Saturdays are typically busy at Twin Town Guitars, with a steady hum of customers strumming guitars, plucking ukuleles, pounding on drums, talking about music, music, music and making an all-together-now harmonic cacophony. To be sure, technology has made it easy to buy all sorts of musical instruments online, but there’s still nothing like whiling away an afternoon at Twin Town, caressing the gorgeous guitars and dreaming.
“There will always be something relevant about being able to go to the store, plug something in or give it a strum or look at it, touch it, feel what the neck profile is or give the drum a hit, to hear what the amplifier sounds like … that hopefully won’t go out of style,” said Twin Town owner Andrew Bell.
A recent Saturday was bustling like never before, as Bell and the rest of the Twin Town crew celebrated the store’s 20th birthday on Aug. 5 with a 20-percent-off sale, hot dogs, a pop-up show by Jeremy Messersmith and a BNLX-headlined birthday bash at the Triple Rock Social Club that night.
But the good vibes and great service aren’t relegated to special occasions. For two decades, the store on the corner of 34th & Lyndale has outfitted and inspired all sorts and stripes of musicians, and its dedication to teaching, organizing and providing a neighborhood one-stop for students and performing musicians alike has made it as vital a part of this community as the music itself. For proof, one need only get a load of the preponderance of Twin Town bumper stickers, T-shirts and other swag all over town.
“Community has been a really important thing for us,” Bell said, as dozens of customers, friends, music lovers and musicians wandered through the shop. “This is such an amazing place, an affordable city to live in. Great clubs, great publications, great radio, great restaurants, good schools. So we’re just super excited to be part of it all.
“My wife Carrie and I live ten blocks away, our kids are in the public schools, our friends and neighbors are curious and we want to be here. That’s our mission. We’re not the only music store in town, and there are other amazing music stores here, too, but enough people have chosen us to keep us in business, and that is miraculous for us, actually. We wouldn’t be here without the support of all these people, right from the start.”
What sets Twin Town apart from the pack are those ties to the neighborhood, along with a unique dedication to programming, providing music lessons and sponsorship of numerous homegrown music events throughout the year.
“It’s super fun, and not just from kids’ perspectives, but families and adults,” Bell said. “When they reach a point and say, ‘That’s it. I’ve taken lessons for a couple years, and now I want to play in a band,’ we offer that. It’s a six-week thing, we take ‘em to the Whiskey [Junction] and they jump up and down on stage, and their two minutes on stage will answer thousands of questions and then [they’ll] ask a lot more. Anybody can get that experience. It’s just a little bit of dedication and practicing, and hopefully it’s affordable enough so you can try it out. But then if you really like it, find your neighbors, go to their garage and we’ll see you at Porchfest or something like that.”
It all started 20 years ago when Bell and former co-owner Jimmy Peterson found what they deemed to be the perfect spot. The two musicians had always dreamed of opening a store, and when the former Benedict’s Music storefront opened up, they grabbed it.
“It was just an empty storefront, but it’s the right neighborhood. Because as you know, between 50th [Street] and downtown, this place is just sandwiched with musicians and artists, and this is such a supportive neighborhood for that,” Bell said. “Jimmy and I just kind of had the idea of, ‘Let’s offer cool pedals, cool used gear priced really affordably, and let’s offer [guitar] set-ups.’ And sometimes set ups are this weird kind of elusive thing that people need to be educated on. In Minnesota, you gotta get your guitar set up. Summertime it’s 60 percent humidity with highs in the 80s and that can really tweak out your guitar. And it goes 180 degrees the other way in the winter, with no humidity.
“And sometimes your guitar plays awesome and it’s ‘Aw, this is great,’ and sometimes it’s like, ‘This is a cheese cutter which is hurting me and I can’t play.’ So being able to spin around a quick set-up for twenty bucks is what we thought was a good idea, and we did that with and without [purchased guitar] strings for the first ten years.
“The whole idea was to help the people that we played with. We were playing in the clubs frequently, and we’d see all these friends that we knew, and people would be looking for pedals and looking for amps or ‘Oh, man, I really need a Tele,’ and that was really the idea. I had worked at Music Go Round and Jimmy had worked at Dave’s, and some of the things that really make sense to the musicians in this market that are playing in the clubs tonight was something that was kind of lost on some of those people. We’d be working there, going, ‘If we owned this place, we would do this,’ and – boom! – the answer is right there, and it’s cheap, and it’s 20 bucks; this string, or this cable, or a set-up. You know, we’ll make your guitar play like a million bucks.
“But sometimes a corporate establishment would not necessarily see the benefit of that. The whole thing for us was service after the sale, because we’re in the club later that night with our friends and the last thing we need is, ‘Dude, this thing I got from you isn’t doing what it’s supposed to.’ It’s a bad position to be in, so you’ve got to be not just honest and forthright and square with everybody, but really give them the solution they’re looking for.”
It worked. For 20 years now, that dedication to providing service and knowledge has made Twin Town a trusted name amongst both up-and-coming musicians and bona fide rock stars.
“One of my favorite guys, Paul Westerberg, comes in once in a while and I freak out a little quietly because … the Replacements,” Bell said. “Or when [Dinosaur Jr.’s] J. Mascis runs in and wants to try a bunch of stuff. [Surf punk guitar legend] Dick Dale had a meet-and-greet here. Dick Dale! The guy who totally kind of (was the) put-reverb-in-an-amplifier guy! Huge highlight for everybody in the store was the day [The Smiths’] Johnny Marr spent all day here. [Babes In Toyland’s] Lori Barbero bursting in and going, ‘Where’s Evan?,’ and it was [The Lemonheads’] Evan Dando.
“Rock stars are awesome, and it’s fun to see them, but the highlights are, and this sounds kind of cheesy and corny, but somebody playing their first guitar, child or adult, it’s just like, ‘Yes, I’m going to do this.’ Maybe they’ve been borrowing a guitar forever, or bass or drums or whatever, but now it’s time. Their very own guitar. You can see the gears turning, and they’re off. That’s pretty cool. We see that routinely with our youth bands and teen bands and it’s crazy how you never tire of something that optimistic and incredible.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org