Photo by Steve Shay
AUTHENTICITY WITH VINTAGE INSTRUMENTS. West Seattle raised Frank Gross found success as a rock musician but followed his passion by opening Thunder Road Vintage Guitars on Alki. He is pictured strumming an all-original 1956 Les Paul, Jr. beginner model valued between $6,000 and $8,000.

UPDATE: New vintage guitar shop offering ageless instruments; Thunder Road finds a home

Thunder Road Guitars opening a store on California Ave; Celebration weekend Nov. 23 and 24

Update for Nov. 7
Frank Gross, proprietor of Thunder Road Guitars who has until now been working out of a live-work space on Harbor Ave S.W. and plying his trade on the web, shared the news that his vintage and used guitar business has found a brick and mortar home in West Seattle.

Thunder Road Guitars hopes to open up mid-November at 3916 California Ave S.W. (the old Olivia's Consignment for Kids shop), according to Gross.

A grand opening celebration is set for Nov. 23 and 24 (please see the flyer link above for more details).

Their hours will be Wednesday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and by appointment Sunday - Tuesday.

"The idea behind our By Appointment days is to offer customers the opportunity to have the shop to themselves to test drive their dream guitar and have our undivided attention," Gross said in an email.

Thunder Road intends to offer vintage amps and effects pedals along with the basic necessities of a "gigging musician" including strings, picks, cables and the like, according to Gross.

To read more on Thunder Road Guitars and the man behind it, please check out Steve Shay's feature from February below.

Original story on Feb. 9
Some musicians pursue a career in alternative rock. West Seattle-raised guitar player Frank Gross, 26, is pursuing a musical career that is an alternative to rock. He followed his passion and last month launched Thunder Road Guitars to specialize in selling vintage and other used guitars. He works from a unit in that bright red Active Space building on Harbor Ave. SW just north of the West Seattle Bridge. You can't see Russia from his forth floor south-facing window, but you can see the Luna Park Cafe and of course the bridge, and lots of sun, if out. He buys, sells, brokers, and also offers free appraisals.

"I named my shop after the first song off of Bruce Springsteen's first album, 'Born To Run,'" said Gross, whose rosy red cheeks and casual grin soften the edge of his black clothes & boots, and dramatic arm tatoos ensemble. "The song is kind of timeless. I'm a young fellow and I still find things I love about that album. I thought the name was a good fit for me and my personality."

Gross credits his late father, Richard, with some of his traits, and lighting his fire of interest in music when he was a youngster. Richard, a licensed sea captain, was a member of the Washington Blues Society, and played bass guitar.

"My father passed away when I was 20," Frank said. "He got me into guitars. If it wasn't for him I wouldn't know anything about any of this stuff. When I was a little kid, 11 or 12 and starting to learn how to play guitars, he'd drive me around to all the music stores, and there were tons of music stores in Seattle back then. He had tattoos and was in a biker gang, but not a bad biker gang, all nice guys. They were called the 'Survivors' and there'd be big parties at my house in the Admiral district as a kid. with 30 or 40 motorcycles line up in front of the house. My mother was into it too. She still lives in West Seattle with her husband and they are big supporters of my new business."

Gross explained the difference between a used, and vintage guitar.

"Technically, a vintage instrument is something at least 25 years old," he explained. "Purists in the vintage guitar world tell you that guitars made basically from the late 1920's to the mid-1960's would be considered a vintage instrument. So that includes pre-war guitars from Martin, and golden-era guitars by Gibson, meaning 1952 to 1959. The price fluctuates. There late '50's Gibsons worth in the six figures.

Some of the most valuable 6-string guitars are pre-war Martins, like a D-28, or D-45, worth several hundred thousand dollars, if you can find them.

"There are a lot of really cool guitars from that era that are built by brands that aren't as popular as, say, Gibson or Fender. I like to call those 'the second frontier vintage guitars', sleepers right now in the respect that you can pick them up for $500 to $1,000 and they're neat instruments. I think maybe in 10 to 20 years some of those guitars will be respected as cool instruments and could be a good investment.

"The 1965 Gibson ES 335 was made famous by Eric Clapton, Keith Richards," he said. "A lot of these guys used these guitars in the 60's and 70's. People seeing their heros playing these are like, 'Wow! I want one of those vintage guitars.'

"The 1954 Fender Stratocaster is one of the most popular, sought after vintage instruments," he said, and pointed out that a Gibson was the guitar of choice for one bearded rock star.

"Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top is a big guitar collector. He has a guitar he named "Pearly Gates', a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard. That model is worth between $280,000 and $400,000.

"A lot of the folks that pick up vintage instruments aren't guitar players," Gross said. "They are collectors looking to invest. A lot of high profile musicians like to pick up cool vintage guitars who have the funds to do so. I sell guitars to investors, 'hobby rockers', and professional musicians around the world, in China, Germany, and I just shipped a guitar to Finland. The market has changed a lot from walking into the brick and mortar store. Now you can buy one from someone reputable like me half way around the world and get a great guitar for a great price."

Even at his young age, Gross has a long, storied background in both sales and music. Straight out of high school he joined a heavy rock band in Seattle and signed with Victory Records, called "On the Last Day". That band has an impressive Wikipedia page. They toured the world in 2006, then broke up in 2008. Gross and another band member, Carson Allen, then started a new band, "Me Vs. Myself". While not gigging regularly anymore, Gross said, "I still play music with my buddies, and we make noise in the basement."

He began his education in vintage guitars prior to performing.

"I got my start at Emerald City Guitars (in Pioneer Square) at age 16 and worked there on and off for many years and eventually went on to manage the store," he said. Before that he was a sales and training manager at Guitar Center, a big box store.

"I hit a crossroads in my life last October and decided to open Thunder Road," he said. "I kind of got to the point in my life where I was tired of being on tour with my band instead of doing this and I felt like taking a stab at running my own business."

He acknowledged that some like the feel of a brand new guitar, but said he appreciates what he considers an almost indescribable tactile experience when holding the Brazilian rosewood neck of a vintage instrument and strumming the resonance that in his view only such an instrument can deliver. He holds a guitar on display.

"An instrument like this, a 1956 Les Paul, Jr., which was a beginner model in the 50s, is now valued between $6,000 and $8,000," he said. "It's all original. The finish is original. It's one of my favorite guitars in the store. The guitar is very resonant. It rings. The shape of the neck, the electronics, all these things in the mid-50's with the Gibson came together. It was like a perfect mistake almost. They thought they were just making average guitars, but still today these are highly regarded and collectible."

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