BillyRadd Music

Friday, June 17, 2011

Woman on a Mission

Autumn, Asheville's Guitar Mama

Autumn has a great story on her web site about the evolution of her music store, The Guitar Mama, on legendary Haywood Road in West Asheville.
It all began when, as a thirteen year old-to-be she asked for a guitar for her birthday - more particularly, an electric guitar with an amp.  Autumn’s mom took her to a music store, and it changed her life forever.  After her first guitar lesson she went home and almost immediately took all the screws, springs, strings and other shiny bits off the instrument.  Her second guitar lesson was putting the thing back together.
Two years later Autumn was offered a job at the same music store, Tempo Music Center, and worked there for nearly a decade.  During that time she apprenticed for nine months under David Simmons of Simmons Guitars, to learn the skill of a luthier (building and repairing stringed musical instruments).  
At age 18, Autumn started her own business, and five years later went to work for Simmons Guitars full-time building high-end electric basses for two years.  
Then, a bit over a year ago, she opened her own retail sales and repair shop in West Asheville, The Guitar Mama.
The Guitar Mama is not a luxurious place to visit, but if you play guitar it certainly has a rustic rocker charm all its own.  Autumn, usually working hard at something stringed in the back room, hustles out to greet any customer upon entering with a typically friendly but curious, “What you got?”
In my particular case, my last visit was to bring her my little old Fender Duo Sonic short scale guitar that I bought for $60 in Hollywood when I was a college student there in the early 1970s.
“What can you do for this neglected gem?” I chided her, knowing of her interest in breathing life back into abused stringed instruments.
She grabbed the guitar from me and began to play the old strings with great energy, testing for weaknesses, playability and strengths underlying its dirty uncared-for exterior appearance.
“The strings haven’t been changed since I bought it in 1971,” I admitted with a nervous laugh.  This is like a visit to the dentist with popcorn remnants between your teeth, I thought.  Maybe I should have cleaned it up a bit before I brought it in.
It’s not in too bad a shape,” Autumn said, not glancing up from her continuing scrutiny. 
“These are pretty cool little guitars,” she added generously.  
Let’s face it.  This woman probably sees around a hundred guitars a month go through her shop and she said my particular model is pretty cool.  Does that make me pretty cool, too, since I own it?  Er, no.  She didn’t say that.
“How about if I change the strings, set it up for you, clean the volume and tone pots, and clean up and polish the fret board?” she offered.  I hadn’t even noticed that the rosewood fretboard was pretty soiled from years of potato chip-oil-infused fingers attempting chords from about the 12th fret up the neck to the nut.
“That would be way cool,” I managed to blurt out in a feeble attempt at musicians’ lingo.
“I’ll have it ready to pick up on Friday (two days!) and it will be fifteen dollars,” Autumn said with a practiced clip as she returned the little Fender to its gig bag and efficiently made out a work order, a copy of which she handed to me.
“Well, thanks,” said I. “But that doesn’t include the strings, right,” I offered.
“Strings included,” she said over her shoulder as she scurried away to her back work room with my unkempt little baby.
“Wow,” was all I could manage to say.  Fifteen dollars including strings.  Does Autumn run some kind of guitar charity, I wondered?
There was another fellow in the store at the time.  He was a guy about my age and I don’t know if he works there or was a customer just browsing the store. But, as I headed for the front door past him, he said, “Don’t bother trying to give her a tip, either.  She won’t take it.”
This afternoon I stopped by The Guitar Mama to pick up my Duo Sonic.  Autumn was working away, as usual, stringing an acoustic vintage guitar.
“Got your guitar finished,” she said with a smile.  “You might be interested to know that the Fender electronics in this Duo Sonic are from 1964 so it was probably manufactured in 1964 or 65." I was a junior in high school in 1964!
“That’ll be ten dollars”, she added.
“Ten dollars?  I thought you told me fifteen,” I responded with surprise.
“It wasn’t as bad off as I thought, so just ten dollars,” she said.
Guitar Mama?  No, no, no.  Guitar Saint, or Guitar Goddess or Guitar . . . , what?
I’ve never run into anyone else like Autumn, especially in a guitar store.
You’d better check her out.


  1. Another Billy Radd piece of exposition that paints a vivid picture of musicians bonding through a common love. Bill, I love your style, your voice and you. Thanks for sharing your adventures in Asheville.

  2. Wow, thanks for the nice comment, Michael. I love you, too, my old friend. It's not lost on me that you were either with me when I bought the Duo Sonic mentioned in my post, or very close by way back in there in CA in 1971. Seems almost like a different life back then, doesn't it? But I'm so grateful that we are still in contact after all this time. Rock on, Michael, rock on.

  3. Hey Bill,
    Love the blog! Thanks for the glowing review! However, I do need to correct something... the electronics in your guitar are from 1964, so the instrument was probably built in 1964 or 65. Fender liked to throw electronics in boxes and use them over the course of a year or so. It was really nice to meet you, please come to the store anytime! And yes, having a 1964 or '65 Duo Sonic does make you cool (as long as you play it)! Thanks again! -Autumn

  4. Thanks, Autumn. I have noted your correction and changed the text about the year of manufacture. And, I did play the little wonder when I got home from your shop so I guess that makes me cool, but only so long as I play it ;)

  5. ... delightful story with delightful peeps ... and wonderful info - hmmm, whatdoineedtogetfixed ??? neileeo

  6. Thanks for the comment, Neil. Autumn is a great resource for someone like you. She's the real deal.