Pictured Above: D-Town Guitar and Skateboards owner Rob Martyn shows off a Telecaster guitar he is in the process of customizing with a “B Bender” modification. Photo Credit: James M. Viola
For Those About To Rock (& Board)
By James M. Viola
The early evening sun sets low, shooting splashes of pink and gold across a cool blue sky over the highway of North Easton Road in Doylestown, where D-Town Guitars is located. Inside, every foot of space in this square showroom is meticulously organized. Guitars and basses line the walls in an array of pointy shapes and iconic curves, a rainbow of solid colors and flashy neon finishes. Vintage amplifiers form a waist-high maze, with their wattage, year and model information handwritten on tags. Skateboards hang neatly next to a wall of classic Fender basses. Record shelves containing a vintage catalog of rock, country and jazz vinyls stand on display closer to the front, and many of their album covers contain identical looking guitars to the ones in the shop.
On this day, owner Rob Martyn makes small talk with a customer at the front desk. He’s in front of a wall of guitars in various stages of repair. Martyn sports a shaved head and is dressed in black, his collared shirt sleeves rolled up to reveal a wallpaper of bright tattoos on his forearms. He speaks with the laid-back mannerisms of a surfer, but looks more like a mechanic at the repair desk.
The mechanic comparison might be fitting, given the work he does. Directly above him is a faded black Rickenbacker bass, a legendary high-end instrument played by everyone from Rick James to Lemmy from Motorhead. This particular Rickenbacker looks like it’s been thrown down 20 flights of stairs, run over by a truck, and chewed on by rodents. And yet, it’s positioned front and center behind the repair section, as if Martyn means to silently proclaim this can be fixed.
Pictured Above: Rob Martyn’s snapshot of the beat up black Rickenbacker bass. Photo Credit: Rob Martyn of D-Town Guitars
“I'm a guitar nerd. He's a record nerd. My brother's the skateboard nerd,” Martyn says.
Martyn balances his confidence with humility and humor. “Some people are into Star Wars, and they just nerd out and remember every little fine detail,” he says. “Well, that’s me with guitars. I nerd out.” Say, for example, one wants to convert their guitar to what is referred to as a “B Bender.” This modification, Martyn explains, was innovated by Gene Parsons of the Byrds, and later popularized by bands like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. The process involves drilling a route through the back of the guitar body for its B string to fit through, and attaching the string to a sort of pulley system anchored to its floating strap lock. Thus, tilting the neck up and down bends the note a half step sharp or flat, adding a unique twang with the proper finesse.
The guitar modification is ingenious, with a hint of madness. Either way, it’s one of many customization Martyn has done over the years. Martyn credits his encyclopedic knowledge of guitars that keeps customers returning to his boutique.
“I try to explain to people how many guitars I’ve worked on, and it’s kind of insane,” Martyn says. “It’s probably like 3,000 guitars a year, maybe more pass through my hands, either repairing, buying or selling. And then you multiply that by 28 years.” Martyn first opened his shop in 1994 in Lansdale with his brother. Soon after, Martyn welcomed his old friend Stephan Grauer to operate his record business, Bottomfeeder Records, out of his shop as a co-op. The result: Instruments, albums, and skateboards all in one place.
Pictured Above: The guitar line up at D-Town Guitars. Photo credit: Contributed
“I’m a guitar nerd. He’s a record nerd. My brother’s the skateboard nerd,” Martyn says.
Although his brother took a step back from the business after it got off the ground, Martyn continues to operate D-Town Guitars as a co-op with Bottomfeeder Records. “He’s doing what he enjoyed doing when he was a kid,” says Grauer of his friend and co-op partner. “Not many people get to do that.”
Philadelphia Rock City
In 1985, Rob Martyn turned 20. His twenties came amidst a booming rock scene in Philadelphia. Local glam bands like Cinderella and Tease delivered electrifying performances in their home turf as they flirted with fame. There were lots of upcoming punk rock bands, too. Martyn played guitar in several of them with his friends.
Martyn also landed in the world of skateboarding, an urban art form of physical poetry that often intersects with the do-it-yourself work ethic of punk rock. Building and repairing skateboards is simple enough, (“It’s just assembling parts,” Martyn says,) but soon he was experimenting on guitars.
Pictured Above: Songwriter and concert promoter Joe Montone has shopped at D-Town Guitars since he was 14 years old. Photo Credit: James Michener Museum
“I started buying and collecting guitars, and I would tinker and try to figure stuff out on my own,” says Martyn. “There’s a lot of things that other people taught me, but for the most part I’m self taught.”
Martyn relocated to his current location in N. Easton Road in Doylestown in 2004. Around that same time, a teenaged Joe Montone found a haven in D-Town Guitars that merged nearly all his passions.
“You’ve got records, skateboards and guitars. If they had pro wrestling action figures, I think I probably would have my entire teenage years set,” says Montone, now 33, of Dublin, PA. “I would never even consider going to another chain.”
Today, Montone performs as a songwriter and live music producer in the Doylestown area.
One of Montone’s popular concert series is called the Holy Heat Thunder Country Show, a pop-up performance featuring Doylestown-area residents who perform country music and Americana hits from the forties through the seventies. The project performed for two sold-out shows last year at Puck in Doylestown.
For music aficionados like Montone, with a taste for classic rock, blues, and country records, the selection at Bottomfeeder Records in D-Town Guitars will yield many treasures. “I realized it was a lot easier to generate income from selling used records,” says Bottomfeeder Records owner Grauer. “What I focus on now is mostly vintage records.”
Video Above: Hipshot B Bender customers Telecaster guitar build at D-Town Guitars. Credit: Contributed.
Both Grauer and Martyn say the clientele ranges from people around their age, who grew up in the seventies and eighties, to younger teenagers and twenty-somethings. “It’s a wide range of people, and it seems like all of them like the classic rock stuff,” Grauer says. Martyn says he strives to make D-Town Guitars an accessible experience for all people, whether they are seasoned musicians or just getting started.
“A lot of the music business and music industry and guitar stores have traditionally been very male oriented, so I try to help people who are not that traditional demographic by making things easier for them when it comes to becoming musicians,” Martyn says.
For more information visit D-Town Guitars online.