Fiddler’s Green Music Shop is an all-acoustic music shop in Lockhart, TX featuring guitars, mandolins, banjos, fiddles, dulcimers, harps, dobros, flutes, whistles, ukuleles and tons more. We interviewed manager Ben Hodges to learn more about the shop
Why music retail? How long have you been in business?
Initially music retail was appealing to me because of the previous owner, Clay Levit. We knew each other from me loitering in Fiddler’s Green when the shop was located in Memphis. I’d go hang out there whenever I could. Clay is a kind soul with a beautiful philosophy about music and making it available and accessible to anyone who is interested. We bonded over, among other things, our shared past negative experiences with music stores (the usual stuff: condescending staff, shady business practices etc) and how it’s a wonder we even stuck with music at all after those bad experiences. We both agreed that a music shop has a big responsibility when it comes to service, particularly with new players who are usually already intimidated just to walk in the front door. I became an employee when the shop moved to Austin and I moved with it. That was early 2008 and I bought the business in early 2020. You know, right when the global pandemic hit!
What is something you want customers to take away from a visit to your store that they wouldn’t experience elsewhere?
Being an all acoustic shop, we are what you will find in most music stores as sort of an afterthought. That’s certainly not true for all stores, but the majority. It allows us to fill out more inventory for those that are only interested in acoustic instruments. So you have a whole store that may be of interest instead of just the back corner or a small room with a minimal selection. I’d like for customers to leave feeling like they had a respectable choice and that they felt welcome to explore and ask as many questions as they had.
Which make, model, or other item surprises you with how well it sells and/or performs?
I am always in awe of how many ukuleles we sell. I guess I shouldn’t be, because we have lot. It’s borderline crazy how many we stock, but that’s really a result of people continuing to buy them and the interest continuing to grow.
What was your favorite or most notable instrument to pass through your store?
Any Gibson LG-2 guitar that we have had from 1946 or 1947. Post banner headstock, but still with the “fat script” cursive Gibson logo. They’ve each been pure magic and a true “desert island” guitar.
How do you continue to educate yourself on the incredibly detailed history of various instrument makes & models, as well as modern developments, innovations, and manufactures?
I’m just genuinely into this stuff. I don’t do too much research for the sake of improving the business or making sales or anything, but just because I really do want to know more. A lot of times it starts with a conversation with a customer (I learn a lot from customers) about some obscure tidbit of information and I’ll think about it later and spend some time digging deeper. Then inadvertently you find out a bunch of other stuff when you’re looking into that and before you know it, it’s 2am and you are watching YouTube videos on the mating rituals of beetles. For the record, there is a type of beetle that shellac comes from. Pretty cool!
Have you had any famous artists walk through your door?
Yeah, but most of them I only knew they were famous after they left and another customer says “Oh wow that was…so and so”. Usually, I still didn’t know who they were. I kind of live under a rock. There have been a handful of times that a customer will come in and spend some time chatting and then halfway through the conversation I realize who they are and that they are famous. At that point, I just play it cool and continue acting like I don’t know who they are in order to save face..haha!
What is your general philosophy when it comes to running your store and assisting customers? Mission Statement?
I don’t have a mission statement really but I guess I just try to keep myself neutral in terms of what a customer might want or need from me to have the best experience. I want everyone to be greeted warmly and let them know that you are there for them and they are welcome. Some people prefer to be left alone to explore and some people really do want you to put on your sales cap and talk a lot. I feel like if you’ve done a good job of letting them know you are happy that they are there, and you are available for them to approach, they typically will let you know what level or type of service they want from you. New players are sometimes timid and just want to take it all in without any distraction, but it’s important that they know you aren’t gonna make them feel stupid for asking questions. Likewise, you don’t want to make someone feel like you are ignoring them if they want to engage with you. I just hope I get it right.
When and how were you drawn to music?
I was raised by my grandparents, who had stashed my mother’s record collection in the back of a closet. I don’t know how old I was but I was instantly obsessed with exploring those records and I listened to everything with serious intent. It was mostly what is now considered classic rock from the late 60’s and early 70’s. Stuff like Pink Floyd, Allman Brothers, Beatles, Rolling Stones, but there were also some campy records from the 50’s that I liked just as well. I just loved the sounds and the tone of the instruments.
Do you have any hobbies that you enjoy outside of the store – music related or otherwise?
I like to make BBQ, particularly brisket, and have friends over to pretend like they enjoy eating it.
Any irrational fears?
I can’t be in the same room when someone is opening a can of biscuits. It’s terrifying.