So, we all know that Kent is home to the Cliffs of Dover, the Bluewater behemoth, the Channel Tunnel and Dover castle, but did you know that if you venture west, to Kent’s London fringe, you’ll find one of the largest collections of vintage and rare acoustics for sale in the UK?
“C.F. Martin’s are the Mercedes of the guitar world,” opens up Replay Acoustic’s website – the web-based business, ran from Sevenoaks, Kent, home to one of the UK’s largest collections of vintage Gibson and Martin acoustic guitars. “Gibsons are the Fords and the Chevys…” Replay goes on to describe. As an American and former antique expert, founder Tony Werneke understands that all too well. ‘It’s the heart and the soul, the workingman’s music. Vintage Gibson acoustics are the warmest, most tactile guitars on the planet. Oh, how do I put it?’ he questions. ‘They’re like a favored old pair of jeans or cowboy boots – they thud, they are quirky yet soft and incredibly beautiful with their painted sunset tones on old spruce planks. They’re by no means second best, just very different.’
We’re sat in Tony’s home on the edge of the M25, in a humidity-controlled room with around 60 vintage guitars hanging from the walls of his purpose built guitar haunt. Sitting in this room (adjacent to his family home) is something that you’ve dreamed of, but never dared ask the wife permission to actually do. Adorning the walls are some of the rarest music posters we’ve seen, too – Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix et al. It’s a room full of passion, passion that dates back to when Tony was a teenager living in the USA and listening to Neil Young – we get it. We’d got it before any guitars were (carefully) picked up and strummed. Greeting you when you first walk in was an array of Brazilian Marin D-28s and a Don Everly Gibson – ah, what to pick up first? Kid in a sweet shop, you say? That’s the only way to describe the instant sensation of walking into a room full of guitars that have lived longer – in some cases, much, much longer – than you have.
So, what’s the concept here? It’s more than just one man with a hankering for the guitars that defined generations. ‘Replay’s goal is to be a consistent source of good quality vintage and used Martin and Gibson guitars. The guitars have a character and feel that’s unique to each and every one of them – they did live and breathe at one point, many years ago! The wood breathes throughout its existence, influencing tonal quality, sustain and projection,’ Tony says, sipping his, um, Caawfee…
Although Replay predominately handle vintage and used Gibson and Martin guitars with little or no restoration, a deep understanding of woods and their properties creates a level of appreciation for, and understanding of, the typical problems associated with the instruments, as well as the sometime need for impeccable restoration, particularly in extremely rare or fabulous sounding instrument. ‘I prefer instruments that have been played properly, played a lot. They have character and have matured and opened up over time, taking on a richer, mellower tone. After all, it is all about sound and playability for the player of good vintage acoustic guitars and I strive to provide just that.’
‘I think if you offer something that’s the best, in any market, and offer it in a way that no one else is offering it, you’re pretty much there. I knew that if I employed the same principles from when I was in the antique business that I’d be off on the right foot. Being a player myself, I had to believe that if I were offering something that no one could find anywhere else, in time, my idea would turn into something. I’ve never lost confidence in that ideal and I guess it comes from being in business all my life. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.’ Well, there’s no worry there, Tony had us sold on first impressions.
‘My job is done when you walk through the door. Be true to what you know is good and what is right, be disciplined to that and be consistent – that’s the most important thing. I don’t have to sell these guitars, they sell themselves, I just make the tea and sandwiches,’ he laughs. Wait a minute; we’re on to tea and sandwiches now? 11 years in Britain is rubbing off.
People flock from all over the UK to spend a day in the company of Tony and his guitars, so it’s paramount that the environment is right for that. ‘I’m a stewardess. It’s only because they know that what I do as a dealer is to choose. I don’t ever buy for a margin, there has to be a margin in it somewhere, but it can fluctuate from 10 per cent to 100 per cent. You make your money when you buy it, not when you sell. Consistency of quality has to be the main priority. I’ve picked the best vintage guitars I can find; my customers know that when they come in here there are no clapped-out J-45s in the back corner. They’re all going to be of the same quality, so it’s then just a matter of determining which one fits your hand, which one fits your ear and which one you can afford and those factors are all out of my control! Sourcing the instruments can be quite exhausting. The longer I’m at it, the more I’m getting them from this country. I have to look at thousands of guitars just to find one.’
‘I’ve got a couple of guys who do my set-up and restoration work when needed. I’ve been using Andy Crockett of Atkin guitars and Graham Parker. I try to bring everything up to a level where you can walk out of my show room and gig the guitar the next day. 90 per cent of what I’ve got in here has been sent to one of those luthiers and you can take it away today. If they need set-up then they’ll get set-up, if it needs a neck reset then we’ll do that, re-profiling – anything! I try to remove all barriers for the players and people don’t realise that until you get here and actually play one of my guitars. They don’t realise I’ve gone through all of that work prior to putting it up for sale on my website. I spend the money up front so that the customer doesn’t have anything to do other than have fun. I wish I had more luthiers to do work for me but a great luthier is really hard to find.’
Tony has a secret though, one we didn’t find out about until we seen a picture on the wall of his showroom – he’s not always been a guitarist; he used to sit behind a set of drums. So, why the change? ‘I just taught myself guitar. I played drums for so long I got tendonitis, so that was obviously a problem. I’ve never had a guitar lesson; I just love the guitars and the sounds they give. I’m not the best player in the world, but I play Neil Young and I’m totally chuffed. I’ve always played songs to be sung to, I’m not great with licks up and down the fretboard, I’m a cowboy guy,’ he chuckles.
‘Most of the guys that buy from me at least gig or are recording support artists. I had a guy in here recently who was a friend of Ronnie Wood. The rest of the people that come here are guys like me, somebody who want’s an incredible guitar to play at home, who is over 40 and who has the money to buy that guitar. I’ve had people come in and buy two guitars when I wasn’t even expecting them to buy one! They’re either able to come in and spend thousands on a guitar or they’re guys who are gigging musicians who are struggling to get a guitar that will take them to the next place. I work with all demographics – I let people take the guitar away and send me the money via PayPal or whatever. Once I’ve got to know the customer and understand why he wants what he does, then it’s not about the money anymore. It’s about helping them.’
Replay Acoustics provides every buyer with a receipt, documenting what they know about each guitar they sell. Any repairs or restoration that they are aware of or have had done, will be duly noted. At the end of the day, Replay Acoustics is about bringing together quality vintage guitars and guitar players of all levels with a collection that will inspire you to become a better player.
Replay Acoustics has not only Gibson and Martin models in stock; they have vintage models from Santa Cruz, Collings, Epiphone and Guild.
Visit www.replayacoustics.co.uk for up-to-date stock lists.