George Gruhn: The Guru of Guitar Collectors

People who are interested in vintage guitars of any kind will want to know about George Gruhn. As the owner of Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, TN, he has spent more than forty years collecting refurbishing and appraising guitars. In fact, according to Guitar Player Magazine editor, Tom Wheeler, “George Gruhn knows more about vintage guitars than anyone on earth.”

George did not start out to be a guitar expert. He majored in zoology at the University of Chicago and did graduate work in animal behavior at Duke University and the University of Tennessee. He was always especially interested in snakes and enjoyed using The Field Book of Snakes of the United States and Canada to categorize any new specimens he came across. When he realized that job opportunities were limited in the area of herpetology, Gruhn turned to his other passion—guitars. In particular, he began collecting pre-WW II Martin hardtops and decided to see if he could parlay his fascination into a business. He used skills that he had learned studying snakes to classify guitars that he found by material, style, construction, etc. and was soon an expert in the field.

Gruhn opened his first guitar store in Knoxville, TN in the late 1960s. He was just scraping by when he happened to get a call from Hank Williams Jr., who had heard about his collection of Martins. Hank drove to the shop from Nashville in a Jaguar E and was so impressed by the selection that he bought all the guitars his car could hold—a grand total of three. He came back the next day, however, and filled a Cadillac with guitars. More importantly, he suggested to Gruhn that he should move his store to Nashville.

Gruhn followed Hank’s advice and opened his store there in 1970, in the same location where it stands today. It was just across the street from the stage door of the famous Ryman Auditorium where the Grand Ole Opry resided. Even though that first store was small, leaky and dingy, its location allowed George to come in contact with many musicians and business began to pick up.

Using his systematic approach to classifying guitars and other fretted instruments like banjos and mandolins, George and his skilled staff bought, sold and repaired them with great success. As time went on, Gruhn’s business expanded. Today, he owns two stores in Nashville, employs several hundred people, and attracts customers from miles around who are fans of every kind of music.

Gruhn is the author or co-author of several books about the guitar, and many of them follow the format of his old Field Guide to Snakes. His titles include Gruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitars, Electric Guitars and Basses, and Acoustic Guitars and other Fretted Instruments. George has also written pieces for numerous magazines.

Now, Gruhn’s business has moved wholeheartedly into the 21st century. The company’s website is updated daily with pictures and descriptions of the entire inventory of the two stores. He has a crew of expert repair and setup men that refurbish, renovate and rebuild vintage instruments—often by hand.

George Gruhn is a perfect example of an entrepreneur who used his passion, determination and work ethic to build a thriving business. In the process, he became one of the most renowned experts in his field. If you are ever in Nashville, a trip to Gruhn’s Guitars is sure to be a highlight.