Thursday, April 22, 2010

Memory Lane: Guitars ‘R Us, Hollywood

It has been more than 10 years since Guitars ‘R Us in Hollywood closed its doors, and I still miss it. I discovered this shop around 1990 and it was one of the only reasons I would ever have to go up to Hollywood from Long Beach.

The shop was located at 7406 West Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, across from the Guitar Center. It was kind of a dimly-lit dive, with funky old carpet and Miami Vice-like paint splashes across the walls. I had to use the bathroom there once on an emergency basis. Ick. The most striking feature was the front counter which was covered to look like a giant amplifier. I wonder whatever happened to it.

But, despite the squalor and cramped space, the walls were covered with the most amazing instruments, and there were guitars on stands and vintage amps all over the place.

You could find the usual high-dollar Gibsons, every model of Rickenbacker ever made, and tons of pre-CBS Fenders (this is where I got my 63 Jazz), but there was also an amazing collection of really bizarre sparkly guitars and more Mosrites than I ever saw in one place before.

The shop was run by Howie Hubberman and Albert Molinaro. I must have started frequenting the store after Howie was no longer involved, because I only dealt with Albert any of the times I went in there.

Albert could be cranky, especially with young goofy folks who came in wanting to buy stuff that he did not sell, like strings and picks, or people that wanted to buy crappy student-quality instruments. But, he knew more than anybody I ever met about old Fenders, and apparently his personal collection was something to behold. When they write those 100-pound coffee table books about vintage guitars, they take pictures of HIS instruments.

Albert could also be a really nice guy. Rumor had it that he produced Coco Montoya’s first album with virtually no expectation of getting anything in return.

The shop closed up the later 90’s, and I only found out about it when I stopped by and found an empty store. Some folks told me that it was because the rent got too high. That is some pretty valuable real estate, I suppose.

Maybe he just saw how things were going, and decided to move on. Albert was very hip to the ways of the future. In the back of the shop he had one of those little tombstone Macintosh computers that he was using to contact Japanese buyers for his instruments. That was the first e-commerce I ever saw.

After closing the shop Albert built high-end Fender clones under the name Guitars-R-Us to sell in the Japanese market. These hand-built instruments are amazing, and still command very high prices over there. I recently saw a Red GRU Stratocaster on sale for around $3500. Not too shabby. I think he stopped producing them in 2004, or so.

Today, Albert does a brisk business on eBay (user name “largeal”), where he sells guitars and parts, as well as high-end bicycle components.


  1. True Howie Hubberman was the Original Owner of Guitars R Us, Howie was also the Original Manager
    of Poison . Guns N Roses Tuff The Zeros, The Wild,Bang Bang ,Kaya Jones, Paul Brown,and a Host of Other L.A. Bands.I miss the 80's and 90's ! Robert O

  2. I used to hang out at GRU almost weekly from like 85 up until 91-ish. Albert was the nicest guy. I got about 5 guitars from him. 3 LP Customs, a Jackson and a Charvel. Miss that place, and places like that. True Tone in Santa Monica is pretty cool

  3. Albert was the best. He looked out for me. I would hang out in there a lot looking at the gretsch roundup guitars I couldn't afford to buy. Poison would come in the store now and again because Howie was a mangager for them. Albert would have to tell the guys to stay away from me. "She's only 16!"

  4. I did not know the man but my daughter traded a Xbox for a GRU pink helo kitty strat w/gold hardware took forever to find out what it was

  5. Robert Vaughn HerndonSeptember 20, 2013 at 4:20 PM

    I used to work as the poolside bartender at the Sunset Marquis. I would stop in a few times a week. I was mostly into buying vintage effects and bought a few things them Al And Howie were real nice once you got to know them. I was pissed off about the pay to play thing and Howie warned me that I could get blaclisted....I would need a band first...
    The coolest guitar place I have ever been to and it really helped keep rockers row on solid ground.

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  7. I hung out there in the late 80's. I remember the Elvis memorabilia with "The King is not for Sale". I also remember playing a Gretsch Sparkle Jet that was around $600 (I couldn't afford it and it wouldn't stay in tune) but I really wanted it. One day I come in and it's $1200. I asked what happened? They said Joe Perry played one in the new Aerosmith video. Savvy

  8. I knew Howie back when he was in Rochester New York. His store was called 6 String Sales. I bought a 1961 Les Paul SG from him that to this day I wish I would have never traded back to him for a L5S.

  9. I probably saw all you guys in Guitars R Us back in the 80's and 90's. I was in there every couple of days or so. Great memories!

  10. Albert was great and I remember when he closed down.It was a real loss for that part of the strip. Art Valdez was still next door then, too. He made a great top for my 12-string, after its bracing gave up the ghost. I bought and sold some pieces through Albert and he was always a square dealer. He was selling online after the shop. The whole vintage mania was just beginning in the late 90's. He may've seen how nuts it was going to get. It has calmed down from the times when my '65 Strat was worth $30K. Now it may be worth $15K, but who cares? I was never going to sell it anyway!

  11. Shot some footage of Al around '97 just for fun...

  12. Did they ever sell Aria pro II?
    I bought one in 1988 from a store right around there and am trying to identify what was the store.

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