All about guitars: New shop opens in Northampton

  • Gage Lyons, an employee at Mill River Music and Guitars, in the shop on Armory Street in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ukuleles and other guitars sold at Mill River Music and Guitars, on Armory Street in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Uleulele’s and other guitars sold at Mill River Music and Guitars, on Armory Street in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Uleulele's and other guitars sold at Mill River Music and Guitars, on Armory Street in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Luthier Jon Aronstein repairs guitars at his new business, Mill River Music and Guitars, in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Luthier Jon Aronstein repairs guitars at his new business, Mill River Music and Guitars, in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

Monday, September 18, 2017

Northampton — Mill River Music and Guitars is drawing from the strong musical backgrounds of its owners to build its business.

The new music shop, which opened Sept. 5, was started by Jon Aronstein, who worked for about six years as a luthier at Birdhouse Music, and his wife Nina Aronstein, a classically trained singer.

“We’re a new store, but we have a lot of experience in the business,” Jon Aronstein said.

Indeed Jon, who first came to the Valley in 1995 when he was a member of a band playing “hippy jam rock music,” has been in and out of the music business for about 20 years. His interest in guitars stretches back even further, however.

“I started playing guitar when I was about 12,” said Jon, who noted that he started tinkering with guitars soon after. “I started pretty early on.”

Nina, who also works as an adjunct professor in exercise science at Westfield State University and online at George Washington University, studied to be an opera singer when she got her bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts.

Her work at Mill River marks her return to the music business after a long absence, and she expressed happiness at getting to return out of love.

“We are having a lot of fun,” she said. “The days go by so fast here.”

Although specializing in guitars, the shop sells a number of other musical instruments, in addition to accessories and gear.

In the next few weeks, the shop will start offering music lessons, a program under the direction of Nina that so far includes eight instructors.

“Part of what we want to do is build more community in this area, and support a lot of young and up and coming artists,” she said.

All of the teachers, a mix of men and women, are professional local musicians who regularly gig, and Jon noted that this means that their students will be able to get out and see them play.

A big part of the music lesson program — and the shop in general — will be to provide a supportive environment for women and girls, something that both Jon and Nina said is important to them. Indeed, Nina said that many women have described having bad experiences in musical instrument stores.

“It really turns them off to the industry,” said Nina.

Guitar repairs

As a luthier, Jon Aronstein is trained at both repairing and making guitars. All employees at Mill River will be trained to do guitar repair, and a guitar repair workshop will be offered to the public in October.

“People are often really finicky about the feel of their instrument,” said Aronstein, noting that this was one of the reasons he started tinkering with guitars in the first place.

The shop also has the resources to repair other stringed instruments in-house, as well as woodwinds, amplifiers and effects pedals through outside repair people.

Jon said that a lot of trading and exchanging of guitars is done at the store, in addition to selling guitars on consignment. Indeed, selling used products is a way that the business is seeking to help the local economy.

“That brings money back into our community,” he said.

Additionally, he said that the business is interested in selling the musical products of local craftsmen.

“We’re interested in showcasing that,” he said.

Although the store’s website is still being worked on, the shop currently sells on Reverb.com.

Mill River sells more than just guitars, with instrumentals offerings that include drums, mandolins, banjos and keyboards.

“We do a little bit of everything,” said Jon, although he did note that guitars are “at the heart” of the business.

Amplifiers, effects pedals, parts and accessories are also offered.

“We want people to actually be able to go into their store and be like, ‘Wow this is cool,’” he said.

Making, selling guitars

Jon said that he will also look into making and selling some guitar models of its own.

“The guitar industry’s in a really weird place,” he said.

He noted that there are now a number of high-quality low-cost imported guitars available, in addition to expensive American-made models. The goal for Mill Street is to make American-made guitars that are both high quality and affordable.

A custom effects pedal, designed with Mallard Audio, is also set to be sold at the store.

“As a small business these days, you’re obligated to come up with some competitive advantage to make yourself relevant,” said Jon, noting that he knows that people who come into his store also shop online.

He said that means keeping Mill River’s prices reasonable, while at the same time offering a high level of customer service.

Jon noted that both Birdhouse Music and Downtown Sounds, Northampton’s other musical instrument stores, are going through changes, and he talked about the possibility of the city becoming a destination for musical instrument stores. “Music store shopping is kind of a destination thing,” he said.

Nina grew up in Ashfield, and both Nina and Jon emphasized the importance of community building.

“All the people that come into here, they’re our neighbors,” she said.

“These people, I’m going to see them on the street,” said Jon. “I want them to come back for all of their needs.”

The shop will have an opening party on Sept. 30, and the musicians playing there will include archguitar maestro Peter Blanchette, who also played at Jon and Nina’s wedding.