Strumming Vintage Strings at The Folk Shop


On a sunny Thursday afternoon in Tucson, Arizona, I am dropped off at 2525 N Campbell Ave. My car door opens to reveal a shop with a dark green sign reading, “The Folk Shop” in swaying white letters with the phrase “musical treasures” nestled beneath the name of the store. I pull open the door to the shop and am confronted by all sorts of instruments. The soft sound of scraping echoes around as, Chris Keefer, one of the employees, is working on an instrument.

Each of the four walls of the store are filled with instruments perched on mounts. A section sitting in the middle of the store that houses many percussive instruments including some musical toys that all ages could enjoy. Some instruments are familiar such as the guitars, violins, and banjos, but others are brand new to me, being what I now know as mandolins and bell drums. It was a musician’s dream. The options in the store ranged from all levels of quality and there were endless options to choose from.

The wide variety of instruments at the store won the Folk Shop Tucson Weekly‘s “Best Musical Junk Award” in 2000 for having so many options for musicians and non-musicians alike to try. The article mentions, “All manner of instruments seem to find their way in, from things that used to be armadillos, to fine hand-made guitars.” The wide array of pluck-able, hit-able, or strum-able instruments can be seen at the Folk Shop’s own website in the readily updated inventory list.

A Vintage Selection

As a guitar player myself, I was intrigued by the vast landscape of musical instruments. There were all sorts of acoustic guitars from all sorts of brands such as Recording King, Crafter, Gold Tone. I gave the store a look around and eventually made my way over to a glass display case, where the other employee in the store, Merricat Roy, was standing. I am welcomed with friendly a smile as I introduced myself.

I then spark up a conversation with Merricat and she gives me a brief overview of the store. “The shop is designed around buying, selling, and trading new and used instruments,” she tells me. I get led on a short tour around the place and get a backstory of her positive experience working at this establishment. She points out the wide selection of vintage guitars and exhibits their wall of mandolins and violins. She explains the ukuleles in store, and takes me inside “banjo heaven”, which is their most popular section. She shows off their wide selection of drums, and their surprising selection of musical toys, including an awesome pickle shaped toy that yodels after pressing a button called a “yodeling pickle”. All of the items in the shop were in great condition even though used or refurbished.  

I asked Merricat more about the impact that the Folk Shop has on the Tucson music community. “This shop is a Tucson institution, it’s been here for 32 years,” she said. “There are very few local shops that have remained open this long.” She also talked about the location, mentioning that Campbell street is a place where many local shops have passed the test of time. People will come to the “Campbell Corridor” to check out local shops, and eventually end up wandering into the Folk Shop. This keeps relevance and allows for loyal customers to accumulate. She also told me about, Rainbow Guitars, which is a national guitar retailer across the street from the Folk Shop. She mentioned how this store accompanies them by drawing guitar customers towards this section of the “Campbell Corridor”. 

Strumming Classic Strings

After I had all my questions answered, I was given the opportunity to try out all of the elegant guitars on the wall that I had been admiring. Guitar has been a favorite hobby of mine as of two years ago and playing different brands and shapes is a gratifying way to experience music. The guitars ranged from many different origins and I was able to experiment with a variety of shapes and sizes.

My favorite of the guitars I tried was a 1870’s Martin 2 ½ – 17. A dark drown, basic shaped, piece of beauty created way back in the late nineteenth century that was restored to a substantial quality. The twang of the strings on the guitar stuck my ears with a soulful and light voice. I felt undeserving of the instrument while plucking melodies that lit up the store with a soft sound. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play a precious piece of history. The guitar was gifted to the Folk Shop and restored to substantial quality relative to its elderliness. 

The main thing I took away from my experience at the Folk Shop is the great atmosphere of the establishment. If you are looking for great chats, in the technical or friendly aspect, the folk shop is a great place for you. High quality instruments along with knowledgeable staff members, creates an incredible environment for all your instrumental and musical needs. 


Linden Sentell McHenry is a freshman at the University of Arizona majoring in environmental science.