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Chicago Music Exchange Plans Expansion to Take Bass Players Out of 'Corner'

By Serena Dai | July 15, 2013 7:40am
 The guitar store plans to take bass out of the corner in the next month with a new floor dedicated to bass players.
Chicago Music Exchange
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LAKEVIEW — Chicago Music Exchange wants to take bass players out of the corner.

The guitar shop — well-known for being a stop for bands passing through town — plans to dedicate its basement to basses by the end of the summer, including doubling its selection.

Guitars tend to come first in most music stores, with basses "tucked away in a corner," said store manager George Coutretsis. While the store, 3316 N. Lincoln Ave., already has a sizeable bass collection, it's still stashed among the larger guitar collection. The four soundproof rooms for players to test out instruments features just one bass-specific amp each.

The new basement expansion for basses will add three soundproof rooms filled with different types of amps that are just for the bass player. The bass selection will jump from about 300 to 600. And Chicago Music Exchange's signature — vintage instruments — will increase in the bass section as well.

"We wanted to truly give it its own identity, to give bass players a place to come," Coutretsis said. "Not to make them feel like they're going to a guitar store that happens to have a bass section."

Bass players tend to chase a specific sound inspired by handful of players and rely on one or two types of classic instruments, said Marc Najjar, the store's dedicated bass expert. Najjar himself started picking up the bass after being inspired by rock band Primus' Les Claypool.

But widening the collection allows area musicians to experiment with new sounds, he said.

"It’s kind of hard to find new interesting things when you’re being forced to play one or two kinds of basses," Najjar said. "What's comfortable or designed for one person is not best for the next guy."

Basses range from $200 to $300 for a solid beginner's instrument to around $20,000 or more for a collector's bass, such as a jazz bass from the first year the instruments were ever made. 

And even the beginning musician can test out the expensive stuff. Chicago Music Exchange lets everybody test out even their oldest, most expensive instruments, including early 1960s Hofner basses — better known for being the type of bass Paul McCartney used in the early Beatles days.

That said, the buyers of the expensive vintage stuff tend to be collectors and rock stars, who often pass by when touring and want to test out specific instruments. When Johnny Depp was in town filming "Public Enemies," he stopped in with a list of three instruments he wanted to try, Coutretsis said. 

In one case, he ended up walking out with a Hofner. 

"It's fun to see famous people and see them kind of get weak in the knees," Coutretsis said. "It's like the instruments are the rock stars."

The bass basement aims to feel much like the guitar section: a wide open, "comfortable" space with couches to lounge on and instruments to strum, Coutretsis said.

"At the end of the day, it’s about creating an identity," he said, "and giving bass players a sense of community to shop and hang out."