Matt Umanov Guitars closing in December

Matt Umanov Guitars, a fixture in New York’s Greenwich Village for 35 years, has announced the imminent closing of their shop on Manhattan’s Bleecker Street. Their last day of operation is set for December 3, after 48 years in business. Guitars were always his first love, but the shop also carried and worked on banjos, mandolins, specialty guitars, and amplifiers.

Umanov, a native of nearby Brooklyn, says that after 53 years doing repair, restoration, and sales of fine vintage stringed instruments, he is simply ready to enjoy life. “I’m too old for 12 hour days. I’m tired of it,” he told us yesterday on the phone. Having just turned 70 years old, he wants to travel and spend time with his grandkids, as most of us would at that age.

Matt started working on guitars as a teenager, and opened his first shop in 1964. In ’69, Matt Umanov Guitars officially opened on Bedford Street in the West Village, and moved to Bleecker Street, across from its current location, in 1977. They moved to the 237 Bleecker building, three stories full of instruments and parts, in ’82, and Umanov credits his being able to purchase the building ten years later with his ability to stay open in a highly competitive industry so long.

He has become recognized over his life as a premier expert on flattop guitars, and one of the very top restoration luthiers in the world. But after having passed much of that work on to younger artisans, Umanov says that he is out of shape, and doesn’t have the patience to try and piece together an explored prewar Martin top these days.

Looking over all he has accumulated over the years, Matt seems more astonished than bittersweet by it all.

“I just found a bunch of old parts, stuff I hadn’t seen for 40 years. I came across an original, unused prewar RB-1 fingerboard from Gibson, inlaid, with the frets pre-cut but not fully slotted; hundreds of prewar hooks and nuts, Vega and Gibson; a TB-4 inlay pattern for the Flying Eagle pattern. I found 4 Schatz guitars from the mid 19th century. Schatz was an early partner of CF Martin, and I had forgotten I had them!”

Dave Musselwhite just bought pieces from a badly damaged 1938 000-45 from Matt’s discovery pile. He tells us he has been able to reduce his inventory of new and used instruments by about 90% since announcing that he is closing, but that many items remain available on their web site. There is also an As Is section on the site for items in un-restored condition.

When he started in 1969, repair and restoration was his only concern. The idea for a full service retail shop came later, and Matt – and the shop – have developed the reputation as the “go to” location for cool instruments in the trendy Greenwich Village area.

Matt says that what he will miss most is the unexpected moments when people stop by.

“From the bum on the street to Johnny Cash and June Carter, Buddy Emmons, or Johnny Depp… I mean it’s New York City – you never know who will walk in.”

The decision to simply close down rather than try and sell the business was dictated by two factors. Umanov’s son, Ben – also in the music business – isn’t interested in running the shop, and as the building’s owner, Matt can generate a decent retirement income from rents. Though not completely sure, he may also keep the repair facility open after closing the store.

So goodbye to Matt Umanov Guitars. 48 years is one heck of a run. Well done, all!

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.