On a wing and a prayer, a former dental technician now runs the neighborhood's top guitar shop.
When Lou Mueller and his father bought the tiny three-story stucco “Father, Son & Holy Ghost” house at 7026 Ridge Avenue in Roxborough, the goal was to have a space where Lou could run a guitar shop in his semi-retirement. “Which is a joke,’’ Lou says, “ because I’m busier now than I’ve ever been.’’
That was in 2002 when Lou and his father were dental technicians making wearables for patients who were missing teeth. “We were crown and bridge technicians,’’ he says of the work. “Dentists would send us the prescriptions with the impressions that they’d take in the mouth.’’ Lou Jr. did that for 30 years before founding the boutique guitar and amplifier store, Roxy Guitar, which opened its doors in 2004.
Named in a nod to the community where they lived, Roxy Guitar is listed as one of the “The 60 Best Brick & Mortar Music Instrument Stores in the U.S.’’ by the ticket resell website ClickItTicket.
“The unique and boutique -- that’s what our vibe is,’’ says Lou, who turns 61 this November and looks ever the rocker with a black goatee, mustache and multiple tats. The store strives to offer unusual specialty brand guitars not found in the ‘big box’’ music stores. Here, customers can buy guitars ranging in price from $100 for a Michael Kelly to $29,000 for a Warrior Queen Anna Archangel Acoustic. You’ll find a dazzling array of distortion pedals and amplifiers here, too.
There is also a classroom and a repair shop. When Mueller gave up making bridges for teeth he expanded to fixing bridges for guitarists – as well as neck joints, pegheads, fingerboards and strings on instruments needing repair.
“People come to us for anything as simple as a string change, to a full-on broken neck on their guitar, they know that what we do we do very well, so I have a good following as far as people that bring their stuff to us.’’
“People come to us for anything as simple as a string change, to a full-on broken neck on their guitar,’’ Mueller said. “They know that's what we do we do very well, so I have a good following as far as people that bring their stuff to us.’’
He offers classes to students who have ranged in age from 4 to 84 years old, and he prides himself on being a respectful, patient teacher. “I never liked the mentality of someone talking down to you when they’re trying to educate you and making something seem extremely difficult,’’ he said. “I always liked the mentality of ‘This isn’t rocket science...that anybody can do this. ’’
Maybe he got that from his mom, Marie Mueller, now 88, who taught fifth grade and later became the assistant principal at the Holy Family School on Hermitage. Mueller says people coming into the store still ask about her. “She’s almost legendary,’’ he said. “She was at that school for so long she taught so many kids.’’
The store gets rave reviews online with an occasional mention of clutter. (Lou concedes the space can be ‘’overwhelming.’’) One review states, “This store is loaded with the best of the best of gear. All top notch stuff. You won't find anything there at Guitar Center or Sam Ash.’’
That positive online presence is essential business but reflects how Mueller wants customers to feel when they visit.
“The majority of people who come into our place are our friends, and they come back and they come back,’’ Mueller said. “I have no problem giving my number out to my customers and friends. I would like to think that the first thing people feel is welcomed.’’
Mueller, who began playing guitar when he was seven years old, performed in rock n’ roll bands as a teenager and young adult. He met his wife when he was 16 years old when he was in a band; the two have been together almost 40 years.
“A guy I was playing in a band with, his girlfriend introduced me to my wife who just had starry eyes for a rock star,’’ he jokes. Of his wife Anne, a social worker and mother to two now-adult children, he says: “Couldn’t live without her.’’
He says their relationship is “better than ever.’’ When asked how he makes it work, he credits strong faith in God and forgiveness. “You have to be able to forgive because people make mistakes,’’ he said. “Without forgiveness our marriage would have never lasted.’’
His strong faith runs through a conversation with him. Raised Catholic by his parents, he describes himself as Christian and for many years was active as worship pastor of the musical ministry, the Needle’s Eye, which performed at churches and other meeting places.
“It was a very eye-opening experience to see faith approached from a different perspective’’ than his Catholic Church exposure, he said. “It was a more joyful, uplifting experience and I had a desire to be a part of that. And to help other people have that God experience.’’
Mueller credits God for advancing his second career. He says when he and his father, now deceased, originally bought the Roxborough house, the goal was at first to do “selective dental work and then move all the way into the music thing, and that’s, by the grace of God, how we did it.’’
“It was a place for my dad and myself to work together, which I really enjoyed,’’ he said. “We had a friendship aside from being father and son….Without my dad, I would have never been able to achieve that dream.’’
Roxy Guitar is located at 7026 Ridge Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19128
Tuesday: 12:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Saturday: 12:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Outside of the above hours, schedule an appointment by giving Lou a call at 215-483-1889.