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Posted on Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

As Herb David Guitar Studio closes its doors, other shops look to fill the void

By Janet Miller


Alex Johnson and Karen King are co-owners of Ann Arbor Music Center, located on the edge of downtown Ann Arbor. Like Herb David Guitar Studio, the center offers lessons on a variety of instruments along with repair and a sales showroom for guitars and other instruments along with accessories. Johnson expects to pick up some of Herb David's businesses.

Janet Miller | For

While the departure of Herb David Guitar Studio closes the door on one era, it opens the door for other businesses that hope to fill the gap left when this Ann Arbor institution ends a 51-year run.

As Herb David winds up its last few days - it closes at the end of the month - other area music stores are looking to add inventory, expand lessons, hire instructors and offer new services.


Herb David Guitar Studio, at Liberty Street and Fifth Avenue, is closing at the end of the month.

Joseph Tobianski |

Over the five decades, Herb David became the heart of the Ann Arbor music scene, attracting local musicians and big names such as John Lennon, who visited the studio in 1971 when he was in town for a concert to support John Sinclair. Herb David, who founded the studio in the basement of a State Street bookstore, was always at the helm and earned a place in history and his own Wikipedia page.

“Herb David was the central place for music,” said Alex Johnson, who took his first guitar lessons at Herb David when he was growing up in Ann Arbor and later taught at the studio. “There was a great deal of idea sharing and musical connections made there. It was a scene.” Herb David sold guitars and other instruments along with music accessories, serviced instruments and offered lessons on a variety of instruments.

That scene will shift as a handful of music stores that offer a similar menu of products and services as Herb David work to fill the void.

Herb David Guitar Shop employees David Collins, Brian Delaney and Hesh Breakstone also are opening their own third-floor repair shop when the business closes. Ann Arbor Guitars will be in the converted attic of the Herb David building at the corner of Liberty Street and Fifth Avenue.

Johnson, who owns Ann Arbor Music Center, which offers the Rock Band School, at 312 S. Ashley St., expects to pick up some of the slack. “We will be the only place downtown that sells music accessories. Herb David did more sales, but we did more lessons,” he said. He’ll grow his retail side, at least a bit. “People are already starting to walk through the door looking for accessories because Herb David has sold out,” Johnson said.

But with many customers turning to the Internet or big box stores for musical instruments, Johnson said he will be cautious about adding inventory. “We’ll definitely become more of a store and add things like more ukuleles because Herb David sold at lot of them. But I don’t want to spend tens of thousands of dollars on inventory that gathers dust,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he expects to pick up 100 or more of Herb David students and hire some of his staff. They will be added to the center’s existing roster of more than 500 students who take lessons in guitar and bass, drums, violin, voice and more.

Ann Arbor Music Center has grown from the days in 1998 when Johnson opened a solo business teaching guitar in a condemned building on the land now occupied by the Ann Arbor YMCA on West Washington. He later moved to a building on North Main Street, a location with good visibility but an aging structure he outgrew as he added programs, students and teaching staff.


Ann Arbor Music Center, at 312 S. Ashley St., offers Rock Band School.

Janet Miller | For

Today, Ann Arbor Music Center occupies 10,000 square feet in two buildings. With programs in rock, blues, jazz, classical and voice, they have grown every year and expect 20 to 30 percent growth in 2013, Johnson said. That could send them looking for more space.

Steve Osburn, owner of Oz’s Music at 1920 Packard, said he expects to see a 10 to 20 percent bump with the Herb David closing and to pick up at least 50 students. He’s already hired two Herb David teachers, including Sean Rogers, the studio’s general manager, Osburn said.

He expects to add a few new, pricier lines of guitars, including Seagull. Until now, he has stocked only entry-level guitars. There have been exclusivity arrangements that allowed Herb David to be the sole retailer of some brands, Osburn said. “But we also haven’t wanted to step on each other's toes.” He said he’s in negotiations to sell top-line Martin guitars.

He’s also negotiating to sell tickets to The Ark from the 3,500-square-foot Oz’s Music, something Herb David had done. “There’s a small service charge, but it really is about getting more warm bodies through the door,” Osburn said.

Finally, Oz’s Music will now be open on Sundays. “We used to have Sunday hours and things were slow,” Osburn said. “But Herb David has done well with their Sunday hours.”

Sean Robinson, co-owner of Dennis's Music at 432 N. Hewitt in Ypsilanti, said he will wait and see if the Herb David closing bumps sales, and doesn’t plan on adding or expanding stock. “We, essentially, sell and do the same kinds of things as Herb David,” Robinson said. That includes guitar, drum and other instrument sales, music supplies such as strings and oil along with repair and lessons.

And at least one Herb David instructor has expressed an interest in teaching at Dennis’ Music, Robinson said.

A move a year ago from Depot Town to their storefront close to Ypsilanti High School puts Dennis’ Music in a better geographic position to pick up some of Herb David’s Ann Arbor customers. And retail became more of a focus when they moved.

“I wouldn’t do anything to disrespect Herb David. Just about anyone who has done anything with music in Washtenaw County has had some (connection) with Herb David,” Robinson said. But he’s hoping to help fill at least some of the gap. “My door is open,” he said. “We do and sell the same things. I don’t want to be opportunistic. We’ll carry on and hope that some people find their way here.”

Janet Miller is a freelance reporter. Reach the business desk at



Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 2:25 a.m.

I sure am glad that that parking structure was worth it....what's next J-Garden? For shame!


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 12:25 a.m.

An entire article about Herb David's closing without a single mention of the DDA's Garage Mahal construction scheduling overrun debacle and the detrimental impact it had on local businesses and residents alike. Would Herb David be closing without that "Follay"?

Rod Johnson

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 4:10 a.m.

The fact that some people are obsessed with that angle doesn't mean it has to be part of every story that touches on it--especially since according to Herb's wife, that's not the reason he's shutting down.


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 11:52 p.m.

Looks like a good place for another medical marijuana establishment.............


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 6:08 p.m.

"But with many customers turning to the Internet of big box stores for musical instruments," Typo: should be internet "or" big box.... Why did Herb David decide to close? Maybe this was in an earlier story, but it should have been reflected here.

Julie Baker

Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 6:23 p.m.

Thanks, JRW. That typo is fixed. Herb David's wife told us for a previous story that her husband is retiring. You can read more here:

Matt Lang

Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 4:48 p.m.

Sad, another AA icon is closing. When i was in the 12-15 year old range i would hang out at Davids and Al Nallis stores, and i would see the Asheton brothers from the Stooges, Scott Morgan and other members of the Rationals at both places, not to mention cool pics of Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, members of the MC5 as customers on the walls (those might have been at Nallis) Everything that made AA funky is gone or going (Joes Star Lounge, Primo Showbar, Mr. Floods, Sun Bakery, the guitar stores) Bummer!


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 4:29 p.m.

Good article. Thanks!

Doug Coombe

Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 4:04 p.m.

Don't forget Music Go Round out on Oak Valley Drive! I've bought a couple of great guitars out there.

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 2:49 p.m.

I've always just gone to Herb David for what I needed (and I confess I've also bought guitar strings online because I could get them at half price or less) but I'll have to check out some of these other places in town now. Thanks for the good article.


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 1:54 p.m.

Thanks, Herb, for years of diligent music service! And it sure is great to see ongoing local businesses like Alex and Karen's (really excellent &highly recommended) ROCK BAND SCHOOL and other stepping up to keep Ann Arbor musical!

Dirty Mouth

Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 1:52 p.m.

While it is very sad to hear about Herb David Guitar Studio closing, I am relieved that we still have Alex Johnson and Karen King, co-owners of Ann Arbor Music Center, here to pick up the mantel and carry the flame onward. For those about to rock, we salute you!


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 1:50 p.m.

The whole notion of having to go to a place to buy something or to take lessons seems so archaic in 2013. I keep reminding myself that Ann Arbor is "progressive", which means that we don't like it when anything changes.

Ann Dwyer

Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 8:19 p.m.

I can personally say that taking lessons there changed my life. I have great friends from my time there.


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 6:27 p.m.

It depends on how you define human interaction. I actually take music lessons via skype with a master musician who lives outside the Glorious People's Democratic Republic of Ann Arbor. I don't have to "go to my lesson." Technology brings this master musician to me. We interact just fine, thank you.


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 5:50 p.m.

Yeah, human interaction is really archaic.

Nicholas Urfe

Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 2:43 p.m.

Yeah sure, that's one perspective. For some folks, going out of the house and interacting with people is a drag. I get that. For others, it's all about community, and loyalty. I treasure the long term relationships I make with people, and the merchants I regularly interact with. And I'd much rather keep the money local as much as possible, and help put their kids through school.


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

I am sorry to hear of the closing of the Herb David Store. The Music Man in Brighton is also an option. I know it is a bit of a drive but, they have great instructors and if they don't have what you need, they know where to get it.

Jennifer Holmes

Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 1:39 p.m.

I took guitar lessons at Herb David in 1971 as an undergrad and later bought both of my son's first guitars there. I'll miss being able to pop in on my way home from work for supplies, repairs, or advice. Thanks Herb for a great run.

Lizzy Alfs

Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 1:17 p.m.

Nice story, Janet. Glad to hear some of the Herb David employees are finding a home elsewhere.

Ann Dwyer

Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 7 p.m.

I'm especially happy for Sean Rogers who introduced me to my husband!

Nicholas Urfe

Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 1:16 p.m.

Herb David ran a really great business. It was always such a great place to browse for a gift, buy a Recorder, get supplies, get good advice. The selection of stuff was an important part of the character, but really only a small part. It was the vibe of the place. Those are impossibly huge shoes to fill. And the location.. The location just seems to evoke ties with Ann Arbor's past. Not a strip mall location, but a business inside a house. There are so many guitar stores I hate going to. They've got "slick" sales dudes, trying to make a commission, trying to sell the rock'n roll lifestyle. Fortunately that isn't always the case.


Mon, Mar 25, 2013 : 10:31 a.m.

Well-written article. Herb David and store will be missed. Others businesses mentioned in article as alternatives are all very good, run by competent and caring people. They are all deserving of patronage and support. One thing they have in common is their acknowledgement of Herb's good reputation and presence. Very positive and refreshing. Best wishes to all as the Herb David torch is passed.