Up until this week, I couldn’t understand why my fifteen year old brother spent the past two years saving up for a $1200 Les Paul guitar. It took him months to decide on which one he wanted, and when he found the right fit, it was his. Although I was incredibly impressed by his dedication, I failed to imagine any single item that would give a sophomore in high school that much self-restraint. I realize now, upon writing this article, that a guitar is not just a tool but a piece of art in itself, too. My brother’s instrument is a craft in more ways than one.
Oakwood’s shop owner Aron Robbins says that you can tell a lot about a person by the type of guitar they play: “Whether it be the wood it’s made out of or the electronics they prefer. All of it tells a different story, and all of it has a tone and sound of its own.” This month, Oak City Hustle got to chat with the guitar craftsman about his work.
Growing up in the Raleigh scene, Aron epitomized the rock ‘n roll persona: “Spending countless nights standing in line outside the brewery, black x’s still on both hands from the night before.” He had the dream, and he knew he had to go for it. Aron made his start working at Mars Music, where he spent most of his time in the repair shop: “I found myself hanging out in the repair shop probably more than the tech would’ve liked. I was that annoying kid. Always asking him questions. Always killing his productivity. I was just too fascinated to leave him alone.” We all know that feeling, that kind of irrefutable and interminable curiosity. Maybe it’s some sort of switch that flips and lights the fire you knew was somehow there all along. When it happened to Aron, he was hooked.
He started working on his own gear, practicing all that he had observed. Eventually, he moved to Charlotte and in 2008, after seven years of learning his trade, he opened a repair shop. It was in Charlotte that a very crucial person was added to his story, his wife and (now) shop manager, Kristin. When Aron told us how they met, he explained: “The short of the story is that I got to work on this pretty young lady’s guitar, which happened to have a huge warranty issue. Naturally, I had to give her a minute-by-minute update as to how the problem was going to be fixed…. so I married her. Problem solved!” Upon starting a new chapter in their own lives, they re-launched the business in August of 2013 in downtown Raleigh.
Expanding beyond just repairs, the shop sells used, vintage, and boutique gear…and has its own music school. The business is family-run, and it doubles as their home. In response to this close work-family relationship, Aron told us that he really is a lucky guy: “One minute I may be doing a routine fret leveling, the next, I’m chopping it up with some touring band and then it’s off to snack time with my little one! I don’t think you could ask for much more.” This tight-knit feel is exactly what Aron envisioned, never wanting to compete with the big boys. He wanted “something smaller, more organic, with the community being the center of it all.”
When we asked Aron if he had any last words for the article, he explained: “When people come here, I want them to feel valued and cared for. I want them to leave here feeling confident with the information that I present them, the guitar lesson they just got, the bone nut and saddle I just fabricated for them, or the vintage Les Paul they just picked up. I want them to feel solid. I want them to feel at home.”