24 February 2023

Feeling the love for vintage guitars in the capital

| Chris Johnson
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two man with vintage guitars

Ian Stehlik and Simon Wilkins with Aussie and American-made vintage guitars from Capital Vintage Guitars. Photo: Region.

Any guitar aficionado who has lived in Canberra for more than a decade would know the name Ian Stehlik.

Stehlik established the National Vintage Guitar and Amp Expo, which ran annually over a weekend inside Curtin’s Statesman Hotel between 2007 and 2011.

He also ran a vintage guitar website and business called Zone of Tone, and he took on the stage name of Dr Zot while playing in bands in and around Canberra.

Dr Zot made vintage guitars cool in the capital.

But for family reasons, Stehlik moved to Adelaide and was away for nine years.

But now he’s permanently back in Canberra and has brought all the enthusiasm he has always had for old guitars and amplifiers.

With new business partner Simon Wilkins, a start-up business has been established in the nation’s capital and is dedicated solely to vintage guitars and amps.

It’s even got the capital in the business name. It is simply called Capital Vintage Guitars.

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The business has just been launched and is currently a website with an online shop, allowing in-person inspections by appointment.

But an actual shopfront showroom is being lined up for later this year.

Also earmarked for this year is the return of the National Vintage Guitar and Amp Expo.

“We’re talking to venues about it right now with the view to staging the event over a weekend in the spring sometime,” Stehlik says.

“Simon and I will reach out to all of our contacts and bring exhibitors and stalls here to Canberra to display vintage guitars from around the world – with many being up for sale.

“That’s one reason we’ve called it Capital Vintage Guitars, too, because this is the national capital with all these wonderful institutions like the museum and gallery etc.

“We’re obviously not comparing ourselves to that, but we have a lot of Australian things here and vintage Aussie guitars that we think it’s great to showcase in this city.

“We all celebrate American-made instruments, so why not celebrate Australian-made ones as well?”

So while there will be plenty of the US brands for sale – Fender, Gibson, Martin, Dobro etc – expect to also find a healthy stash of cool vintage Aussie guitars up for grabs, like Maton, Pacific, Wayne, JMG and more.

Vintage electric guitars, ukuleles and amps are up for grabs at Capital Vintage Guitars. And capital dog Alfie (not for sale). Photo supplied.

Wilkins also has a long connection with vintage guitars and believes Canberra is the perfect place for a shop and an expo dedicated to them.

He almost bought into an established guitar shop in Sydney but joined forces with Stehlik – a longtime friend and musical colleague – in Canberra instead.

“There is a strong vintage guitar core in Canberra and there is nothing else like it here,” Wilkins says.

“It’s not just a guitar shop and it’s not just a secondhand shop – it’s vintage guitars and there is a big difference.

“The location, being not too far for Sydney people, is also a bonus.”

Besides the stock they have already gathered for sale, the pair take guitars and amplifiers, usually at least 25 years old, from other owners to sell on consignment.

It is a formula that worked well for Zone of Tone back in the day and a business model they expect will have similar success for Capital Vintage Guitars.

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“Nothing quite sounds like a vintage guitar,” Wilkins says.

“It’s a sound guitarists are still chasing today. And while this is a retirement business for me, I am really keen to get young kids switched onto vintage guitars.

“Generally, more teenagers and 20-somethings are getting there. There is a growing appreciation for vintage guitars with the younger set.”

Stehlik agrees, adding that players and collectors of all ages build strong connections with their instruments.

“The love of guitars is a personal thing,” Stehlik says.

“Guitars are an object, yes, but they have a sentimental and emotional connection with us.

“And music brings it all together. It’s like Paul Kelly sings, ‘meet me in the middle of the air’, because in the middle of the air somewhere is where we connect with our music and with each other.”

Capital Vintage Guitars can be contacted through the website.

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