Northside Sound Factory co-owner Clinton Vearil has a simple goal: To sell gear at prices that working musicians can afford. We sat down with the musician-turned-shop owner to talk vintage gear, busking, and finding the perfect guitar:
CM: Why did you choose Northside for your shop?
Vearil: I personally moved to Northside because all of the shows that I ever wanted to go to were happening here. The city is so friendly, open-minded and music driven that it’s where I wanted to be.
CM: What motivated you to open a music store in the first place?
Vearil: I just decided one day that I needed to open a music store because this town (Northside) is so music driven and it had no music store. It just hit me like a ton of bricks. I made the decision and I called Josh Pilot, who became my business partner, and I said This city needs a music store. There are too many musicians around here who need their accessories and gear, and I want to provide that. I’d rather do that right now than be on the road; that gives me more joy than anything.
CM: When did you first start playing?
Vearil: I play guitar, but I mostly sing. Ever since I started, I’ve played with Josh. We played in a band called The Killtones for about 6 years. I learned when I was about 16; my parents always played bluegrass and gospel stuff like that. My dad was really into guitars and he’s the one who got me into music. It was more or less wanting to be a part of what they were doing and I just started falling in love with vintage stuff and weird, eccentric gear. I recently started playing in a new band called Trolley Dodgers, which is a formation of some of the guys from Foxy Shazaam.
CM: How does Sound Factory from larger music store chains?
Vearil: It’s not about being sentimental with the gear—a lot of stores I think get this idea where they’re sentimental to an item. They inflate prices, but they’re like You don’t understand, that’s a 19-blah blah blah vintage blah blah, but no one cares! A working musician doesn’t care. And that’s why we keep it very personal here. The shop is small enough that I don’t need a staff. People can know me on a first name basis and I can know them. I have my cell phone number on the door and I also have my personal number everywhere, so if people need something at midnight I will gladly come give it to them. I want them to feel like we’re friends and I just so happen to own a music store. I have kids come through here who just want to hang out and play through my amps and I’m totally okay with that. The gear will sell itself, but the little things like that I want to keep alive, like that old school way of just being personal and knowing people by name. The other thing too is I’m building a busking center outside so that people can busk whenever they want.
CM: So why are you building this busking center? Why have local bands come and perform in your store?
Vearil: It’s to separate yourself from a retail store and to become an attraction. Sales are secondary—an attraction is mandatory for me. It’s driving musicians in to inspire them. That’s why it’s a factory; it’s really based off of Willy Wonka’s thing, like a land of imagination. If you don’t leave with something, I at least want to know that you came in here, you played something cool, and it made you think of something later on to inspire yourself to write a song, or get back into music, or start music, or whatever it may be. I want to be that for people. And that’s why I’m going to do live shows. I want the community to know that if you want a place to play, this is another place to play here in Cincinnati. If you want to busk or if you want to make some side money, I will have that opportunity for you.
CM: How do you make instruments and gear affordable?
Vearil: All of my prices are extremely low, and I keep it that way so that people can afford it. If you don’t have any money on the spot, I have layaway programs where as long as you’re paying me money you’re going to get the instrument. You’re a touring musician and you’re playing gigs, busting your ass, trying to get stuff done, and you’re trying to get your name out there. But there aren’t a lot of people that can go out and spend two thousand dollars on a Gibson Les Paul. I have a couple of Gibsons in here that are like $500. I know the value of it, and I want it to not be inflated. It’s a big thing for me because when I was younger I could never afford the nice stuff. But I made it a goal for me that if a 16 year old kid comes in here and wants a Gibson, I know I can sell him the Gibson for three or four hundred bucks and then he’ll have a quality guitar. I go over everything, I inspect it, Josh and I do the work on it, and we make sure everything is gig-worthy—even the vintage stuff.
CM: So where do you find these awesome, vintage guitars?
Vearil: The big thing for that is traveling and picking by hand. It’s going and finding people that are looking to sell. A lot of them are just older people that are out of the music scene and not wanting to play anymore. I hit up a lot of flea markets. I travel to different states and hit up antique stores and odd places that maybe somebody has dropped something. A lot of people have been selling to me that live in Northside that just want to help because they want stuff to be in the store.
CM: How do you think playing in The Killtones and your background as a musician has helped you get this shop going?
Vearil: It’s a music store catered to musicians; I want to cater to musician’s needs. For me, it’s very personal. I want to get to know what they’re doing and what they’re looking for so that I can keep my eyes out for stuff because what makes me happy—and the reason why I do this—is getting people great instruments. I love the Cincinnati music scene; I love everything about it, and I want to make sure that there’s not a reason why a musician can’t do what they want to do. A price tag shouldn’t stop somebody from wanting to play.
Northside Sound Factory, 4172 Hamilton Ave., Northside, facebook.com/Northsidesound