By Osayi Endolyn

Maple Street Guitars has been around since 1981, but owners George and Claire Petsch still hear the same thing from new comers: “We’ve lived here for ages, but never knew you were here!”

Housed in its current location at the corner of Maple Street and Peachtree Road in Buckhead since 1987, the Petsch family and their diverse, talented staff fancy themselves a community resource for all things guitar  – lessons, repairs and sales. They’ve crafted quite the local following and determined customers even come from out of state to experience the care and robust knowledge the team shares with masters and novices alike.

Entering the store, you’ll find rows of beautiful, shiny guitars hanging side-by-side, the soft aroma of various woods honed to specification and of course, the shopper who (with the help of a staff member) points out one gleaming instrument with eyes aglow, is carefully handed the piece and begins to play. It’s fairly romantic.

When a person introduces themselves to a guitar, it is an intimate encounter. That guitar might become the thing that allows a musician to express herself in a way she never could before. It’s magical. That’s why Maple Street Guitars focuses so much of their attention on teaching.

Don’t let the candy-like allure of gorgeous guitars fool you – head towards the back of the shop and you’ll find several rooms where lessons take place. Behind all that beauty lies a committed work ethic and a lot of practice. A lot. Just ask the Petschs, they should know. When George and Claire met in the 1970s, it was at the now-closed Sutherland’s House of Guitars. It was located near where Maple Street Guitars is now. They both took classical guitar lessons there. “Eventually, we opted to go our own way,” says Claire. After that, “we just grew, mostly by word of mouth.”

The Petschs intention was to provide a space for high-quality lessons. “We wanted teachers who played well, followed music education, enjoyed teaching and working with people,” Claire says.

They found several seasoned professionals, the newest of which is Johnna Jeong, who has been at Maple Street for about seven years. “The teaching staff have had our hands in recording, performing extensively, producing and composing,” Jeong says. We all share a desire and drive to improve even more on the guitar.”

“Initially we didn’t intend to sell guitars, too,” says George. “But it turns out lessons and sales are symbiotic. When you have a student who wants to play, it makes sense to offer something that can help them achieve their goals. We found we were good at doing that.”

Before a guitar makes it to the sales floor, the team puts them through a tedious review and servicing process. “We go to tremendous lengths to make sure they’ve been selected and adjusted and are not going to sabotage anyone’s efforts to play,” Claire says.

When homegrown businesses must compete with huge online retailers, it is that kind of attention to detail and compassion for a guitar’s future owner that makes shopping local stand out.

“Our first priority is sound quality,” says Lindsay Petsch, son of George and Claire. About as old as the store itself, Lindsay literally grew up playing with Legos in the back. Now he works in the front as manager, “doing whatever needs to be done.”

When it comes to customers, the focus is clear: “We try to educate people on different brands and we ask a lot of questions about their needs. So it has less to do with sales and more to do with the customer making an informed decision,” Lindsay says.

“They’re a very friendly, very knowledgeable staff,” says Ede Wright, an Atlanta-based guitar player whose credits include jazz vocalist Lizz Wright (no relation) and the acclaimed kd lang. He’s been coming to Maple Street since 1989. “Everyone there has a passion for all things guitar, as it should be.”

“Now,” says George, “it’s pretty cool – we’re starting to see the children of customers who took lessons here as kids.” He grins, “You know, I figure I haven’t aged a bit.”

Visit Maple Street on the web at maplestreetguitars.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.