|March 3, 2002
BY JIM DEROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
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
"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
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
"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
Contact Andy's Music at (773) 868-1234, or visit them on the web at