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McCabe’s Guitar Shop

An Intimate Space for Quieter Acoustic Music

McCabe’s Guitar Shop on Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, located two blocks west of the Santa Monica Freeway’s Centinela Avenue off-ramp, is first and foremost a musical instrument store that opened in 1958 and specializes in acoustic and folk music instruments, offering sales, rentals, repairs, private lessons and classes. Since 1969, McCabe’s has presented weekend concerts in a back room with an 8-foot-deep stage, a mixing station built into one wall, folding chairs, and walls that are adorned with stringed instruments.

The shop showcases the practitioners of folk and acoustic music, as well as performers who are interested in putting on a special acoustic or stripped-down show (think MTV Unplugged), from local and up-and-coming acts to internationally known artists. A few of the more well known artists who have graced McCabe’s stage include Beck, Memphis Slim, Tom Waits, Vince Gill, Jackson Browne and Emmylou Harris.

“It’s a listening room,” explains audio engineer Wayne Griffith, who has worked at McCabe’s on a part-time basis for 42 years; his fellow audio engineer, Alan Kanter, has worked there part-time for 44 years. “We always thought of it like the show that would happen in your living room at a party, or something like that. That’s the feel we’ve always gone for. No alcohol is served. Because of that there isn’t the revenue [from drink sales] so the concerts have always run where it’s hopeful that they break even, but they’ve always kind of been written off as publicity for the guitar shop.”

McCabe’s P.A. system is powered by a QSC PLX1804 power amplifier and comprises two JBL SR4738 three-way speakers with 18-inch woofers, with two JBL SR4722 speakers flown above the stage for monitoring, plus one JBL SRX712M floor monitor. The console is a hybrid Midas VeniceF32, and outboard processing includes six channels of dbx 166 limiting and a BSS FCS 966 graphic equalizer. Microphones include Shure Beta 57s, Beta 58s, SM57s, and two Neumann KMS 105 condensers for vocals, and the Studio Projects C4 small diaphragm condensers for acoustic guitars.

Griffith reflects that even though today L.A. offers a greater number of venues for experiencing musical styles long found at McCabe’s, “I would still like to think that it’s different at McCabe’s. When Los Lobos played McCabe’s they played a completely acoustic Norteño show—and that was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen there. It’s fun when you can get the performers to do something different, because the people at McCabe’s are used to seeing something different, something acoustic.”

Visit McCabe’s Guitar Shop online at