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Mystery Shopper: Electric Ladyland in Bristol

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Mystery Shopper: Electric Ladyland in Bristol

The latest Guitar Jar Mystery Shopper finds us at Electric Ladyland, West Street, Bristol.

Without a doubt, Electric Ladyland is the most unusual guitar shop I’ve ever visited. This isn’t your typical guitar store; it’s nothing like a “modern” shop such as the PMT chain and it’s not likely to be too similar other outlets you are likely to visit. It’s quite hard to explain and I hope the following paragraphs help to paint a picture of what you can expect when visiting the shop.

Even though I frequently work in Bristol, I’m not too familiar with the area. Electric Ladyland is about a 10 minute walk from the Cabot Circus shopping centre and is very easy to find. When approaching the shop, a sign on the West Street entrance reads “Use the other door” so after continuing to walk around the outside of the shop front, another door was found open, however, it was difficult to tell if this was the correct entrance to the shop as the amount of guitar cabs and amps in the doorway was fairly overwhelming, being stacked from the floor to the ceiling. It almost appears as if this entrance was another back door, for staff use only. Poking my head into the doorway, the mountain of cabs in the entrance seemed to tunnel into the shop so I ended up shouting “hello?!?” to grab the attention of the shop owner and after an amusing exchange in comments about the amount of equipment in the doorway, he did confirm that I had entered through the correct entrance.

Electric Ladyland is like no other guitar store I’ve ever visited. The array of amps and cabs in the doorway was just a taste for things to come. I’m a 32” waist and I almost had to breathe in to actually enter the store due to the amount of stacked equipment that forms a natural walkway into the shop – unsually, the “walkway” didn’t open out into the full shop area, as the shop floor itself was just as stacked, full of a mix of quirky guitars, amps, effects and even old audio mixers and accessories.

The best way I can describe the shop is to say it’s an “Aladdin’s Cave” of guitars and equipment. You can hardly move in the shop – I just stood on one spot and stared, performing many 360° rotations trying to take in as much of the stock as I could. Even if I did see an item I liked, how the shop owner would be able to easily retrieve it from among the stash of goods is beyond me. There are many guitars for sale, the majority of them being older, used models. There are some nice looking old Fender and Gibson electrics for sale but the joy of this shop is that it’s full of makes and models  from the 60’s and 70’s that I rarely see when visiting other guitar shops.

I’m actually on the lookout for a new amplifier – a low watt amp of some kind, as my old Marshall Reverb 12 has seen better days and I’m looking for something that has more variation in the tone/EQ and sounds a bit warmer. After asking the proprietor if he had anything that would suit my requirements he proceeded to chat for a while and not once tried to push a sell on me. He did mention he had a lovely old WEM combo (it sounded perfect for my needs) but he was reluctant to sell it as it recently developed an intermittent fault.

The mix of guitars and amps were quite overwhelming. I even noticed an original Traynor YGM-3 Guitar Mate that looked so pristine I figured it was a reissue, only to be corrected by the shop owner. No joke, this amp looks in absolute mint condition!

The shop owner is a very friendly guy who looks like he’s got many stories to tell… he mentioned to me that he’s been trading for 36 years and he seems to really know what he’s on about. Don’t expect a clean cut, young guitarist who’s keen to make a sell – this guy is the real deal. He looks like he’s been playing for many years and his experience of playing and setting up guitars just flows from him when you chat with him. Sure, his language is pretty fruity, but he comes across as a very down to earth, what you see is what you get kind of guy, which is something I like. Despite his vast and unusual selection of amps, he didn’t try to sell me anything – he seemed happy to chat about guitars and equipment, mentioning to pop in from time to time or to give him a ring as his stock seems to fluctuate often. He even mentioned that he lives above the shop so even if I wanted to check an item “out of hours”, just ring the bell.

Summary:

The shop is a treasure trove of equipment where both the shop and its owner ooze in character. Electric Ladyland reminds me of a Where’s Wally picture; the harder you look the more details you will discover. Every time I rotated 360° to observe what stock was for sale, I always spotted additional items even quirkier or more unexpected than what I previously observed.

Electric Ladyland is an unusual guitar shop that breaks the mould of the majority of the other guitar shops I’ve visited. Expect some very old, unusual and quirky instruments and accessories. They may not stock too many items from the larger guitar manufacturers, but they do have a wide range of guitars, both electric & acoustic that will suit most styles of guitarist. If you’re looking for a guitar that’s a little bit different, this is the ideal shop to visit.

Remember to check out the stock through the windows prior to entering (as you won’t be able to spot these items easily when in the shop), breathe in so your stomach doesn’t knock down the “amp walkway” and wear your best specs so you can easily spot the guitar gems tucked away among the random items of equipment.

After being somewhat taken aback by the whole experience, whilst I was leaving, two young guys who looked like they were straight from a Guns n Roses tribute band entered the shop. Mentioning to them I thought Electric Ladyland was an interesting store, they quickly responded with “It’s the best ****ing guitar shop in Bristol mate!”. Based on the enthusiasm of their comment and the somewhat surreal experience of visiting such an unusual store, it’s hard to imagine they’re wrong.

Have you visited Electric Ladyland in Bristol? If so, please give your Mystery Shopper comments below.

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Sam is passionate about talking all things guitar related and started GuitarJar.co.uk to help encourage all guitarists in their guitar playing journey.

24 Comments

  • A great review of electric ladyland but I was hoping for a picture of the album cover!

    Went there a few times years ago & had similar experiences of the shop – I recall the breeze in the shop carrying dusty wafts of old amps, racks and guitars – picked up a very used / loved 9v black box pre amp / equalizer for next to nothing – the owner loves original sound!

  • I do love Electric Ladyland. The owner is an exceptional bloke; he let my brother borrow a Hiwatt Bass stack for a few weeks for no charge at all. He’s also sold a few guitars for me and acted as middle man, even repairing and replacing parts for a tiny charge. Well worth the visit.

  • Hi all, beeing a Sweden getting lost in Bristol and after that living in UK for a couple of years I found the shop. A magical place for all guitarfreaks. An old petrolstowe in the middle of a room over crowded with guitars amps and goodies. Was told that He as a youngster was a pal of some guitarplayer call something like Eric who became real famous and he didnt like Him because EC wanted to buy most of his stock. Also discussed why He didnt adwerised on the net, and He told that in a short while his stock will all be gone, with the result that he´ll be drunk as a skunk and nog gutiars left to sell… end of buisness.
    Of all places in the UK that I do wish to see again, its the Electric Ladyland Guitarshop…
    So if you see this(dont remember your name) this is from a Swedish customer with brain filled of Burns…
    Johnny

  • **** **!!
    Can,t believe the great Steve Baker is still alive n kicking with the EL store.. Memories of Steve stay with me today, nearly 30 years since I first came across the shop. Great memories of this brilliant fella actually changing our strings whilst we were playing Live!…actually fitting and tuning the strings whilst still playing….audience thought our guitarist was having a *******!

    Im happy as **** steve is still around……I live in Australia now, and recently got out of storage a telecaster purchased from steve all thos years ago…at least 25 years ago… for my now 12 year old to start playing. he said the guitar smelled funny…I took a sniff and like electrifying whoopee-dee-do, I land right back into Ladyland…..and steve….the guitar reeked class…and thats what Steve and EL is…..******* absolute class……

    If steve ever reads this….I congratulate you…from one old rich man to another….
    Paul Beatty

  • Steve Baker is an exceptional guy. I am very lucky that I spend quite a bit of time talking with him almost daily, his expertise does not end with guitars!

  • iv’e been to this somewhat quirky shop and have had the same experience as i’m sure everyone else has. the guy was not there to sell equipment, when i went in to ask about microphones, he did give me some good advice on the type i should buy and the reasons why. it feels just like you’re going into his front room for a chat with an old friend. it took me right back to the seventies, the smells, the talk and the atmosphere.
    i’m currently looking for a good but old bass amp, hopefully i will be popping through that portal again soon.

  • Wonderful shop utterly dedicated to guitars and amps.

    In September 1977 I bought a secondhand bass at Electric Ladyland. I stiil have and use it – It’s a Shaftesbury Telebass with the fender-style single-cutaway body (coloured Blond). Scale length is 31ins.

    It is a delight to play and has its own peculiar sound and harmonics. The price I paid for it was £55.

  • I could barely believe my eyes when I first went in that place, it was a magical cavern of wonderful old guitars and amps guarded by a wise old bearded wizard…..called Steve.

    Is he still there though? I’ve been trying to call and the phone seems to be dead. I hope so, best shop I’ve ever been to in my life. And I’m looking for an old valve head.

  • just looking up this shop to see if it still existed – i travelled over the bridge from cardiff over 15 years ago and bought a ROLAND space echo and ANTORIA J200 copy – still got the guitar and love it – this was as you say an alladins cave – gonna make contact with them as i am desperate to get hold of a WESTONE RAINBOW 2 semi acoustic -n sold mine after 20 years in 2003 and have never really got on with anything else since – and that includes the biggies.

  • Is this shop still open? I have tried the phone number and it is dead?

    Can soemone who knows the owner let me know please?

    Thanks

    Julian

    • Not sure. I drove past a couple of months back and it looked like he had his windows all smashed and some boarded up. It still looked open for business then. I don’t live in Bristol so I can’t help more than knowing their telephone number: 0117 983 2500

    • He’s still there, was in there just yesterday chatting away about various guitars

  • Hi I’m from Mexico City and I visit this guy sometimes before in west street and I have this number 0117-9832500 I try to call but I think is not anymore. I have to call him because I’m going to Bristol and I want to buy and amplifier with him. So If somebody knows if he changed his number please let me know. Cheers

  • I was in there today with my son Chris (who’s the guitarist); we met Steve and I can confirm that he’s a brilliant guy – exceptionally knowledgeable, generous with his time, funny, mildly eccentric, contentious and strong of opinion and really does have the appearance of a wily wizard guarding a magical cave of endless treasures…

    I feel much, much the richer for the experience; guitar shops aren’t supposed to be like this anymore – surely they are supposed to be air-conditioned, slick corporate entities with commission-driven salesmen who know very little about the stock? Electric Ladyland merely illustrates how rich life could be if Steve was in charge.

    Without prompting or request, he clambered over cases and amps simply to dig out various guitars he knew my son and I would love to see, with absolutely no mention of sales or any pressure whatsoever. He took us into his amp room next door to show us a few early 60’s AC-30’s and shared memories and expertise with us, in his own entertaining and inimitable fashion; the guy really is a wonderful one-off.

    He also shared the circumstances of why he’s not on the phone at the moment, but I think those facts are for him to tell you when you pop in! Suffice to say, although he’s not presently on the phone, the shop is still up and running and you still have to enter through a door around the back that looks anything but the entrance to a shop; you enter feeling slightly like a burglar and the narrow channels and walkways between amps, guitars and other associated musical ephemera make you realise it’s time you started that diet. Steve, however, is built like will o’ the wisp and clambers around like a sprightly mountain goat.

    All in all, a great way to spend a few hours; we’ll definitely be going back and when the money is available, I want to purchase something, just to be able to say ‘I once bought a guitar from Steve at Electric Ladyland’.

    If you read this Steve, thanks for your time. Dory and Chris Buck

  • I was in there again at the weekend. Steve recently sold my guitar and amp for me – took a ruddy long time but then the market is pretty flat right now.
    I am still waiting for the cash from the deal but in the meantime I have walked out with a very rare BC Rich (the second best guitar I always wanted to own) and at the weekend he leant me a nice little Vox amp to try it on – which I did when I got home – sounds superb
    Very happy bunny. Have known Steve for well over 20 years. His methods might be a little old school and you might have to wait a bit for things to happen but he’s a great old guy and the people you see traipsing in and out are testimony to the fact that real musicians know a good shop when they see it.
    For me, it’s either there or Mansons in Exeter – none better.

  • I was just listening to a song by ‘The Electric Guitars’ and the cover put me in mind of Electric Ladyland and I ended up here on this page.

    It is incredibly reassuring to know that Steve is still running his shop. The world has changed beyond recognition in the years that EL has been open but someone doing what they care about can outlast all those changes.

    I bought a 64 Fender Blonde Bassman from Steve back in 1979 – nice.

  • Ah the epinomous, eclectic, magical, Alladins cave that I Electric Ladyland.

    Just a whiff of the place tells you it’s that sort of place you might expect to bump into Musicians of standing from the past and present.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to walk in and find Slash. Or Eric Clapton standing there having a quick go at some riff or other just for the hell of it.

    I have known Steve for so many years it makes my toes curl up. Or is it me now getting old.

    The smartest rocker in town. Where all the others wore faded torn jeans over older decomposing old jeans. Steve was the snappiest dresser in very clean new looking jeans with the sharpest crease possible, beautifully fitted shirt and long great looking hair.

    He wanted to be original and he was. Great guitarist, able to riff with the best and so modest too.

    I remember the days when he would make you a custom built guitar finely crafted from the best woods and it looked Just amazing. it sounded damn good too.

    I wish he still did because when I went in ten years ago he had stopped making them.

    Steve if you ever read this. Please make an exception and make one for me.

    Yes. He does find it quiet. sometimes too quiet. But I hope for one he never changes. He is a legend. A change from the high pressure selling techniques you get in other shops.

    His shop in the stuff of legends.

  • I visited the shop today whilst in Bristol on family business in the hope that I might get some interesting photographs of the interior with the owner’s permission.

    Well, I stood across the street from the building took a a shot of the exterior and a voice behind me said “you could have waited until I painted it!!”. That comment set the scene for the next 45 minutes of discussion inside the shop about guitars, music and life in general.

    The owner is one of the most genial and welcoming people you could wish to meet and is an absolute pleasure to talk to. I cannot wait to get back to the shop to take some photographs, which is not going to be easy, as the place is crammed with gear of all kinds and there is very little room to manoeuvre. Nevertheless, dont let the lack of space dissuade anyone with a passion for music, guitars and stimulating conversation from visiting. GO THERE!!! Martin Smith

  • Been at the shop last year (2012) during a tour with my band (we’re from Italy).

    Didn’t know the place…we were looking for the venue and saw the shop…since we had some time to kill, we just thought to go in…
    The exact same things described in the review happened one by one, in the exact same order!

    Reading the review was really like re-live my experience with that shop. Hands down the most peculiar shop I’ve ever seen! And talking to Steve!!! Amazing man as well!

    We mentioned that we had a gig there the same night…it was very close to the shop so we invited him. And guess what…he showed up!!! He liked the gig and stayed also after it, for a very long time…we had a few beers, talked a lot, especially about amps, he loved my Acoustic 220+402, and that was the start for one of the longest chats about gear I’ve ever had with anyone! It witnessed a genuine passion, a whole life dedicated to what he loves… which is what i love too!

    I have such a fond memory of that day in Bristol.
    Steve is such a great guy!!! I do hope I’ll be able to go there again sometime!

  • The best guitar shop in the world, I have been buying from Steve since 1981, and have just bought my 5th guitar there. Another website says he has closed, he hasn’t, but once he does there will never be a shop like this again.

  • Just for your records, Steve was alive yesterday when I jump into the shop 🙂 , and after having a chat with him, it seems he’s going to thankfully be with us for a long time!

    Long life to Steve!

    Cheers!

  • Hi all, I am well and my shop is still open number, Steve

  • Yep! Here we are in 2014 and Electric Ladyland is still OPEN. Steve Baker is at the helm and there is a great stock of guitars and amps for you to buy. Still no phone but knock hard on the wooden panel next to the back door and Steve will be glad to see you.

  • Brilliant place. I’ve been buying bits of guitar kit from Steve since the 80’s and he has ALWAYS done me a good deal both when buying or selling. Even set up a guitar for me that I’d made and couldn’t get the action right – he had it sorted in minutes, and for free! (I did buy a case for it the same day!)
    I’m hoping to buy another guitar soon and EL will be my first place to look….. Steve – don’t change a thing, mate!

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