For guitar players, visiting Dave’s Guitar Shop is an awe-inspiring experience. Upstairs, owner Dave Rogers’ personal collection of vintage guitars grew to become a museum of electric guitar history. Hanging on the walls are hundreds of guitars by Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Rickenbacker, and Paul Reed Smith.
“I have personal favorites like Fender Stratocasters, Fender Telecasters, Gibson Les Pauls, Gibson ES 335’s—I mean the stuff that everybody wants,” said Rogers.
Inspired by an older brother who played in a band, Rogers began playing at an early age, and joined several bands. “I tried to make a living playing guitar, and that was a rough living,” Rogers said. Rogers scaled back his musical ambitions, and opened his guitar shop in 1982.
But to get started, Rogers had to sell off his own collection of 15 guitars. He didn’t start collecting again until a business deal went wrong. “A friend of mine wanted this guitar that was down at a shop in Iowa. He said ‘Get that for me and I’ll buy it from you.’ The guy came and looked at it, and he says, ‘Oh it’s not clean enough, I don’t want it.’ I was like, ‘Oh no, what am I going to do?’” said Rogers. “But this guitar is just the coolest guitar ever. And that was the first guitar of the collection now.”
From that first guitar, Rogers’ collection grew to include hundreds of rare and vintage instruments. “I almost feel like they’re not my guitars,” said Rogers. “I’m just kind of tending them for the next generation. And to not share them with the people that’d come in, it’d be like a greedy thing or something like that–like, ‘Oh no, no, no, these are my guitars’ or whatever. They’re not my guitars. I’m just taking care of them right now.”
(A version of this story also aired on Wisconsin Public Radio on June 22, 2018.)