Scott Freilich stood outside his attic workshop Friday and ran his fingers along a vintage Magnatone lap steel guitar.
Unlike most of its kind, it doesn’t have tuners (you have to use a wrench) and it’s built into an adjustable stand, which is itself built into an amp.
“It’s stuff like that, that’s my reason for continuing in this business,” he said. “I find stuff I’ve never seen before.”
But not even unique instruments like that, nor the customers who come from around the world seeking Freilich’s vintage guitar expertise, can persuade him to keep the doors of Top Shelf Music open much longer.
“I just want to keep my wife company, fish and play bass,” he said.
And so, after 34 years, the Buffalo Music Hall of Famer is selling his guitar-repair business. Everything must go – his inventory of vintage stringed instruments, the iconic business name, the website, the client list. Even the three-story building that houses the storefront and his specialty workshop.
The building at 1232 Hertel Ave. (once the home of the specialty shop Terrapin Station) has been closed to the public since the mid-2000s, when Freilich began seeing customers by appointment only.
“It became apparent the bulk of our business was off the website and the bulk of our expenses were from baby-sitting musicians who had nothing to do during the day and kept us from getting our work done,” Freilich said.
Since he was 14 years old, Freilich has been playing, repairing, restoring or modifying guitars, ukuleles, mandolins and any other stringed instrument you can think of.
“I’ve had hands-on experience since the 1960s, before they were actually vintage,” Freilich said.
He has factory repair authorizations for all the big names – Fender, Gibson, Martin – and has claimed such star-powered clients over the years as Ani DiFranco, the Goo Goo Dolls, the Black Crows, Melissa Etheridge and 10,000 Maniacs.
It’s not that Top Shelf Music lacks customers. In fact, the phone rings steadily. “We have as much business as we can handle, maybe more,” he said.
The real problem is that Freilich lacks free time.
He doesn’t like to work Saturdays, for example, but an out-of-town client will be rolling through Buffalo this weekend, so he feels the need to be on the clock.
What he would rather be doing is playing with one of the three bands he backs in steady gigs around Buffalo – Porcelain Train, the JT Blues Band and Nelson and the Heaters – or spending time with his wife, who retired four years ago.
“I really just want to take a break from the responsibility,” Freilich said. “What I really enjoy is playing upright bass, and I’d like to concentrate on that for the remainder of my working life.”