The shop itself is almost like a time machine. The posters of vintage albums, the scribbled notes at the front desk, and chairs waiting for visitors to stop in and maybe listen to music or have a conversation, all provide a different feel than many businesses these days. 6 Strings Down, a music shop in Plainfield that offers lessons, repairs and equipment, has been in the community for 23 years and shows no signs of stopping.
Owner David Bryant simply does what he knows, and he knows guitars. He offers lessons on stringed instruments such as guitar, bass and banjo, and he sells and repairs amplifiers and guitars. Though he is surrounded by some impressive and beautiful equipment, his favorite aspect of his shop is the people.
“I’ve always liked people,” Bryant says. “Believe it or not, people make the world go round. Without them, this place is nothing.”
A sign above his cash register drives his point home: “Enter as strangers, leave as friends.”
Bryant’s passion for guitars and music goes way back into his childhood.
“It all started with the Beatles, just like everyone else my age,” Bryant says. “The Beatles on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ sold more guitars than any guitar salesman could ever dream of selling. They inspired a whole generation to start playing.”
Bryant simply started playing with his friends, and eventually found a deal where he could get some guitar lessons at a local shop in Plainfield. The deal was that customers could rent a guitar and get a handful of lessons at a set price.
“My dad always said to think carefully through things to make sure they’d work out,” Bryant says. “It took him two minutes to figure out he was in trouble because this was going to work for me.”
He finally got his first guitar at 12 years old, a little Stella acoustic guitar, and decided to pursue more lessons. However, in his day, guitar lessons were almost always the same and consisted of a strict regimen. Bryant and his friends were ready for more complicated skills.
His teacher at the time would grab Beatles music for Bryant and his friends, so they could at least play what they wanted.
“It wasn’t perfect, but it kept the fire going,” Bryant says. “A bunch of us started at the same time. I’d learn something, I’d show it to Phil, then he’d learn it and show it to someone else, and that’s how the whole thing got started. We pretty much taught ourselves or helped each other along.”
Phil Jarrett and Bryant have been friends since childhood, having attended high school and college together. They played music together through the decades, and now Jarrett drives Bryant to work, often sitting in his shop for a while to chat or play music.
“For a while we were just playing,” Jarrett says. “We’d start bands and play in garages, basements, driveways, and shelters at parks – we didn’t care. As long as we got to play, we were having fun.”
Jarrett is around the shop often enough to know some of the customers, and he tells the story of a father who comes in regularly with his two daughters. Both girls love music and love piano, and their father taught them some guitar. They stopped in one evening and played together in the shop.
“The beat goes on, so they say,” Jarrett says. “Dad learned, then dad teaches the kids, and they continue the tradition. It was really cool.”
Bryant admits it’s tough to get kids to practice. He can usually tell in a week or two if they will actually play, and keep up their practice and skills. He attributes a lot of the unwillingness to practice to the times.
“Growing up, most kids my age had a piano at home,” Bryant says. “I was playing guitar, and my sister was taking piano lessons. When no one was home, I was on that piano.”
He continued to play in bands through the mid-1970s, when he had his first son. He says one night he was getting ready to leave while his baby son sat on the floor looking at him, almost as if to ask where he was going.
“It just hit me,” Bryant says. “I went and played that night, and turned my notice in to the band. I quit playing for 17 years so I could be with my family.”
While he played plenty at home and for gatherings, Bryant didn’t join a band again until 1994. During that time he was working with a friend who built custom homes during the day, so Bryant was heading out early and getting home early every day. He finally decided to open his own music shop, and after work he’d spend a few hours getting his business plan together.
Everything was settled except for the name. He approached the problem the only way he knew how – through music. He had a disc player that rotated through five albums at a time, and he just sat and listened to music. When he heard the song “Six Strings Down,” he knew that’s what he wanted to call his shop. He was a huge Stevie Ray Vaughan fan, and the song was written by his brother Jimmie as a tribute to Stevie.
Bryant opened 6 Strings Down in 1997. There had been a music shop in Plainfield, but it closed and opened back up in Speedway. Bryant’s first location was where African Plumb Home & More sits today on Main Street. He was there through October of 2005, when he moved to his current location. He’s been a one-man show ever since he opened, only hiring a little help here and there.
“I’ve never wanted to get so big I couldn’t do it myself,” Bryant says. “I know that’s a strange outlook for a business plan. Most want to start itty-bitty and be the Goliath of the world, but I’ve never aspired to be Bill Gates. That’s why I don’t put prices on anything. You’ve got to talk to me instead.”
Bryant emphasizes how music has always been there for him through the years, and how it’s an excellent fallback for anyone in life.
“When age creeps up on you and you can’t go out and do the physical things you’ve been doing, the guitar will be your friend forever,” he says. “It’s always there for you.”
He encourages anyone to try and learn to play.
“We’re open to anyone,” Bryant says. “Even if they’re as young as 5. I’ve always said, I think the worst thing you can do to any child with any kind of desire is squelch that desire. If they can’t get it, at least you gave them a chance, and usually a seed gets planted and they’ll try it again in the future.”
Bryant teaches approximately 25 lessons per week in person, and lessons last 30 minutes. He doesn’t have a website, a Facebook page or an email address, but he encourages people to call or stop in, to talk or hear a song. He has full faith in word-of-mouth advertising.
“Most people see ads and go, ‘OK,’ and it’s gone – but coming from a friend or relative, that’s the absolute best advertising you can have,” Bryant says. “I’m just happy doing what I’m doing. That’s the name of the game.”
6 Strings Down is located at 1019 East Main Street in Plainfield. For more info, call 317-837-1755.