3335 Brambleton Ave, Roanoke VA 24018 -- Phone: 540-989-9232 - Hours M-Th 11-8 Fri 11-7 Sat 11-6
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By Tad Dickens  The Roanoke Times

The July issue of Guitar Player magazine features Kelly’s Music in the issue of readers picks of the best independent guitar shops.

Kelley’s Music

  • 3335 Brambleton Ave., Roanoke
  • 989-9232, kelleysmusic.com
  • Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday
  • Fun fact: Luke the dog is a mix between a German short-haired pointer and an Australian cattle dog. He apparently loves musicians.

Roanoke independent instrument dealer Kelley’s Music turned 31 years old last week.

And with that milestone came what store owner Ron Montgomery calls the store’s greatest accolade to date. The July issue of Guitar Player magazine included Kelley’s Music among its list of America’s top indie guitar shops.

“It’s amazing to me,” Montgomery said. “I can’t quite articulate how cool I think that is. It’s very gratifying. To me, Guitar Player magazine has always been – there’s a lot of guitar magazines now – but it has always been the one.

“I remember when I was a kid in junior high school, I would always rush to the library and hope to get a look at the new Guitar Player when it hopped in.”

And now his store is in its pages.

The issue, on magazine racks now, includes a blurb about the shop in its GP Community section.

“While giant chain stores and online retailers have changed the business landscape, the most successful independent stores have adapted, evolved, and found their own niches,” reporter Bridget Oates wrote. “They can also be community havens, learning centers, and places to hear great music.”

Kelley’s was one of 38 stores across the country that received the Guitar Player treatment.

When the reporter called Kelley’s recently to gather information on the store, Montgomery was working by himself on an evening with customers “everywhere.” He thought the call was a solicitation to stock the magazine.

“I told ‘em to call back, you know,” Montgomery said, laughing. “I mean, you don’t expect that they’re going to be interviewing you … I said, ‘I’m sorry; I’m pretty busy. I’d be glad to talk to you if you call tomorrow.’ I don’t want to be rude to anybody.

“So lo and behold, they did want to interview us, which was crazy. … We’d literally heard nothing about it. I knew nothing about it until I was being interviewed, so that was gratifying.

Via Facebook

On April 17, Guitar Player took to its Facebook page to ask this question: “What is your favorite music store in your area and why? Talking about places you actually walk into – not online retailers. We’re thinking of publishing a story on TOP GUITAR SHOPS across the USA, and I need your help with acquiring data. Can y’all assist, please? Thanks tons!”

That status update drew 68 comments from across the country, including one from Terry Shaw of Wirtz.

“Kelley’s Music, in Roanoke, VA. No doubt!” wrote Shaw, whose Facebook profile photo shows him with a Fender Jazz bass at Trinity Church of God in Cloverdale, where he preaches.

Every other comment was for a different store in the country. Shops that made the published list included: Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center in Wheaton, MD.; Southpaw Guitars in Houston; McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, Calif.; and C.A. House Music of Parkersburg, WV, which has been in business since 1872.

It was not clear how the stores were chosen after the Facebook nominations. Multiple attempts to reach Guitar Player representatives were unanswered. Shaw said in a phone interview this week that the magazine did not follow up with him about his comment.

Shaw said that Montgomery and his staff pay attention to customers’ needs in a way that elevates the relationship.

“I’ve been doing business with Ron for I don’t even remember how many years it’s been now,” he said. “But the thing that makes them different is they’re not just a dealer. They become your friend.”

Shaw called Montgomery a “blessing” to Trinity Church of God, doing all he can to meet the church’s musical equipment needs.

“And I’m not the only one that he does that way,” he said. “He’s just such a good friend to be able to help you with your music needs in any kind of a way. You don’t get that with a lot of businesses, and that’s what makes him so unique.”

Putting on the dog

Dylan Hendrix of Roanoke, whose band Affliction Kid plays original, punk-inflected rock, said via Facebook that Kelley’s Music staff is knowledgeable but not arrogant.

When Hendrix was looking for pickups for his Fender Telecaster, he wasn’t sure what he needed. Montgomery asked him what kind of sound he was going for, then recommended some pickups that gave him exactly what he sought.

“He didn’t have them in stock but ordered them and they got there quickly, and for a price just as cheap as I could have gotten them from pretty much anywhere else,” Hendrix wrote. “He seemed to be genuinely interested in making sure I got what I wanted, and he wasn’t trying to push anything on me.”

He added: “Also, my son, Grayson, likes that he sometimes has his dog in the shop and he can pet and play with him.”

Sure enough, Montgomery’s 6-year-old dog, Luke, frequently gambols about the store. It was unclear if Oates was writing about Kelley’s specifically when she mentioned in her opening paragraph “a sea of guitars and amps, dogs running amuck,” though Montgomery said the subject didn’t come up.

When Montgomery and his wife, Lindsay, adopted Luke from Angels of Assisi, the organization brought the 1-year-old to the Brambleton Avenue store.

“This is where he came to us first, so this is his home as much as it is mine,” Montgomery said.

It’s not a job

Oates quoted Montgomery in the section devoted to the store’s “vibe.”

“We’re all passionate about guitars here, and we like talking to like-minded people,” Montgomery told the magazine. “We don’t let competition dictate what our mission statement is going to be – we just want to help people. It’s more a lifestyle than a job.”

Montgomery, who became a partner in Kelley’s ownership in 1985 and took sole ownership five years later, said the shop’s longevity and success are a credit to folks like Shaw, who care enough to tell people about their experiences there.

“We have the best customers in the world,” he said. “We’re so grateful for them.”