There is a feeling of exultation as you walk through the large, double paneled doors of a medieval church. Then there is the wonder one discovers as they step their toes onto the manicured lawns of a King’s former gardens, with its drooping trees and elaborate fountains. Or maybe shock and awe as you enter an ancient Roman theater, the rocks old with time and rain. Wherever we find ourselves while exploring there are those threshold moments, the crossing from this world into some other existence, some other time.
I feel basically the same every time I see a music shop. This personal mecca only comes up occasionally and always by chance. When I see the glittering of guitars in the window, a wood-worn upright bass with its huge tuners and comic body, my body is inexorably drawn. After I’ve heard the loud chime upon closing the door—apparently universal these days—I settle in to find what this foreign yet familiar place might have to offer.
I found one such spot just near the Duomo in Milan, called Milanfisa. They are mostly a guitar shop—spare us the drums, amps, violins, and horns, please—and an excellent one at that. The retailers were two old Italian men, friendly and enthusiastic—they could rip too. My eyes gorged on the old hollow-bodys, the American Strats and Teles that had made it so far. You never know how serious a music shop is going to be from the outside but these guys were legitimate. Vintage and modern gear crowded the small walls and in the space between the instruments were signed photos of these exact guys—who spoke in relaxed Italian behind their desk—with a plethora of European musicians throughout the years.
I asked to play a fifty year old Italian made thin hollow-body (think B.B. King but smaller) that I had never heard of before. They pulled it off the wall and spent a few minutes tuning—talk about service—and quickly had me plugged in and playing. Those spare moments on the road, if you are instrument-less and play, are magical. The sound spills out nuanced and warm, your fingers sort of stiff but mostly enthralled.
I thanked them for my peaceful moment and left. No money for that sort of thing, just a moment of happiness among the ancient ruins and posh modern high-rises. If you hear the song-bird calling, or just want to see some vintage equipment in the heart of Milan, be sure to stop by. Also, check their accordion section. You are in Italy, after all.