Bringing instruments back to life: Mike & Mike’s Guitar Bar

by Kim Merrikin, Seattle Goodwill
July 21, 2014

Michael James Adams is something of a guitar whisperer. He is half of the Mikes behind Mike & Mike’s Guitar Bar and spends his days breathing life back into fretted stringed instruments. With our Summer Online Music Festival going on—where you can buy a wide variety of used instruments (and includes a Bumbershoot ticket giveaway), we thought we should sit down with an expert and talk instrument refurbishment and what to look for when buying a used instrument online.

How did you get started bringing instruments back to life?
I started back in 1997 when I was in a band with a bunch of guys whose guitars would frequently break, and they were all too scared of breaking something and I was the only intrepid soul they knew that was able to take them apart and put them back together again. And when I was growing up I had the worst guitars ever. Every three or four weeks my first guitar, an Ibanez Silver Cadet, would need to be rewired or something would break. One thing that I do when I don’t know how to do something is I’ll just do it to my own guitar. That’s how I learned.

Are thrift shops and places like Goodwill a big part of your business?
The used and thrift market is a great resource for us. In some ways the things we’re looking for fly under the radar. Our shop looks for a very specific kind of instrument—like Fender Jazzmasters, weird Japanese guitars from the 1960s. Finding those will generally take us to Goodwill—a lot of players don’t see them as collectible, but they sound amazing and because of bands like Jack White and The Black Keys these instruments are super popular.

What do you look for in thrifted instruments that you don’t get to play before buying?
A ton of pictures available that’ll show me a variety of angles on the guitar. From all of my experience, I’ve learned what a broken neck looks like—or what a crack that’s been cleverly hidden looks like. Replaced parts are a big red flag for us. In the vintage guitar world originality is kind of paramount. I don’t generally expect that it’s going to have the original case, hangtag, and set of strings, or any of those things—what I do expect is that it’s got its basic core—the wood, the finish, the original integrity of the piece is still there. Everything from there I can address pretty easily. Sometimes we’ll buy a guitar from a thrift shop, and we’ll source the original parts, bring it back to stock, and sell it.  

Have you ever come across an instrument you couldn’t refurbish?
There was an acoustic guitar that came through a while back that someone’s friend had stepped through.

It looks like that brings you a bit of sadness.
It does. The intention is to nurse these things back—to be caretakers. That guitar is going to well outlast me. It’s going to be handed down to my kids, it’s going to be sold somewhere else. An instrument is going to live on a lot longer than I will. I always try to be very respectful to the original design of the guitar.

Do you have a Cinderella story of a thrifted instrument?
A friend brought in a 64 Jaguar—one of my favorite guitars in the world— and every fret had been pulled and reseated. The wiring was absolutely horrible, nothing original on the guitar. We took this guitar—it took about two months—got all of the original parts, did a complete re-fret on it—completely rewired it, new pickups, new bridge. In the end it was incredible.

What is your fantasy Goodwill find?
I would like to find an original 1960s—doesn’t matter what year, as long as it’s before 1966—original 1960s Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster in Charcoal Frost Metallic—which is the rarest color that Fender ever put on an old guitar like that in the 60s. It’s this beautiful metallic black-gray with a little bit of blue mixed in. It’s got this steely hue to it and to me it’s the most alluring color out there.

1964 Fender Jaguar Cinderella Story Refurbishment 



Kim fancies herself a professional communicator. She has experience in writing, graphic design, and social media, and is always looking to expand her knowledge base into other fields of communication. She loves people, coffee & Seattle (including the rain).

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