You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 8:46 a.m.

Herb David Guitar Studio: 50 years (and counting) of bringing music to Ann Arbor

By Bob Needham

Fifty years ago, things in downtown Ann Arbor were a little different from today. The Pretzel Bell was one of the hot spots. The City Council consisted of eight Republicans and two Democrats. There was no North Quad, no One North Main, no Tower Plaza.

University of Michigan football coach Bump Elliott led the Wolverines to a 2-7 record. The opening of Borders Book Shop was still 9 years in the future, while the coming of Zingerman's was 20 years off.

The community has seen countless changes since 1962. But the whole time, Herb David Guitar Studio has remained a constant downtown: teaching musicians of all ages and skill levels, selling and repairing instruments, and serving as a gathering place for music lovers. Even more remarkably, Herb David himself also has remained a constant that entire time.

“If you do what you love, you don’t work a day in your life,” he says with a smile, paraphrasing Confucius.

Throughout this year, the studio quietly has been celebrating its 50th anniversary. The final event takes place this Saturday with a free concert starring another Ann Arbor music mainstay, Dick Siegel and the Brandos, plus other local musicians.

Early days

Amazingly, given that he's spent 50 years and counting at it, the music shop actually is Herb David's second full career. Born in Chicago in 1931, he fell in love with music early but initially pursued a career as a psychologist. Moving to Ann Arbor after a stint in the Army, he started teaching music out of his home, ultimately deciding to make it a full-time gig.

The first location of Herb David Guitar Studio opened April 12, 1962 in the basement of Bob Marshall’s bookstore on State Street, David recalls in a recent interview.

“The things that go on in Ann Arbor were so vital and stimulating," he says. ”“I didn’t worry about whether I was going to make a living or not. And it’s gone far beyond what I thought it would.”

The business spent a year in the basement, then moved upstairs. There, David became acquainted with a rock band down the hall—a band whose drummer would soon find fame (and infamy) as proto-punk rocker Iggy Pop. A young Bob Seger also "came here a lot," David says.

A growing reputation

David's shift from psychology to music drew considerable attention; he was featured in articles about people changing careers in different publications, including Newsweek. He's also been featured in The New York Times and once appeared on the TV game show "To Tell The Truth."

The business saw its standing grow quickly, finding a national reputation among top musicians. When Eric Clapton broke a guitar neck right off, David was able to repair it overnight for him. Other celebrity clients have included the Grateful Dead, Chicago, and Jack White. “A lot of them I made instruments for,” David says.

The State Street space worked for a while for all this, but it had its problems—rats and roaches, for starters. He also realized he could use more room to do more things. A move was in order.

A new home

In 1982, David moved the business to an old house on the corner of Liberty Street and Fifth Avenue, where it remains today. The building gave him plenty of room for lessons, instrument sales, offices, and the repair shop.

Along the way, David also taught himself to make instruments from scratch, something he continues doing today, even experimenting with unique combinations like a bass with a keyboard. He says initially he felt unsure about working with wood, but tried and found he could do it.

“I just filled a lot of waste baskets and read a lot of books,” David says. “I’m convinced you can do whatever you want to do if you put your mind to it … You may not be great, but you’ll be as good as you can be.”

David's also traveled the world three times, seeking out remote areas to learn about their music and instruments. The store and his office upstairs are filled with rare and exotic instruments. He seems to have a story behind each.

David is interested in the science of music, too, noting its benefits for the brain. That's one reason that jam groups for adults have remained part of the studio's mission.

Recent years

David says the closure of Fifth Avenue for construction of an underground parking garage led to a 50-percent drop in sales, although lessons and repair business held steady. And with traffic flow restored, “It’s noticeably coming back, little by little,” he says.

“People still came to take lessons and have their instruments repaired … We have some really fine craftsmen who work here.

“I’ve got one of the best bunch of people to work with," he says. "We have a really good staff here, and they keep reminding me of it all the time. This is probably the best staff I’ve ever had.”

Store Manager Sean Rogers, who's worked at the studio for 19 years, says the formula for success is simple: “We try to offer quality instruments at reasonable prices,” he says. “We try to give good service.”

They also try to give back to the community, actively hiring employees with disabilities and sponsoring free concerts and other events to give back. One of those will close out the anniversary year this Saturday.

“Our basic thing was to try to bring music to the people of Ann Arbor,” David says. Mission: accomplished — and continuing indefinitely.

The special anniversary concert starring Dick Siegel and the Brandos will take place at Herb David Guitar Studio starting at noon Saturday, Dec. 15. Others on the bill include Justin Johnstone, David Menefee and Don & Grant. Siegel and the Brandos will play about 1:30. Admission is free. The store is located at 302 E. Liberty St. (at Fifth Avenue). For more information, see the store's Facebook page or website.

Bob Needham is director of entertainment content for Reach him at or 734-623-2541, and follow him on Twitter @bobneedham.


Lizzy Alfs

Wed, Dec 12, 2012 : 8:59 p.m.

Great story, Bob. I've never been inside and always wondered. What a great history!

Bob Zuruncol

Wed, Dec 12, 2012 : 1:26 p.m.

Congratulations, Herb, and to your quality and qualified staff. A great asset to this community. Talk to Herb for 10 minutes and you will learn something of interest you didn't know.

Perry White

Wed, Dec 12, 2012 : 2:36 a.m.

Repeatedly in the photo captions: "The store is celebrating it's 50th anniversary.." Its, not it's.

Linda Diane Feldt

Wed, Dec 12, 2012 : 1:41 a.m.

It was 1971 when I first took guitar lessons at Herb David's, when it was in the upstairs location on State St. It was both scary and enthralling to walk there from Slauson Jr. High for my lesson with a long haired guy who was a great teacher. Later on (1972? 73?) I had another teacher named Martha. She taught some great finger picking! Some parents at the time wouldn't let their kids hang out at those shops on State Street. For the last 40 years I've been an infrequent but always happy customer. Thanks, Herb, and congratulations to everyone who has made it an Ann Arbor landmark. I rely on you being there when I need you.


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 5:34 p.m.

I am surprised the writer did not mention that John Lennon had stopped by back when they had that concert for John Sinclair. The owner had the chair that Lennon had sat and strummed guitars...I wish the owner had kept the original one there.

Chip Reed

Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 5:58 p.m.

It is still there.


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

I took guitar lessons from Herb David back in 1982/1983.....I'm still playing today for fun...thank you!!!! One of Ann Arbor's last treasures....

Edward Green

Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

Reading this you would expect Herb David to be a friendly, affordable competent guitar shop.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 2:29 a.m.

Everyone at Herb's has always been friendly to us, and we've picked up some nice instruments there. Having a local music shop is a good thing--hope it keeps going for many years more. Edward Green, if for some reason you don't like Herb's, you might try Elderly Instruments in East Lansing. It's a great place & also worth supporting.


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 5:32 p.m.

Care to elaborate?

lou glorie

Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 3:08 p.m.

Herb David's shop is one good reason to live in Ann Arbor.


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 3:19 p.m.

The only reason.


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 3:03 p.m.

Congratulations on 50 years Herb! My whole family has taken lessons and purchased instruments from your store over the years. I have enjoyed many conversations with you while waiting for a family member to finish a lesson. I wish you many more years in business!


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

50 years of retail, service, and friendship in Ann Arbor! Amazing, Mr. David. Thank you. The first time I went to Herb David's store, it shared a floor with its neighbor Wazoo Records, on the second floor of a S. State St. house, next to Olga's and a Kodak kiosk. Anyone that laments the disappearance of old Ann Arbor could stop by Herb David's store, have a warm and friendly chat, and reconnect with an Ann Arbor treasure.

Paul Kersey

Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

Great shop. Great service by knowledgeable people.


Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 2:11 p.m.

Congratulations to Herb David and crew! This is the kind of homegrown business that makes Ann Arbor Ann Arbor.

Linda Peck

Tue, Dec 11, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

I have known Herb David from long ago, and have appreciated what he has brought to Ann Arbor very much. Recently, I took a old banjo uke in to his studio to have it repaired and what a beautiful job the man did who worked on it. I wish I could remember his name. It came back to me perfectly fixed and beautifully cleaned. I was so happy. I just want to thank Herb for being the man he is and giving so much to the music community here in Ann Arbor. All the best to you, Herb! from Linda Peck