Music Instrument Store
by John Martinez Pavliga
There may be more performers in Los Angeles, more guitarists in New York, and more concerts in San Francisco, but the offer of music stores in Toronto indicates a fact that’s often ignored — that the city’s musical reputation can be compared with other popular destinations for musicians. Whether you want to equip a string quartet, a jazz group, or a black metal band, the music stores of Toronto will probably meet your specific demands. Although many famous musicians shop here, music stores have instruments for almost anyone’s wallet. Here is our selection of stores that musicians and music lovers should not miss in Toronto.
415 Queen Street West
The eponymous Steve’s Music Store opened up in Toronto in 1977, after Steven Kirman, its founder, decided to expand the business from Montreal to Toronto. In a short time, the store became a famous spot for all music lovers as word of mouth about its friendly atmosphere spread. People were encouraged to play the instruments before buying them, often at discount prices. This open approach, so rare in those times, blazed a trail to success. “The store just exploded,” said Gerry Markman, one of the managers who helped open the Toronto location. Markman thinks that it was exactly Kirman personality that made Steve’s Music a legend. “He always called it a hands-on store. Let the people come in and try the goods.”
Steven Kirman is often described as “the man who brought guitars to the masses,“ and is remembered as a decisive businessman who always encouraged a casual atmosphere at his stores. Apart from the Toronto store and the original branch in Montreal, one store can be found in Ottawa as well. The Toronto store offers an extensive variety of musical instruments, a whole floor dedicated to drums, and about 900 guitars displayed in three fascinating, colourful rows. Steve’s Music can be found on Queen St. West in Toronto and is considered as the go-to store for all musicians in the downtown.
401 Richmond St. W. (main floor)
Are you inspired by the movie Kill Bill and do you want to get yourself a Chinese bamboo flute? The mix of world cultures in the city was one of the reasons for setting up a store that offers musical instruments from all around the globe. Musideum offers a captivating, museum-like setting, and its spirit makes you easily forget that it’s actually a store and not a gallery.
The store is the brainchild of talented composer, Donald Quan. “I’m not focusing on music. I’m not focusing on musicians. I’m not focusing on culture… my focus is on the instruments,” explains Quan, introducing his retail project as a “look at music through the eyes of musical instruments.” The philosophy of the store is based on emphasizing authenticity and accessibility. That’s why you cannot find anything more expansive than $1,500 in the shop. “I take a very karmic, spiritual approach to it. It’s a journey,” Quan explains his business strategy. “You know you’re going to get there. The point is, how do you get from here to there?”
Recently, Musideum has expanded to a performance organization, even though it still claims to remain mainly a retail store with its characteristic intimate mood. Musideum continues to share the music of the world with its fan base; various genres and cultures are regularly present in this art venue. The store associate describes the store as a “point of access,” where curiosity about world music is invited to make a place for something new in our lives.
921 Queen Street West
Capsule Music is a right place to look for rare and vintage guitars. The shop’s vintage guitar expert, John Dinsmore, had his hands on a 1952 Fender Telecaster, considered the Holy Grail of electric solid-body guitars among collectors. There’s also a story about how the Rolling Stones would come to the store to buy guitars when they were in town. Three cramped rooms are loaded with guitars with f-holes or candy-apple race car finishes. Capsule Music, owned by twin brothers Mark and Peter Kesper, offers a view on old classics and new retro creations that hang side by side. Their repair department can get your guitar right.
137 Willowdale Ave
If you feel that drummers are neglected, Just Drums will probably cheer you up. But its focus is not only in drums. Apart from drum sets, you can choose from hundreds of cymbals, other percussion instruments, and countless accessories. The store offers private lessons by experts at its own Learning Centre. Over 200 students currently take lessons in modern studios equipped with two kits for both teacher and student.
Experts in Just Drums also do repairs and restoration of instruments. They have the necessary equipment and capability to re-skin a hand drum, repair a piece of hardware, or do a more complex job like re-cutting bearing edges. Equipment rentals, purchasing a drum set using a rent-to-own plan, and drum tuning of your tired sounding drums for free if you purchase them from the shop — these are some of the services that attract customers from across North America to this store.
10 Breadalbane Street
Saved by Technology is ‘a music boutique’ established in 1985, when it was one of the world’s first stores to sell synthesizers. A rather small shop where everyone registers you the second you walk in, it’s packed to the gills — you may even feel claustrophobic there. This store doesn’t sell traditional instruments, but recording items. Here, you can buy plug-ins for any sequencer. The store has collaborated with the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd, and Linkin Park, to mention a few. They also supply music production companies, film and television composers, recording studios, and broadcasters.
210 Bloor Street West
This store stares at the Royal Conservatory of Music and caters to a more classically-orientated customer. The Remenyi building consists of three floors filled up with quality pianos, string instruments, accessories, repair corners, and the Music Bookstore that offers sheet music and educational literature. The company is still operated by the founder’s grandson. Its story, however, didn’t begin in Toronto, but in Budapest. In the summer of 1890, Mihály Reményi opened a tiny violin shop there, dedicated to a distinguished musical legacy of his predecessor, Edouard, who was a court violinist to Queen Victoria, befriended Franz Liszt, and is known to bring the talent of Johannes Brahms to light.
Mihály’s business soon became a synonym for fine craftsmanship and expertise. In the Budapest era, the shop introduced several inventions of violinist Reményi, for example an early version of today’s shoulder rest. After his two sons joined the family firm, Reményi expanded into the other areas of the music trade and became the country’s largest music house. Its strong position is well reflected on the fact that Reményi Music House survived two world wars, as well as economic and political turmoils. It was the communist regime that terminated private business in 1951. Eight years later, the firm was re-established by one of the sons, Zoltán, after immigrating to Canada. Starting from a tiny, 13-foot-wide store on Toronto’s Queen Street, the shop moved to their present location on Bloor Street in 1979 and is the oldest business of all music stores in Toronto.
1440 Gerrard Street East
The Kala Kendar shop is one of the largest sellers of traditional Indian instruments in North America. Furthermore, Kala Kendar concentrates on quality of workmanship and insists on materials and conditions to withstand various climate changes, to transport, and to deliver excellent tone quality. The store claims to play every single instrument before it displays the item for potential customers to assure that all the instruments are inspected and adjusted. Kala Kendar offers shipping services to more than 37 countries.