For over 75 years, the strip of West 48th Street right to the east of 7th Avenue has been known as Manhattan's own Music Row. With over half a dozen specialty and vintage instrument stores on the block, it became a musical mecca for New Yorkers, with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Ringo Starr, Pete Townshend and more stopping by between gigs to pick up some gear.
But in the last decade, Music Row has gone the way of so many other longtime NYC institutions (much like Mandolin Brothers, the Staten Island mom-and-pop guitar emporium we profiled last year). Between the recession in the late '00s, the increase in rent across the city, and the proliferation of online dealers, there apparently, and remarkably, is not as much of a market for vintage music stores anymore.
Frank Wolf Drummers Supplies and We Buy Guitars are shuttered. Rod Baltimore's New York Woodwind & Brass Music shop is now a Dunkin' Donuts. Manny's departed in 2009 after 76 years on the block. The giant Sam Ash moved south in 2013, which sent doomsday prognosticators into overdrive.
After two more years trying to hold out, Rudy's Music Stop reluctantly closed last summer to some fanfare. And the final holdout, Alex Musical Instruments,gave in to the inevitable in January. As you can see from the photos above, taken just after its closure, Music Row is officially dead, with only a few typographically-pleasing signs left hanging in lonesome windows.
"Musically, it’s kind of depressing," Mario Tacca, an accordion player and longtime patron of Music Row, told the Times last month. "I guess it’s part of the new world that we’re living in. The old world is kind of disappearing slowly. It’s kind of sad to see."
There is technically still one music-related business on the block: MSR Studios, whose owner David Amlen told the Times "it’s definitely depressing" being the last man standing. "What was nice was if somebody was working here and said, 'Hey, I need a guitar string or a drum head,’ they could just literally run across the street and buy one."
“Everyone bought their instruments on 48th. There was no other way,” Rudy Pensa, longtime owner of Rudy's, told the Post last year. As a teenager growing up in Argentina, he dreamed about being able to visit the fabled Music Row: "It wasn’t America I wanted to come to. It was 48th Street, which happened to be in America."
Here was Rudy's in happier times:
One of the most beautiful #guitar stores I have ever seen! If you're in the New York area I definitely Recommend stopping by #rudysmusicsoho they have some really cool vintage and new guitars and the staff are a bunch of really nice guitar people, great to work with and great to talk to. #gibson #fender #newyork #soho #rudysmusicstop #rudysmusicshop #rudysmusicstore #rudysmusicnyc
For what it's worth, the Taylor 814ce below is the last guitar I bought at Rudy's in 2014. I dragged it with me to Greece as the bequest of one of my cousins, but at least I was able to keep the rose-printed strap.