Although not a bar for beer or spirits, the Guitar Bar has become a favorite spot for locals and musicians alike. Located on quiet First Street, this neighborhood store has made a business out of buying, selling, and trading new and vintage guitars. Part of the charm of the place is owner Jim Mastro, who is a musician himself. Mastro initially decided to open the store to occupy his time in between tours and gigs.
“I came off a tour with nothing to do and I saw this little for rent sign in the window,” said Mastro. “Whenever I was on tour, I looked for guitars to pick up.”
That gem of an idea has grown. In addition to selling hardware for bands, customers can learn how to play a guitar from a pool of over a dozen musicians. “When we first started out it was all vintage,” said Mastro, “but as we grew we try to have one of everything.”
According to Mastro, people of all ages and levels of skill come into the Guitar Bar. Some are seasoned musicians, who are in need of new equipment. Others are in search of fulfillment of a dream of playing guitar. When Mastro first opened, he had one teacher instructing interested parties. Currently he has 15 different teachers giving lessons in the back room.
“A new student can request a different teacher,” said Mastro. “It’s almost like dating. Certain people want to learn a different style.”
According to Mastro, it can take anywhere from a month to a year to learn how to play. “Within a month or two, my guys will usually get someone strumming,” said Mastro. “A lot of people just want to be able to strum along for fun or for their kids. We try to get them there as quickly as we can.”
Although there is a selection of dozens of different guitars, there are a few they recommend for beginners including the Ibanez “Quickstart” or the Ibanez “Jampack,” which have a kit for beginners. According to Mastro, it is very rare for students to quit taking lessons once they start. “When you hear someone actually playing a song,” said Mastro, “whether it is a month or a year – it’s great when it finally all clicks.”
In addition to guitar lessons, they also instruct students in bass, piano, drums, mandolin, banjo, saxophone, voice, and more.
The music man
Mastro has lived in New Jersey all his life and moved to Hoboken in 1979. As a guitarist playing for different bands, he has played out at many of the great music venues like the now-closed CBGBs. “I went to the last show at CBGBs,” said Mastro. “It was pretty moving. It hadn’t changed that much. There was still graffiti on the walls that had been there 30 years ago.”
In addition to CBGB’s, Mastro has played at other well-known rock clubs, like Maxwell’s in Hoboken with one of his first bands, the Bongos.
In addition to playing guitar, Mastro also produces. He recently worked with Jersey City artist Amy Speace & the Tearjerks. He produced her latest album, “Songs For Bright Street”. Another musician he works with is Debby Schwartz, who has also played locally at The Goldhawk and Maxwell’s.
Cast of characters
For Mastro, working at the Guitar Bar is interesting and entertaining work. This month is his 10th year on First Street. “The constant parade of characters and the family that has been built here,” said Mastro. “That really is what has kept me here so long.”
According to Mastro, on any given day musician come in and do an impromptu concert. “We get people trying out stuff and they put on a little show,” said Mastro.
The Guitar Bar is open seven days a week. Mastro and members of his friendly staff are happy to answer any questions about guitars, equipment, or lessons.
The Guitar Bar is located at 160 First St. in Hoboken. For more information, stop by or call (201) 222-0915.