About Us

Guitarville (originally Al's Guitarville) was started in 1958. It's founder was the legendary Al Kolbeck, a great jazz guitar player from the big band era, who gigged with acoustic Strombergs and D'Angelicos and some really heavy picks. Al married his lovely wife Lou and settled down in Seattle around 1941.

  He continued to play, went to work for Boeing, and studied at night to become a watchmaker. Al then switched to watch repair full time, and worked for several large jewelry stores until he started "Al's Swap Shop" in 1958, which was a combination Pawn Shop and used merchandise mart. Tools, records, camping equipment, guns, fishing equipment, jewelry, you name it, Al had it, and of course there were always a few guitars around to be sure.

  Al actually started "Guitarville" at the same time, out of his home as sort of a hobby. He regularly spoke with John D'Angelico on the phone asking about instruments he had seen or just acquired. Al maintained and owned a personal collection of instruments that was stunning, continuously buying and selling more instruments. He sought out hard to find and rare jazz and classical guitars all his life. His regular customers included such luminaries as George Benson and Ry Cooder, who not only stopped by Al's house to look at guitars, but to play and sit down for dinner as well.

  Al and Lou had a fairly large family, three sons and three daughters. The  youngest son, Vallis  showed the most interest in guitars, becoming an accomplished player and collector himself. Vallis worked for a variety of other stores as a young man, and had his own store, "Strings and Things", which closed in 1986 in order for Vallis to work full time for his father.

  The "Swap Shop" was changed to "Guitarville" and the focus narrowed in the next few years to musical instruments only. Vallis, or "Val" ran the store for his father for three years and took over completely after Al's quad bypass in '94. In the same year , Guitarville received quite an indoor face lift, more room for instruments, bigger showrooms,  9 teaching rooms upstairs and the addition of the new Internet Sales Department headed by Eddie Miles, long time friend and patron of the Guitarville family. The depth and scope of new, used and vintage equipment has now increased substantially.


Val Kolbeck