David Colburn Looks On

Guitars, Guitars, Guitars are the main focus of the front room, but walk through it onto the back porch and a wider view opens. Looking out on a pond, the back room contains mandolins of all sorts including that strange oxymoron - an Irish bouzouki. On a high shelf over the windows are what appear to be some very old east Indian instruments. Hanging below them are a selection of banjos. On a wall to the side a wide range of fiddles hangs. On the floor stands a selection of hammered dulcimers. For an acoustic instrument aficionado, the Vintage Fret Shop is a little piece of heaven!

Behind the showrooms is a busy instrument repair shop, presided over by Ben Lamper, described on the web site this way, "factotum, amanuensis, guitar monster, and all-around good vibe. He'll help you if he can." While we were in the shop, Ben had been busily staffing the cash register, working at a desk, and trying to find some time to work on instruments. A young girl and her mother came into the shop with a cello they had just acquired, wanting some very basic information about what they had. Ben took some time to sit with them, tune the instrument, and give them some starting ideas. There was probably no prospect of a sale in this interaction, but it showed the kind of service this little shop provides.
Ben Lamper in the Office/Shop

Over this large and varied selection of standard instruments along with several unusual pieces, owner/operator David Colburn holds forth. As I watched him work with a couple of customers, I saw him carefully listen to what they saw as their needs before trying to help them find the precise combination of instrument and price that would satisfy them. He offered several alternatives, speaking about each one in terms of both its quality, and in the case of older instruments, its provenance. Obviously, his attention and presentation speaks of a deep well of knowledge and experience. Colburn has been operating Vintage Fret for over forty-four years while also performing in a folk duo. When I asked him about the spirit of the shop, he smiled quietly and talked of an almost mystical connection to some of the instruments, and through them to the songs they had played and the people who had played them. His love for the instruments and their deeper meaning is clear. He very much wants those instruments to find a good home.

David Colburn
with Guitar Once Owned by Del McCoury
and Signed by McCoury & Ralph Stanley

Vintage Fret Shop is located at 30 Riverside Drive in Ashland, NH (phone (603) 968-3346) and his open from Thursday through Saturday and Sunday afternoons or by appointment. Spend some time at their web site, and then stop by for a visit to play some instruments or spend some time getting to know David Colburn. You won't be sorry.

Martha Sheperd Looking for the Right One