The best places to buy music gear in Toronto

Six local musicians tell us where they've had the best experiences buying and fixing their instruments


Buying musical instruments and/or having them repaired can be an intimidating process at best, and flat-out traumatizing at worst. If you’ve been playing music for any length of time, you likely have at least one horror story about trying out guitars in a shop while a shredder drowns you out, about a music store employee questioning your knowledge of recording equipment, scoffing at your choice of guitar pedal, or just emanating an air of know-it-allness. And don’t even get us started on the sexist marketing campaigns. But there are places out there ready to give you a better experience. Read on. 

Oriana Barbato, bassist in Rakkatak, Santerías

I bought my Ernie Ball Music Man bass more than a decade ago, and I loved the sound until about four years ago, when my jack stopped working. I took it to a pretty well-known music store in Toronto to get it fixed, but when it came back it never sounded the same. So I bought a P-Bass and took it to George Vasiliou of GV Basses who’s a really nice guy, an awesome bassist and an accomplished bass and guitar luthier. He also makes really cool pedals. We decided to upgrade the pickups, and it became my working bass. His work was impeccable and fast, and I could tell he loves what he does.

I still missed the sound of the Music Man, though. About a month ago, I was browsing Kijiji and ran into an ad for guitar and bass repairs. I immediately felt this rush and decided to grab my Music Man and my new fretless Warwick and take them to this new place. Matt at SOLO Music Gear (unit 15, 6295 Northam Drive, Mississauga) was exceptional. He fixed both basses and told me that when he looked inside the Music Man it looked like a squirrel had been living in there. He was super-cool, knowledgeable and also has great taste when it comes to basses. He owns a Music Man and a Warwick just like me. And if you’re into building your own guitar or bass, SOLO also offers that service.

Santerías play Burdock (1184 Bloor West) on January 21. Rakkatak celebrate the release of third album Small Pieces on April 14 at Burdock.


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John Ordean, oneintenwords.com

Caitlin Dacey, keyboardist in Public Animal, Hot Wax Meltdown, Bella Clava, Overnight

Anyone who plays vintage gear knows the challenge of keeping it functional and in good shape. I play a Korg CX-3 and was once told that every time it gets bumped or knocked around, even lightly, it’s akin to dropping it down a flight of stairs. Because Korg stopped manufacturing the CX-3 and started making more durable, lightweight keyboards in its place, replacement parts are difficult to find. I’ve turned my apartment into the Grey Gardens of organs, using old keyboards for organ transplants. 

I met the Dr. Frankenstein of keys, John Leimseider, while recording Mellotron tracks for Public Animal’s debut record at Calgary’s National Music Centre. He’s a wizard, and the NM Centre’s collection of pianos and synthesizers is incredible. Closer to Toronto, there’s Mojo Music in Oakville (430 Speers), also known as the “spa for keyboards.” The technicians are professional, knowledgeable and have a stash of very scarce replacement parts. Picture the scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her cronies arrive in the Emerald City and are buffed and polished into dazzling visions of beauty. That was my Korg after a short stay at Mojo. To help me sustain the “new Korg glow,” the staff also found an affordable, durable road case – with wheels! – to properly protect it. I haven’t had any problems since.

Public Animal’s second record, Public Arms, came out in October.


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Andy Regendanz

Samantha Martin, guitarist/singer

Do you want to be treated like a real musician and not a walking, talking wad of cash who is pretty good for a girl? If you’re looking to buy, sell, consign or repair a guitar, amp or electronics, head to Capsule Music (985 Dovercourt). It’s tucked away in a basement just south of Dovercourt and Hallam, with a single red guitar hanging over the alleyway to indicate its whereabouts, so you’re already “in-the-know” when you find it. 

Owners Peter and Mark Kesper realized years ago that quality gear and friendly staff sell themselves without the need for gimmicks and machismo. The gear is sexy enough. They’ve done away with the old boys’ club mentality and are fully invested in everyone’s having a great experience at their shop. They have a laid-back, non-judgmental approach to answering questions, and everything they have is available for purchase and/or perusal online, which allows me to go in with a decent understanding of what I want and what I need to know. 

Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar’s latest album is 2015’s Send The Nightingale.


Iskwe

Nat Caine

Iskwé, violinist/singer/keyboardist/electronics

I’m a long-time supporter of Long & McQuade (925 Bloor West, and others), having opened my first account at their Winnipeg location in early 2000. I’m one of those bright-eyed folks who walks in and says, “Hello! I’m a grown-up and have a life goal of learning the violin. What do I need to know, and how about this one right here?” At L&M, without fail, someone comes to help me and dedicate their attention and time to every single one of my questions. I walk out feeling like I can conquer the world. Or at least attempt more than a G scale on the violin.

It can be intimidating walking into music stores when you have no idea what a condenser mic is but you’ve been told you need one to properly record vocals at home. But I can walk into the store confident that while I might not know what I’m looking for, exactly, someone there will help me find the right thing – not the most expensive or coolest – and I’ll walk out with or without a new toy but always with a better understanding and never feeling embarrassed or discouraged.

Iskwé plays the Rivoli on March 16 ahead of a spring album release.


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Ming Wu

Katerina Theodorelos, drummer in HSY, guitarist in Planet Creature

My first stop on a gear hunt or for instrument servicing is always Paul’s Boutique (69 Nassau) in Kensington Market. I can’t pinpoint one specific experience that stands out because they’ve all been great. I can recall many negative experiences over the years at many other places. But at Paul’s it’s all about the overall vibe and positive welcoming energy. It’s like the Cheers of the gear community! Since I first stepped into the store over 10 years ago, I’ve felt safe and welcome. Everyone is amazing and incredibly helpful. Paul is a dream. He cares about you and your gear and wants you to have the best possible experience and service. All the staff are amazing people and incredibly knowledgeable – they’re all musicians who get what you’re going through and do their very best to help you with what you need.

HSY’s latest album is 2015’s Bask. Planet Creature are currently in the studio.


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Zaynab Wilson, percussionist/drummer with ZUZE, Jason Wilson & the Perennials, Chris Birkett, Little Lotus

Since I moved here seven years ago, Long & McQuade has been my go-to music store for most of my percussion and drum needs. My family and I get our steelpans from Trinidad, and I get almost all of my percussion – drums, stands, cases, sticks – from L&M. I’ve built up a good rapport with the fellas (Zach, Ryan and the gang) in the drum department, and the staff in the other departments have also been exceptionally pleasant to work with. 

They never over-suggest items or treat me differently. They kind of know what I’m into, and they always find a way to help me get what I need. I was sold on the store when, the first time I went in to buy a cajón, an employee – a guy who is a drummer but didn’t normally work in the drum department – took $35 off the price after a bit of talking about the cajóns and their prices. I’m sure I ended up putting that $35 right back into sticks or more percussion.

Hear more at zaynabwilsonmusic.com.

carlag@nowtoronto.com | @carlagillis

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