It’s no secret that Nashville is a music town—heck, it’s right there on the signs: “Welcome to Nashville—Music City, USA.” And, to be fair, it’s a reputation that’s been earned. If you go more than a few days without seeing a musician of at least some renown—which is not to say a celebrity—you probably aren’t trying hard enough. We also have more studios and home studios than any place on earth (possibly excepting New York and L.A.), and loads of guitar boutiques and hundreds upon hundreds of venues for these musicians to share their gifts, starting with open mic nights at the local bar and increasing in size all the way up to Nissan Stadium, where the likes of The Rolling Stones and Guns ‘N’ Roses have set down their amps.
We also like to listen to music here in Nashville, and for that (if you’re doing it right), you need record stores. Fortunately, we have some excellent ones. There’s The Groove in East Nashville, housed in a comfortable old bungalow. Vinyl is king here, of course, and there are loads of new releases as well as a great selection of used wax, including a strong 45s and a soul/R&B/hip hop section. Also on sale: graphic novels, music magazines (including some hard-to-find British ones), cassettes (!), and more.
Perhaps Nashville’s most well-known record store (possibly excepting downtown’s Ernest Tubb Record Shop, which has been slingin’ hot platters of music since 1947), Grimey’s is also the record store you’re most likely to see a visiting band either hanging out in (Metallica’s Lars Ulrich is a fan any time he’s in the area), or playing in (frequent in-stores include artists from Mumford and Sons to Ty Segall). The shop recently moved to a new location on Trinity Lane which also houses a used bookstore and other goodies.
There’s also Jack White’s Third Man Records, which boasts many Watkins grads and only sells records put out by, well, Third Man Records (as well as a slew of other fun marginalia and kitsch collectibles). Pro Tip: follow Third Man’s socials for news of super-limited live shows (Sleep, Parquet Courts, The Raconteurs) in the Blue Room, located inside the complex. The venue only holds a couple hundred people, max, and there are few better places in Nashville to see a show.
Having stocked up on records, now it’s time to do some instrument shopping. Three of the best are Fanny’s House of Music, Gruhn Guitars, and Carter Vintage Guitars. Fanny’s, located in the heart of East Nashville, is female-owned and lacking in all the usual attitude for which big-box guitar stores are (in)famous. Featuring a wide range of the quirky and the cool, it also has a great selection of acoustic instruments and offers lessons for young and old, beginner and advanced.
Gruhn Guitars is the granddaddy of Nashville music stores and a great low-key place to catch rock music celebs when they’re in town. Gruhn’s inventory ranges from the high-hundreds price range up to the “you could sell your house and that still might not be enough” echelon. That said, no one in town knows more about stringed instruments—their history and their value. The one exception may be Carter Vintage, which, while only in business a few years, has one of the world’s foremost collections of fine vintage instruments. Already a favorite among area musicians, it’s also developing considerable word of mouth among the touring set.
Once you’ve bought music to listen to and instruments to play it on, you need inspiration. No visit to Nashville is complete without a visit to the venerable Ryman Auditorium, a venue so revered and boasting such amazing acoustics that it doesn’t matter who’s playing there on a given night (or indeed, if anyone’s playing—they also offer tours). Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Louis Armstrong, and Johnny Cash (who met his future wife June Carter here), have all played the Ryman. The venue continues to host a wonderfully curated roster of shows to this day. Want to check out the acts that will be playing the Ryman in a few years? Check out 3rd and Lindsley. Besides being wonderful incubators for local musicians, each club also books a wonderful selection of up-and-coming acts that you’ll pay 10 times as much to see in five-to-10 years (if you haven’t written them off for having “sold out,” that is).