Listen up, guitar lovers: Are you looking for more than just a repository of shiny new stuff for sale? A place where passion means way more than inventories and ledgers? A place where fine equipment is hallowed and musical dialog savored? A place where questions are fielded by someone who probably lived the answer?
You know, like guitar stores used to be?
“This was something I had talked about, dreamed about doing, for many, many years,” says George Fuller, who with wife Maylee Thomas own this musical oasis, open since 2010, but only recently ensconced in cozy new digs.
A well-known custom homebuilder and commercial contractor, Fuller has played guitar for decades, including in Thomas’ ever-popular Maylee Thomas Band. Over the years, he’s watched “big-box” retail guitar stores expand, while small, independent shops went out of business. “I was deeply saddened by that occurrence,” he says.
Fuller, you see, never forgot his first guitar purchase in 1982, at a small shop in Vermont as a young college student. The appealing little store, Play It Again, Sam, had something special, he says – a warm, participatory feel that stayed with him. “Walking in there,” Fuller says, “it was a little community. It was a family of musicians and people that got together. It was a social place as much as it was a store.”
And that’s the feel Fuller and Thomas sought and delivered with The Guitar Sanctuary. The vibe throughout the 5,500-square-foot facility is comfortable and cool – way so. Gleaming electric guitars adorn stucco and stone walls of the high-ceilinged show room. A separate, beautifully-appointed space is devoted to acoustic guitar display. Another room houses a vast array of top-of-the-line amps, speaker cabinets and electric guitar pedals.
Fuller says he knows there were less expensive ways to build a nice enough guitar store. “But the thought was,” he says, “I designed it and I built it to be a great canvas – I have such a passion for the instruments, I didn’t want to show them on a slat wall with some metal hooks.”
The Guitar Sanctuary's Shane Frame accompanies vocal student at recent performance.
In one corner, a massive comfy couch invites customers to plop down before a flat-screen television in a setting that’s more well-appointed den than retail store.
Managing Partner Shane Frame and Sales Manager Brian Meader, skilled guitarists as well, provide customers a wealth of knowledge about the instruments and the industry, and no one, Fuller explains, sells you a guitar without first learning details of your musical bent and what you hope to accomplish.
Above all, Meader notes, “This is supposed to be that escape from whatever you do in your daily life. Whatever job it is you have, whatever stresses you have, guitar is supposed to be that thing you do to escape all that. It’s supposed to be fun and about passion.”
Thomas says she often hears customers say they feel a “connection” when visiting the store. “They don’t come in and see a different person every time,” she says. “It sounds clichéd, but we really are a family. We have personal relationships with all these people.”
Upstairs is a Performance Academy, devoted to classroom instruction in guitar, bass guitar, cello, violin, ukulele and voice. Fifteen experienced teachers are on staff. The Academy also offers students a chance to perform for the public at various Adriatica dining and gathering spots
The Guitar Sanctuary instructors perform at a local gig.
Thomas loves seeing parents’ reaction when watching their youngsters perform a new musical skill. “All of a sudden,” she says, “they see something open up inside this child, and there’s nothing better for a parent. More than that, we’ve invested in this child’s self-worth.”
Thomas, known for her unique and trendy fashions, offers men’s and women’s attire in a colorful alcove within the store, along with jewelry, custom artwork and fine collectibles. This Love Life In The Sanctuary shop also stocks special Love Life-branded merchandise, sales of which benefit at-risk children through her and Fuller’s Love Life Foundation.
Completing the experience is what adjoins The Guitar Sanctuary in the same Croatian-style structure: an intimate 6,400-square-foot performance hall with seating for between 225 and 340 patrons, depending on floor arrangement. This elegant venue, The Sanctuary, has hosted guitar greats Paul Reed Smith, David Grissom, Ian Moore and many others. Songwriter/guitarist Billy Falcon will appear in April.
In February, McKinney’s own renowned rock/blues guitarist Andy Timmons performed here to a packed house. That night, Timmons’ band thrilled Beatles fans with a rendition of the entire Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album from 1967.
The Guitar Sanctuary owners Maylee Thomas and George Fuller.
Rick Wells partnered with Fuller and Thomas in creating The Sanctuary, a special events venue. “The thing about The Sanctuary that we’ll be proudest of, over time, is that it’s a facility that supports the arts,” he says. “And it’s a facility that creates ‘life moments.’ … What a special place to have a ‘life moment’: Adriatica, a beautiful building, and George just did a wonderful job on the finish-out.”
Meader says The Guitar Sanctuary customers are “mirrors” of Fuller, Frame and himself. “We are our customers.” And Fuller, he says, is the store’s “best barometer” for what customers want. “He’s a passionate musician, someone who likes nice things and is looking for the best stuff, not necessarily the thing that’s at the biggest deal or at discount. He wants the nicest stuff he can find.”
The Performance Academy at The Guitar Sanctuary helps teach and groom performers of all ages.
Fuller assures though, “nicest” doesn’t always mean most expensive. It’s “workmanship and craftsmanship” that matter most, he says. “I have a real passion for the instrument, for the guitar, for amps and pedals, but specifically for those that are made by other really passionate people.”
Fuller notes that McKinney’s music scene is plenty impressive, boosted by local heavyweight talent like Timmons, drummer Dan Wojciechowski and blues guitarist Anson Funderburgh, to name a few. “You have some real music icons that are here in McKinney.” He points also to the perhaps 12 live-music venues in and around McKinney’s downtown square as a treat for fans and performers alike.
Frame has been a North Texas-area musician since the 1970s and has observed music hot-spots move from suburb to suburb. “If I had to say where the hottest music scene is now,” he says, “it’s probably right here [in McKinney].” And it’s going to get better, he adds. “You can feel it in your bones.”
To get that feeling and more, drop by The Guitar Sanctuary, or visit theguitarsanctuary.com.
About the author: Rick Atkinson is a McKinney-based freelance writer and cartoonist. As this budding music mecca emerges, he suggests as suitable branding: Keep McKinney Less Weird Than Austin!