You can get your gear sounding great at these two guitar and amp repair shops, which operate under the same roof.
When Songbird Music, a longtime favourite destination of Toronto musicians, closed its doors in early 2008, Tim Dudley and Zak Hanna were faced with a choice. As the shop’s amp and guitar technicians, respectively, they debated relocating to another music store or setting up shop on their own. They chose the independent route, and their two repair shops under the same roof, Superfuzz Audio and Standard Electric, have become a go-to resource for the city’s musicians.
How they got started: Learning to repair a guitar amp isn’t a skill acquired through a conventional academic path—for the most part, it’s self-taught. “It sounds like a ridiculous pursuit,” says Dudley. “There’s nowhere you can go to train for that sort of thing. Nowadays, you’ve got the internet, and there are books out there on the subject, but back when I started there were very few technical manuals out there that could assist you. I was basically working for free, because I wanted to get my hands dirty and I was keen.”
Hanna had a similar start. “I played guitar, tinkered around and the learned very basic stuff, like how to intonate it, set the action and adjust the truss rod,” he says. “A friend of mine was going on tour with his band and said, ‘We need a guitar tech,’ which was basically someone to change strings and tune between songs.”
When Hanna returned from the road, his credentials landed him a full-time job. “I started talking to the owner, mentioned that I’d been guitar teching for a band and he said he needed an assistant in the shop, so I pretended that I knew more than I did and just learned on the job.”
Striking out on their own: “We knew for a little while that the ship was going down,” Hanna says about the end of Songbird Music’s run. “So it was time to make plans. We’d been approached by other shops in town, but the idea of being an employee at a store didn’t really appeal to me.”
The duo spent a couple of months looking before settling upon their Dundas West space. It had potential, but required a lot of work. “The place was as gross and ugly as it could have been when we moved in,” says Hanna. “The ceiling was dropped stucco with fluorescent lighting fixtures.”
Not surprisingly, it was the first thing to go. “We pulled it down not really considering what was underneath,” says Dudley. “And it was filthy, it was just terrible.”
“The exposed joists looked good, but they were just black,” adds Hanna. “Cleaning the entire ceiling was three days of disgusting work. You’re scrubbing and it’s all coming straight down on your face and you can’t wear goggles because they would just instantly get covered in this black deathwater.”
Two shops in one: Dudley and Hanna have forged a unique business relationship in which they run two distinct entities under the same roof. “We met with a lawyer and discussed the various ways we could set it up,” says Hanna. “His main piece of advice was separate businesses. Unless you absolutely need to be partners, do it separately, because if things go badly, extricating yourself from a partnership will be the biggest nightmare of your life.”
That said, neither would want to work entirely on their own. “We both rely on one another,” says Dudley. “I couldn’t run this place by myself and I don’t think Zak would enjoy working here by himself. You need somebody to fall back on.”
A movie star mishap: The increasing popularity of the Dundas West neighbourhood was likely the catalyst for the shop’s lone celebrity encounter, which unfortunately was very brief. “One day I was talking to a customer and a couple of young looking guys stuck their heads in the door,” Hanna recalls. “I guess I was feeling testy that day, so I said to them, ‘None of this stuff is for sale, we’re just a repair shop.’ They left, and the customer said, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you kicked out Jason Schwartzman and Michael Cera!’”
Rush jobs: Smaller jobs tend to dominate Hanna’s day-to-day routine. “Definitely the most common service request is set-ups,” he says. “But there’s a lot of pickup swapping and fretwork as well. Often people will come in with a guitar and they’re not sure what’s wrong with it, they just know that it doesn’t feel right.”
Most of the shop’s customers are practicing musicians, many of whom Hanna finds share one particularly troubling trend. “If people who have a problem wouldn’t wait until the day before the big show to get it fixed,” he says, “that would be great. It’s more common than it should be.”
1261 Dundas Street West. 647-728-4605. superfuzzaudio.com.