Andy's Music strikes a chord

March 3, 2002



As neighborhood coffee shops give way to Starbucks, so too are independent retailers of musical instruments disappearing from an increasingly corporatized world.

Thankfully for musicians, there are holdouts like Andy's Music, a place on Chicago's Northwest Side as thoroughly distinctive as its individualistic owner.

"Obviously, it's hard being a mom-and-pop store today, but we've managed to survive for a long time despite chains like Guitar Center and Sam Ash," says retail manager Mike Levine. "But I think there are things that make us a little bit unique and enable us to survive."

"Unique" is an understatement at Andy's, which has several addresses near the central nexus of Belmont and Western. Any tour starts at the main retail store, 2310 W. Belmont, where musicians can buy anything from a new Gibson Les Paul to a guitar pick, a pair of drumsticks to an entire Ludwig set.

A few doors down at 2300 W. Belmont is Andy's Imports and Specialties, run by Clar Monaco. Since opening in 2000, it's filled two floors with handcrafted instruments from around the world: Irish bodhrans, Arabic doumbeks (available with goat, fish, or synthetic heads), Indian sitars and tablas, Greek ouds and African marimbas and balaphones, including one with resonators made from cow horns.

"Andy is a big supporter of the adventure of exploring musical instruments, and that's what attracted me to him," Monaco says. "He just gave me full reign to go for it."

Around the corner at 3204 N. Oakley is Andy's Rentals. When a Chicago musician is recording and needs a set of orchestra bells, tympani or a vintage Moog synthesizer, or a touring artist arrives and simply can't perform without that Hammond B3 organ or old Vox amp, this is where they come.

Rental manager Ken Stevens' choice for the oddest request he's ever accommodated: a set of five brake drums for a traveling percussionist. (He went to the auto store with a mallet in hand in order to determine which would sound best.)

Owner Andy Cohn started out 11 years ago with the rental business, and he's been expanding ever since. At 48, he's been obsessed with musical instruments for most of his life. "I remember being three years old and reaching up to mom's grand piano and playing 'thunder' on the low notes and 'rain' on the high notes," he says.

Now, his favorite pursuit is traveling the world in search of one-of-a-kind instruments. At Musica Antica, his new, by-appointment-only warehouse, the collection includes the world's largest gong (80 inches in diameter); several antique harpsichords, hurdy-gurdys, and mandolins; a tuned ship's bell; some Swedish horns like the ones in the Ricola commercials; an array of Chinese instruments, and not one, but two sets of tuned wine glasses, among many other things.

For a musician, it's like stepping inside Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.

"I love all sounds," Cohn says, confessing that he simply can't pass up buying any special instrument he encounters. "I'm the guy who hurts the overall business. But hey, making money was never the reason why I got into this."

Contact Andy's Music at (773) 868-1234, or visit them on the web at