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.
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.