Monday, March 23, 2015

The Onondaga Music Company

On June 6, 1960, the Onondaga Music Company was on West Jefferson Street in Syracuse, New York. I have no idea if it's still there.

The motto of the Onondaga Music Company was "IF IT'S MUSIC, WE HAVE IT."

That might well be the motto of the human race.

It was the day after my thirteenth birthday. I was an official teenager at the dawn of the '60s. My older brother Frank accompanied me to the music shop so that I could buy a guitar. Frank had a passing interest in bongos and harmonica and a flirtation with a Jew's harp, jaw harp, mouth harp, Ozark harp, marranzano pancake or whatever is politically correct to now call it. He chipped a front tooth with it and lost interest.

Frank thought having a guitar in the house would be a good idea. It would be a fine companion to his Kingston Trio albums. One of our great concerns about the Kingston Trio was where could they have gotten short sleeve shirts that came down to the elbow. Our short sleeve shirts didn't come close to the elbow.

It was possible they had altered long sleeve shirts or maybe they were only available in California.

My guitar cost $16.83 which I had saved from my paper route and probably some birthday cash. I still have the receipt. That's how I know the motto of the store. It was a very basic flat- top acoustic with steel strings. The pickguard was painted on. It was unplayable. The strings hurt, the action was awful, it had a tin trapeze. I don't remember it having a brand name. I wasn't into brand name guitars then.

I also bought a new Chet Atkins record called The Other Chet Atkins (1960) which was him playing Spanish classical guitar, and a Johnny Smith (he wrote Walk Don't Run in 1955) record. I had never heard of either one of them but they were guitar records. The Johnny Smith record turned out to be jazz and I was too young for jazz. The Atkins record had Maria Elena on it. I still like that.

My father said it was a waste of money and that I was never going to learn to play the guitar. He was right about that guitar. But then he insisted everything was a waste of money or made too much noise. Later I put nylon strings on it and ruined the sound further in order for it not to be so painful.

I also got a copy of Nick Manoloff's Spanish Guitar Method, Book No. 1 with a free accompaniment guide included for $1.50. Nick guaranteed that this was the latest, most modern and thoroughly illustrated method ever written. It would teach the most practical fingerboard harmony; circle of chords; chord relations; modern orchestra, radio and recording accompaniment. Book No. 1 was published in 1935.

Nick was wearing a tuxedo and playing a complicated barre chord at the fifth fret of his guitar. The book was recommended by guitarists Paul Whittenmeyer, Henry Dixon, Sam Friedman, Alfred Quartillo, G.M. Peters Clarice Rogers, Ralph V. Garcia, Lawrence Salerno, Sam Gorbach, Frankie Masters, Peter Voornas, Sam Mussman, Rodney Rogers, and Frank Lannom. I had never heard of any of them but I was sure my ignorance would be short lived.

In truth, I've still never heard of any of them. But why worry about it now. I've been playing the guitar for forty nine years. Last year I took lessons.

Onondaga Music, Syracuse, NY circa 1960


  1. You. Were. There.

    This story brings painful memories unto me, as I was given a Silvertone acoustic guitar for Christmas in 1963. It had steel strings, too, for some stupid reason, and my soft little nine-year old hands quickly talked my mind into giving it up. My father, on the other hand(s), used to drum on the strings with his fingertips in an interesting method that I have never heard since.

    When I was about 10 or eleven, I took the guitar apart, thinking I was going to paint it or something, and never put it back together. Thirty-five years later, I saw some guy in a hipster band playing the same guitar, only now with pickups, and had a brief reverie of "If only..."

    Thank heavens this blog is here to show me what might have been.

  2. Ah, some fine overlaps with memories of my own, thanks. And glad to read that you also put your paper route money to good use. I had a morning paper route and to this day love being out for a walk when it's still dark.